Bullying has become the means in schools to keep many of our kids' creativity in check. And I'm talking about the adults! We often bully the young into behaving "normally," taking the "right courses," and ultimately, encouraging our youth to measure their self-worth by how far they move away from art classes, as well as artistic and creative identities and expression.
We do this under the guise of "good advice," when it is really based on fears of their growing up and becoming unemployed or too socially odd in their need to express themselves. No matter how you put it, when we push creativity and the arts away from the center of our society and how we educate our students, we become the biggest bullies on the block.
T-Shirt Design Gone Wrong
I came to this conclusion when I saw the Old Navy shirt that has caused such a stir. The shirt, which is really a onesie for baby girls, has the words "real life artist" printed on the front, except the word "artist" has been crossed out and replaced with the word "astronaut" in one version and "president" in another.
Ok, so maybe the folks at Old Navy thought that they were making a bold feminist statement that empowers little girls. But why at the expense of artists? Fortunately, the backlash was swift and loud, and Old Navy has discontinued selling the item.
My reaction when I saw it? A deep bafflement that went beyond hurt or surprise. Because if I had to guess what the Old Navy design team (which obviously has some artists designing their clothing) was thinking, is that they weren't thinking.
Their brand of humor is a form of bullying. This type of bullying is the casual sort that takes no thought at all. It is similar to the habit that some people have of littering. It doesn't occur to them that the act might be something that is truly offensive, because for them it is just an everyday act that one does without thinking.
Bullies have a way of targeting the weakest among us. And, unfortunately, in the social hierarchy that dictates many of our school playgrounds and corporate boardrooms, it is obvious to everyone who is at the bottom and who is at the top.
The disregard at times towards artistic work and creative identities in our schools, corporations, and general society is so deep that we don't have to think about which jobs should be the first to go, who should be ignored for leadership positions, or which group should be pushed out of their homes and studios when gentrification intensifies.
Encouraging Young Artists
In my experience as an educator and an artist, most people think they care about the arts, but their casual actions tell me that many don't truly understand the value of arts in our society. For example, I've seen in our schools the elimination of art programs, the treatment of art as the type of work suited only for the those who society perceives as weird, disadvantaged, or academically weak, and the advisement of students through college counseling to directly or indirectly steer away from the arts in order to "better prepare them for college."
While our baby girls may not have learned to speak, let alone figure out their future careers, encourage them to be who they want to be. It's great if she wants to become an artist. The world will be, and always has been, better for it.
How do you encourage young artists, and what role does art play in your classroom or school? Please share in the comments section below.