|A very typical boy illustration of a "smoking gun," albeit better executed than most. |
From the sketchbook of one of my former students.
So imagine my shock and dismay when I read in Salon that a 16-year-old high school student in Egg Harbor City, NJ, was arrested after doodling in his notebook. The boy drew what has been variously described as either weapons or a flamethrower hand (which is the second most-common trope among teen boy artists, after guns).
|Another drawing, same kid.|
Having clearly never before seen a teenage boy, a staffer called the local cops, who—instead of rolling their eyes—searched both the school and the kid’s home with sniffer dogs. There they found chemicals which when combined could create an explosion, and pieces of electronics which when rebuilt could have been used to make detonators.
|Boys of that age live in a |
(I am glad they didn’t stop by my house, since they would have found electronic parts and chemicals strewn all over the kitchen, this being our week to refinish the kitchen cabinets and repair the light fixtures.)
This would all be the makings of a ridiculous story, except that the boy was sent to juvenile detention while the so-called crime was investigated.
I’m not much of a believer in gender differences, but having taught a lot of teenagers to draw and paint, I know there are distinct differences in what they draw when they’re not being ordered around by the likes of me. Teen girls draw archetypal faces and bodies (often in Regency clothes). Teen boys draw weapons and fight scenes. This is universal, and I’m shocked that anyone working with kids doesn’t know this.
Last year I had a sweet kid in my studio, SH, who has graciously allowed me to share some of the gun doodles from his sketchbook. SH is every mother’s dream kid—handsome, kind to others, involved in extracurricular activities, a competitive swimmer, camp counselor, and having excellent manners. But when he was bored, he drew guns—just like every other boy I’ve ever known.
|This is a typical girl drawing of the same age, again better executed than most.|
By my daughter.
Drawing is a form of thinking as well as communicating, and in the hands of most people is primarily therapeutic and cathartic, rather than descriptive. A kid who draws a flamethrower is dealing with the stress of sexuality in a time-honored manner. A kid who draws a monster clawing off Mrs. Addlepate’s face has in fact found an excellent way of dealing with the stress of Mrs. Addlepate’s inanities. On the other hand, the kid who is prohibited from expressing his frustration, his zeal, his intelligence, his adolescent hormones and his pain is a kid who’s more likely to quite literally “go ballistic.”