Mages and Scimitars: Finding Meaning in a Pre-Adolescent's Drawing

By Hanes, Jay Michael; Weisman, Eleanor | Art Education, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Mages and Scimitars: Finding Meaning in a Pre-Adolescent's Drawing


Hanes, Jay Michael, Weisman, Eleanor, Art Education


In our earlier article, "Observing a Child Use Drawing to Find Meaning" (Hanes & Weisman, 2000), we shared our fascination with our 4-year-old child's use of drawing as a tool for making sense of his world. Now, shortly after his 12th birthday, we decided to revisit his spontaneous drawing and school artwork to better understand how older children make meaning of their world through the artistic process. Popular culture and peer relationships emerged as the prevailing influences on his worldview, thus compelling us to write about the meaning we found from our observations.

As academics, we learned to write with an objective, perhaps distant, voice. By the conclusion of this study we found ourselves pondering a similar question that Pamela Taylor asked:

If given a second chance, would we be more open to including youth cultural forms to assist our students in critically reflecting upon their choices and values as well as our own? (2007, p. 5)

Parents are not given second chances. We hope that our readers will read in between the lines of this academic study and heed the urgent message that we all need to pay attention to the youth culture of today. The roles of both parents and educators necessitate the ongoing collaboration of action research (Sanger, 1990) in daily life and work.

Our research method began when we continued to save our son Hawk's drawings since we analyzed them for our first article. In fact, Hawk set-up his own filing system, and made our task much easier. Early on we invited Hawk to participate in this study as a co-author. At first, he refused and claimed he was too busy. Later, when we asked again for his participation, he corrected flaws in the analysis and clarified our use of terms.

Hawk contributed the term "speculative fiction" to the analysis of his work. He agreed that the emergent themes in his drawings were fantasy as well as science and technology. In addition, he concurred that overlapping these two themes were his use of familiar "selfobjects" and his construction of systems or environments. We all noted the influence of popular culture icons and games evident in his work. Finally, we observed that his schooling also impacted his drawing content through curricular activities, his doodling on papers, and the relationships he established with peers.

As itinerant academics, our family moved several times during his childhood and Hawk attended five different schools from kindergarten through sixth grade. Four of those schools were private schools and one was public. The private schools included: a university lab kindergarten, two parent-led nonsectarian grade schools, and the Montessori he attended for sixth grade. Each transition to a new school challenged our entire family, but none as difficult as his fifth grade year in public school. The school system for the fifth grade focused the curriculum on achievement scores for No Child Left Behind mandated testing. Our conclusions suggest curricular adaptations for art teachers, building on popular culture and peer interaction.

Transaction, Experience, and Artistic Process

Together as a husband and wife team, our backgrounds include an eclectic mix of study in child development, movement education, art education, and cultural studies, as well as social, political, and environmental activism. Foundational to our work is the writing of John Dewey. Dewey (1938) suggested that humans learn from experiences in the world. Through the artistic process one can interpret experience. In one of his later works co-authored with Arthur Bentley, Dewey (1949) developed the concept of transaction to describe the ever-changing process of being. Contexts reveal facts and facts change as more information comes into focus.

The learning experience, as well as the teaching or parenting experience, can be seen as a transaction. Shannon Sullivan (2001) expanded on Dewey's notion of transactions to demonstrate how human beings constantly influence each other and their culturally constructed environments, even as they simultaneously engage with each other and the shared environment. …

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