For a kingdom (household) dominated by boys, I’d like to think that ours is a fairly peaceable one. But it is also true that whether it is March (so named for Mars, Roman god of war), or any other month, wars and talk of war are constant in our house. What is it about boys and their fascination with warfare, and soldiers, and battles, and explosions, and weapons? My three boy children do their share of imaginative play, and many of the scenarios they act out involve fighting invisible enemies. They have no toy guns, but they have piles of carefully chosen and saved sticks that can become any bow, arrow, gun, musket, or blaster that can be dreamed up. They also have plastic light sabers–some complete with lights and schzooming sound effects–and Nerf swords. With these simple toys and a little imagination, they are armed to the hilt.
I have to admit that while I fall much more in the “peace-loving-no-weapons-in-our-house” camp, I see that the boys are just that, boys. They are trying to work out a sense of the world, and there is something in them that loves to charge in or charge out, to defend and protect, and to fight.
“Just don’t hurt your brother!!” I call out the window as they run by, sticks waving in the air.
Sigh. As a little girl, I did a lot of drawing. If I had a stack of those drawings to look through now, they would likely include dozens of kitties, bunnies, and doggies, lovely landscapes, and curvy maidens in beautiful gowns. The drawings I remember were full of imagined castles and unicorns, streams and waterfalls–truly peaceable kingdoms.
bunny from the Kelly archive
My three sons do a lot of drawing. Occasionally among their drawings a landscape shows up, complete with green leafy trees and nesting birds, but mostly what spills out from under their pens and pencils are action-packed battle scenes. These pictures are not static or still, but full of the swarm and movement of the fight, whatever the fight is.
Sometimes these images take my breath away–for all kinds of reasons.
L's space battle
These ships are incredible, but there are people bleeding on the ground…
3 men down
and younger brothers watch their big brothers very closely, and they draw too.
M's jet, and fire on the mountain
quite a zoom
M's big green army jet
tank, & red guys, & explosion
another space battle
Then there are the changes of setting and with the same basic theme:
battle with blue sea serpent
From fantasy battles,
shooting with his tail
to historical battles,
fort with tents
between the fort and the battle field
storming the castle
to knights in armor,
blue up the ladder, red on the wall
to the undead,
guys in blue and brown
robots vs. humans
to giant robots…
putting out laser fires
battles, battles everywhere!
At seen through a mother’s eyes, these images are are complicated. On the one hand, heavy, laden with my knowledge of history, of men and their destructive wars. On the other hand, funny in their mixture of intensity and innocence. Even while they draw these things, the kids have no idea of the real cost of doing battle, and relatively little exposure to actual war and the images of wars. It is partly that innocence that brings out a kind of humor in the action as illustrated here.
As seen through an artist’s eyes, I’m a little awestruck–amazed that without knowing it, these young artists are lining themselves up with an age-old art genre, one of the sweeping battle scene. And a fine tradition it is, from Greek vases ringed with heroes, to the Bayeux Tapestry, to St. George Battling the Dragon, to records drawn by Native American Warriors of their battles with the white men and soldiers forcing them from their land, and the list could go on. These drawings are compelling and expressive, full of raw energy– a far cry from the sweetly illustrated worlds of my girlhood.
artists 4 & 8 collaborate
The longer that I am a mom, the more I see that my children are their own people, separate from me, as much as they are a part of me. Whether we describe their traits as hard-wired, or talk about nature vs. nurture, we parents have to recognize that ultimately our kids will be who they are. And if many versions of this kind of drawing didn’t turn me into a princess:
from the Kelly archive, age 5 or 6?
water stained marker drawing, Kelly art archive, age 10?
then my little warrior artists should grow up just fine. At least that is what I keep telling myself.