Sunday, September 16, 2007

Art is Dangerous?

I've contemplated for a while now as to whether or not I was going to write on this subject. My purpose for this blog has always been to connect with people who had similar interests (i.e. the Arts) and chat about those things and inspire each other. I never wanted this to be a personal soapbox where I would lecture or go off spouting my opinion about politics or current events or whatever. However, I really feel like I need to get this off my chest. Ahem...(dusts off soapbox and steps up onto it).

Recently, an eighth-grade boy was suspended from school for five days (later reduced to three days) for sketching a picture of a gun. You can read the news story here. Not many details were provided, in order to properly judge this situation but,
it was said the drawing did not depict blood, injuries, bullets or any human targets. They said it was just a drawing that resembled a gun. The boy said it was actually an imaginary laser gun. The school will not release the picture to the boy's family or the public so we can't see it and judge for ourselves. (Which, in my humble opinion, is suspect. What is there to hide?) According to the student, he had finished his classwork early and was doodling on the back of his worksheet. When the teacher asked for the work to be turned in, she discovered the doodle, and the boy was suspended under the school's "no tolerance" gun/violence policy.

Now, I'm not naive. I recognize that we live in the age of Columbine and Virginia Tech. I understand that school administrators need to be vigilant. But where is the common sense and rational thought in the handling of this incident? Five-days suspension? For a drawing? That seems a bit extreme. Was the drawing accompanied with a threat? Did he say, "My dad has one of these at home and I'm going to bring it to school?" I think there is a big difference between a doodle done on the margin or backside of a paper to pass the time, than a note deliberately being handed to a teacher or student with a threat directed at them. What was the intent behind it? Did the student have prior incidents of violence or trouble-making? Did they talk to the boy and ask him what his intent was behind the drawing? Did they explain to him how drawings like that could be misunderstood, in this current school climate of super-sensitivity to these issues?

Some of the online blog and message board responses to this incident have been quite humorous. Here are a few of the comments that made me laugh, but also made a good point in showing the ridiculousness of the matter:

“The question is, was the drawing of the 'gun' loaded?”

"Guns don't kill people, pictures of guns do!"

"If he drew two cars crashing, should his license be suspended until he's 18? "

My brother drew pictures of guns and planes dropping bombs and army tanks when he was a kid, that didn't mean he wanted to blow up the school or hijack a tank. It didn't mean he was violent either.

I've created some...shall we call it "interesting" in my time, especially in high school. I'm sure in this day and age I would have been sent to the principal's office or the school psychiatrist based on those images. At the time, art was my only outlet for expressing the emotions that I couldn't express verbally. Things like the frustration over my inability to get along with my mother, as well as many of those other teenage traumas we all go through, unrequited crushes and the like, were expressed in my art through ugly monsters with swords through their chests, a wild girl smashing broken and bleeding hearts, weird graveyards and other oddities. It didn't mean I was violent or satanic. It just meant I was like any other melodramatic teenager, trying to make sense of my world.

When someone looks at a painting, they bring their own experience, views and personal tastes to the viewing of that piece. Sure, the artist has a message they are probably trying to convey and the visual media is a relatively universal language. However, to assume you know exactly what the artist meant, and then to further assume the artist's potential for future actions based on that one work...I don't know. That just seems like a bit of a stretch to me. Whether you're talking about a piece of fine art or a school boy's doodle.

Here's what it all comes down to. Is a picture just a picture? Or can art really be dangerous? More specifically, can you predict a person's future actions by observing their art? (Can you say, Pre-Crime boys and girls?) What do you think?

P.S. Stephen King wrote an interesting article on this same subject (connecting violent art to violent acts) after the Virginia Tech shootings. You can read the article, called "Predicting Violence" here.


The Trousered Ape said...

I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!


D.L. White said...

No! You'll shoot your eye out! :P

Kathleen said...

Gosh, I would have been suspended for my drawings too, because I didn't just stick to flowers and rainbows. I kind of liked bats and haunted houses....hmmm, and I turned out perfectly normal. :P It does seem a bit excessive to over react to this boy's seemingly innocent drawing, but I think people are just worried they will miss the sign that couldn't have saved everyone from the really bad people who do commit such crimes. I think teachers are on high alert to any signs they come across because in some cases, if you ignore a sign and then some does get hurt, it is your job and you are fired. It is a sad day when a teacher is forced to report a drawing of a gun because they are scared that essentially they will get fired if they don't report it. It is also entirely up to the administration, who is probably also scared about loosing their jobs if they don't "act" on a situation, who decide what to do. The teacher has no power to do anything. I think everyone is just really scared for their jobs and wants to do the right thing, but no one knows what is right and how do you decide that. If you could stop true crime before it happens wouldn't you want to? It is "Pre-crime" or the beginning of it for sure.

D.L. White said...

You brought up some good points Kathleen - how teachers are powerless, because of the litigious society we are in, the nature of what the public school system has become, combined with all the violence in our world. I guess it's just sad that our own institutions of learning can't even teach by example what rational, level-headed common sense and problem-solving skills are. I understand them being extra careful in not wanting to let another Columbine happen - but surely five days suspension and making the boy feel like a criminal is not the answer? What happened to open, frank communication and dialog?

If they had done that to me when I was in school (which, I am most positive they would have, if the climate then was like it is today) it would have scarred me emotionally - and who knows - maybe it would have made me more rebellious and violent towards a system that didn't want to take the time to understand me or my artistic expression.

(Whew. Feeling a little dizzy. I'd better step down off this soapbox now. lol)