Monday, July 05, 2010

Warrior Art

The Secret Art of Boys

My friend and colleague Clark Fralick, wrote a paper once entitled, "The Secret Art of Boys." In 2008 we did two presentations of the same title, one at the Art Education Association of Indiana state conference, and the other in New Orleans at the National Convention. Here is the crux of the matter: A vast segment of boys (and girls) love to create art based on their imaginary realms. Guess what is inside there? Make believe weapons, fantasy violence and lots of mayhem and conflict. This is controversial stuff.

If a kid get's caught making art containing fantasy violence in many schools across the U.S., he or she can get into big trouble. When I see children's art in my room that contains fantasy violence, I ask questions. What I know for a fact, is that fantasy violence is a natural part of a child's development, and it is better to provide for self expression than it is to censor the child.

From the research I have conducted (Lowenfeld: "Creative and Mental Growth," Michael Thompson: “Raising Cain,”  Rubin: "Child Art Therapy," May: "The Courage to Create," Jones: "Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence," Tyre: "The Trouble With Boys," etc.) and classroom observations I have made, children will thrive in learning environments where they may express such ideas. The creative process ameliorates children's tendency toward aggressive behavior despite the fantasy violent content, the individual's active imagination is stimulated to a very high degree and there are many other developmental and educational benefits associated with art making of this nature. Fantasy violence is just that, fantasy. The act of working from one's fantasies is more closely related to a state of fantasy play than to a state of deviance.

When to draw the line? In rare, extreme cases, when the art is related to real threats then teachers need to investigate and take action. In the mean time, it is important for teachers to consider the short and long term consequences of censorship.

Know your students, ask them questions related to their art, continue observations and dialogue. The benefits of meaningful learning experiences and fully engaged students are profound and life changing.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 11 of The Learner Directed Classroom," written for Diane Jaquith and Nan Hathaway entitled, "The Secret Art of Boys."

“Bomb!” Seven year old John warns his classmates. “Kaboom!” He fires pretend magic marker missiles into hostile army figures depicted on a large piece of paper. John re-arms himself with oil pastels and unloads a barrage of machine gun bullet lines into the battle zone. “tffffffff…tfffffff!” He loads a stubby brush with tempera paint and thrusts it into blast fragments of jagged lines and shapes. “Look at that! A bomb! He got shot!” One of the characters in the battle scene is wounded. “Kaboom!” John’s collaborators Frank and Jimmy enter the fray. The trio of make believe warriors, re-arm themselves with new magic markers and slice colorful lines into the picture. After a prolonged exchange of simulated gun and missile fire the energetic war artists decide to expand their drawing with more glue and paper. As the battle spills into new territory, more soldiers, tanks and fighter jets are added. The battle rages on. The boy’s art work soon resembles a Cy Twombly abstraction (1). Later, the boys excitedly call their classmates over to share stories about their picture. After two more class sessions, the battle illustrators add crayon resist painting techniques and more colored pencil and oil pastel. Paper towels are used to blend areas representing fire and smoke. The boys are physically and emotionally in the imaginary battle, immersing themselves in the roles of U.S. military personnel with weapons of power. The boy’s teacher transcribes their stories into artist statements:

John: “It started with a little battle with Frank and Jimmy. And then we started to connect a big thing. I started the very, very first one and then we connected it.”

Frank: “This is a tank and somebody drew over it, but I could draw over it because there was a replacement tank. I air-striked their ship.”

Jimmy: “In this one part, there is a flying tank, and he shot the bad guys ship and the bad guys had one hundred ships, fifty on each side. So we shot both the wings off so they would all be dead.”

At the county art show, the boys proudly show their collaboration to family members who soon discover the 20 square foot multi-media drawing is the largest 2-dimensional work and among the most visually exciting in the entire 5000 piece, K-12 art exhibit. Proud parents take pictures of their sons next to the huge drawing followed by comments of approval and congratulations on a job well done. Back in the classroom, the boys negotiate to divvy up the mural, cutting it into pieces and take their favorite parts home.