A Most (In)Appropriate Place to Begin

I had planned to begin this blog with some posting about my 2 year-old daughter’s creative development.  Afterall, she inspired me to get going on this project.  And everything she does is super cute.  How better to cultivate a following of readers from the start?

To help me ground my observations of her work with formal and informal artmaking modes and materials, I turned to one of my longstanding favorite art educators, George Szekeley.  Like Piaget, Szekely based much of his research on observations of his own children.  I find descriptions of kids’ artmaking and related recommendations for motivating students in the art classroom are engaging and inspiring.  While reviewing The Art of Teaching Art (1996), I came across this comment:

“I have observed that moments of play become much fewer and more difficult to capture as children become older.  Play opportunities diminsh.  Play comes packaged in video games and other influences which override the individual’s own creative impulse.  Many children become wired to entertainment media and simply stop playing.”

This had me running to the basement to take another look at the paper gun collection my stepson (age 13) was working on over the summer.  I have to preface this all by saying, I’m not a big fan of guns or his fascination with them.  His knowledge has been fueled, in large part, by countless hours in front of the XBox playing Modern Warfare, in keeping with Szekely’s prediction for boys his age.  However, I admit that time has taught him some useful things like the history of world wars, and have inspired some of his most creative pursuits off screen.  Come to think of it, most of his creative projects over the past 2 or 3 years has focused around weapon imagery – Lego battlescenes, detailed drawings of the guns in his virtual arsenal, the paper guns.

When George first showed these to me, I have to admit that I was blinded by the amount of tape he used and the fact that he didn’t use recylced paper.  This morning, as I picked them up and examined them, I was impressed by George’s attention to detail and the quality of his constructions.  At first glance, I wasn’t able to see that the handgun above includes a removable magazine that slides smoothly in and out of the pistol’s handle.  His personal notations amused me.  He truly took ownership of this work.

This past week, George spent his allowance at the hardware store purchasing spray paint he used to give some of his Airsoft guns a makeover.  He experimented with how far to hold the canisters from his “target” and used tape and parsley from the garden to mask the surface to create patterns with the paint.  Again, while I wish these creative endeavors took some other form, I was impressed by his persistence with this project and the results.

I was in school earning my master’s degree in Art Education at the time of the Columbine shootings.  While I was teaching in the classroom, there was a zero tolerance policy for imagery of violence, and especially guns.  So, I’m left wondering, what place do George’s experiments have in the artroom?  If I were his teacher and I asked the students to bring in independent projects they were working on in their home studios, what would I say about George’s work?  Would I allow him to share it?  How far outside the lines does it lie?

Postscript: As it turns out, a quick Google search for “rolled paper guns” taught me that George isn’t an outlier, per se.  He’s part of a group of makers who are sharing their designs online on sites like WonderHowTo.com, which hosts more than 300 paper gun tutorials and twenty pages of spray paint lessons for gun owners.  And here I thought he was making this stuff up on his own.  But that’s a topic for another time…

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4 thoughts on “A Most (In)Appropriate Place to Begin

  1. This topic always reminds me of my children’s preschool. Odd, right? Seriously though… they went to a Reggio Emilia Based preschool, School for Young Children in Clintonville. At the parent meeting before my first child started attending, the teachers gave us the 411 on what to expect. It turns out, that they have toy plastic guns there. Some parents were shocked. I’d have to categorize my reaction as “mild surprise”. There reasoning was this… when they first started the school, they decided against having toy guns of any kind. Well, guess what happened… children still fashioned guns out of other objects. When they couldn’t find an acceptable object, they pointed their fingers like guns. The did some research and it turns out that weapon play is a normal part of imaginative play. That’s why you see toy wooden swords in Waldorf catalogs. That said, I can see a public school freaking out about something like this. I don’t think George is an outlier, just creative. Love the paint job on his guns!

  2. Very interesting. I’d have been surprised by that response at SYC too. Apparently Vivian Paley has written about young children and weapon play. Want to check that out, as well as your Waldorf reference.

  3. I haven’t read it, but it is on my wishlist: Killing Monsters: Our Children’s Need For Fantasy, Heroism, and Make-Believe Violence. I remember once my son had a friend over for a sleepover. I gave them some clay to play with. They started making a little model of a gun shop, with tiny little guns. I put them to bed later, and then around Midnight found them secretly working on it in silence in their pajamas!

  4. Pingback: Frozen in Columbus | Outside The lines

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