The art of Nerf war

Art is in the eye of the beholder—especially when it’s the art of Nerf guns.

By Alison Howard

There’s going to be an arts festival at the Point all day this Saturday. Sort of­—that is, if you count a Nerf War as an arts festival, and the acquisition, care, modification, and shooting of Nerf guns as art. Everyone is welcome to come to this event; gatherings such as these are hospitable to strangers as long as they are enthusiastic and respectful, and follow some common sense rules like not painting their Blast Bazookas black and making them look like real rocket launchers. In fact, the whole Nerf world is only such a quirky subset because most people are not enthusiastic about it, or respectful of it. Nerf isn’t exactly the most mainstream genre of art; in fact, it takes a redefinition of art to consider it as such in the first place.I’m not really sure what the point of art is, but I would like to think that it’s about just doing something, anything. For me, it’s about not being half-hearted, about creating for the sake of having a result that pleases you. I’m not saying that Chopin composed Mazurka No. 4 for the heck of it, but wouldn’t it be nice to think so—that it was a labor born of restlessness, free time, and the desire to hear music fill a room? I don’t know much about art, about proper pitch or proper forms, but I know about the anxious worry that a life without action is ultimately unsatisfying. Most of the stress in my life comes from the unexpected source of not knowing what to do. Sure, there’s the endless litany of responsibilities and the sort of work list that runs through your mind on repeat before you go to sleep of all the things you have to do for tomorrow: A Sosc response on readings you haven’t even purchased yet, charting the timeline of Earth’s environmental history as a metaphor paralleling the life of Jesus, a Core Bio lab report, or something equally painful. This isn’t the same as the stuff you want to do, although I’ll concede that one girl’s tedious task may be another’s cup of tea. It’s just the sort of thing that needs to be done in order for life to go on, or, in less dramatic terms, for you to pass college. It’s a different thing altogether to be internally compelled to do something, sometimes called passion, and that is my basis for art. Some people are passionate about music, some about science, some about Nerf guns. I guess I’m passionate about compulsively joining listhosts for clubs on campus and then never going.My friends who are passionate about Nerf guns show that anything can become an art form. Two boys on my floor have literally painted the floor of their Shoreland triple with Nerf bullets and other various Nerf paraphernalia. They are part of a proud group (in fact, the organizers of the aptly named Chicago Area Nerf Out) that modifies the guns so that they become too dangerous to be considered playthings, although still too much fun to be considered work. For them, Nerf is a labor of love that happens to spill over into the practical (practical meaning that they can use their Nerf guns to protect snacks from bandits from other floors at our house study breaks). It’s art brought into daily life, the wonder of a room filled with plastic guns, and restlessness channeled into something uniquely satisfying. I once walked into their room to find a massive, half-finished painting their third roommate was working on, lying on the floor in between a bright-orange barrel and a box of weights for making Nerf bullets. I thought it was a nice image, an interesting contrast of forms. Even though a painting might seem more like art than a modified crossbow Nerf gun modeled after the ones the Lord of the Rings’ Uruk-hai carry, I’d like to think that anything can be art with enough passion. Maybe classifying something as art has less to do with technical stuff and more to do with the force of production, the idea that any activity can become full of wonder for a certain person and inspire their creativity. It’s important to recognize that the strange passions and impulses people feel—the whim to learn how to knit, the desire to organize an orchestra of kazoos, the craving for the scientific observation of tarantulas—are perfectly valid. It might not seem like the most practical thing to do in the face of actual work, but it adds something to one’s experience that makes the day and all of its tedium seem a little less devoid of personal interest.

Alison Howard is a first-year in the College.