Weapons, weaponry, violent action drawings – these are subjects and themes that frequently appear in middle school art – usually boy art. My colleague Clyde Gaw writes extensively about this in “The Secret Art of Boys” (in The Learner Directed Classroom, 2012, Jaquith &Hathaway Eds.)
|By "J" - Grade 6|
When students choose to make art about guns or violence there is an opportunity to talk through these themes and gain insight into why some young artists find these ideas compelling.
Often a student will say: “I made this because guns are cool.” or simply “I like guns.” Fascination with weapons is not unusual. Social commentary about guns, at this age, is. So I was very interested in a recent mixed media piece (pictured above) titled “Y the Violence?” The artist's statement created for the display of this piece reads: “I don't know why people kill (that's the "IDK"). "LOL" is that I think killers might think it's funny.”
This interested me – the artist used materials in an interesting and deliberate way, created meaning, communicated an idea, and put their work “out there” for others to see and respond.
I have a reproduction of sculpture by Marvin Bartel pinned to the wall in the Sculpture Center – a piece I greatly admire. It was made in 1968 and depicts a rifle with a long site, hanging broken from a coarse noose – a lynched rifle. I asked my student if he ever noticed that photo, (he did not). Together we looked at it, commented on the artist's possible intentions, speculated about the year it was made (1968) and what might have been going on during that time. I told the student that 1968 was the year Martin Luther King was assassinated and Robert Kennedy – Was Bartel "assassinating" the rifle? Killing violence? Calling for an end to the shootings?
I know that in some schools, depicting weapons is disallowed. And while it is sometimes unsettling to see young students drawing and building weapons, their interest in these provides an entry point to speak about complex topics that hold relevance to this generation - conversations which might otherwise be silenced.