Can kid’s art be inappropriate? It’s a loaded question, and one I’ve found to be sometimes answered with sarcasm or dismissive sentiments such as “they’re just kids.” This means they’ll draw what they see, and if grown-ups consider it to contain inappropriate depictions of body parts or scenarios considered too adult for children to understand, it’s laughed off. What they draw isn’t serious art, so why even ask the question of appropriateness. At some point, these precocious children will conform to society’s standards of what’s wrong and what’s right. But what is wrong and what is right when it comes to art? Uh-oh. Another loaded question. That means we’re dealing with the assumption that art can be wrong. For this article, I’m going to try to keep it simple with my experiences at the mom level.
I think the “laugh off” of kid’s inappropriate art is evident in the amount of collections of drawings put together for adults to scroll through on their Facebook pages. Most of us have seen the kid’s drawing of the mom working a stripper pole with money being thrown in the air. Or the picture where the kid calls her dad the best cock when she meant cook, complete with what can be visualized as a penis hat on top of his head instead of a chef’s hat. In my opinion, these are put together to give us (parents and non-parents) a feeling of superiority to the parents of the children who created the art. Aren’t we glad the children we know aren’t expressing themselves in this manner?
Parents’ feelings aside, I can’t help but think how the children were made to feel in these situations. Do you tell a child not to draw what they see or what represents their feelings at the time? Do you tell a child that you took a picture of their imagination hard-at-work and posted it all over social media so other adults can have a good laugh? Don’t get me wrong. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t say I have also cringed and giggled at some of the art passed around the internet, too. That’s because at the time, I was firmly in the category where my child wasn’t expressing themselves in this manner.
Motherhood laughs in my face, yet again. My son turns four in a few months, and he loves to draw. He’s serious about his art. Every picture is a masterpiece and must be immediately taped to the wall or hung up on the fridge. Superheroes and villains are his first choice of characters to create on the blank page, and honestly, I love it. I’m raising a little comic book artist. There’s a lot of joy in that fact for a geek mom such as myself.
But recently, there’s been a trend in his art. BOOBIES. That’s right. Breasts complete with nipples. Not on the women, mind you. They wear shirts. His are man-boobs on the shirtless superheroes or villains. Below is an example. This is his rendition of The Incredible Hulk, complete with boobies.
Now remember, he’s only three. And I’m immensely proud of the fact he can draw complete circles. But this is where I hit a snag. I’ll admit I responded with a chuckle, and as you can see, a little snarky caption. I told him how much I loved it (and I do), and then I took a picture, and I’m sharing it. Just like everyone else. But there’s a reason why I’m sharing. I don’t care what other people think about his art. At this point, I have no intentions of criticizing him or asking him to stop drawing boobs. My concern is how other adults are going to make him feel. He attends voluntary pre-school in the fall. Will they post a picture like this, along with all the other pics of what’s considered appropriate drawings, on their board for all to see? Will they pull me aside and ask me to speak with him about his need to give boobs to shirtless men? Will another parent complain? And worst of all, would the other kids make fun of him for his drawings?
One day my nine year old daughter came home to a drawing my son had made for her and taped to her door. It’s the Abomination on a skateboard riding through a graveyard. There are some bushes thrown in there for realism. And it’s fun and very smartly drawn for a tiny tyke, but it also has man-boobs. My daughter couldn’t get over any part of the drawing other than the boobs. I’ll confess, it’s hard to look anywhere else. But, is it inappropriate? Probably not for home. Would you hang this drawing in your office at work?
What if he progresses to full nudes? Another huge fear I deal with is if I control his art or make him feel like he’s doing something “wrong,” I could ultimately kill his joy and passion. Shouldn’t that be worse than worrying about what’s appropriate?
I’m not sure I’ve reached a solid solution yet, and that’s most likely because a choice hasn’t been forced upon me. Right now, I’ll stick to my belief that I can’t let what others think make me critical of his art. I will forever be his biggest supporter.
But I’d love to know from those who read this essay: How would you have a conversation with your child, grandchild, niece/nephew, or sibling about drawing boobies? What if it were women’s breasts? What if it were a penis? Where do we draw the line when we have to worry about how others will treat our budding artists?