What do you think of when you imagine a bully? That kid at school who used to take the dinner money off smaller kids? That kid at school who couldn’t wait to give someone a damn good punch?
I spend quite a lot of time on the internet in various art groups and taking online classes. What do you imagine when you think of artists? I’m guessing its quite a different image. Imagine my surprise then when I encountered two instances of bullying in the online art community. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of people I’ve come across are kind, supportive and just regular nice people. I’ve made some great friends online who I’ve never even met. But bullying? Who’d have thought it?
The first was on an online Facebook group for art journalling. If you don’t know, an art journal is a journal where you combine images and words to express yourself. They can be deeply personal and people often use them as tool to work through bad stuff in their lives. They can include images cut out from a magazine, hand drawn images, anything goes really – the idea is to express yourself and there are no rules.
One particular lady was using images she found on Pinterest (*adds shameless link to my Pinterest account….*) in a personal journal (with no intention of selling them) and sharing them in a closed Facebook group. She realised, or course, that there would be copyright issues if using them commercially. She asked a simple question on the threads and the response from a minority of people was vicious. She was made to feel like a criminal for using images in a personal journal which were shared in a closed Facebook group of supposedly like minded individuals. No harm done you’d think. She wasn’t exactly printing off thousands of copies and selling them on Ebay. As a result, this lady decided to leave the group and give up art journalling altogether, all because of a few ‘holier-than-though-‘ individuals. Well, bullies. I left the group.
The second ‘incident’ came not long after this. I was trying to find a site to continue an online art class which I’d inevitably fallen behind in. I googled the name of the teacher and one of the top listings was a blog post from someone who was disassociating themselves with this teacher and her group. From there, I read more and more about this particular person and how they (and their gang of ‘disciples’) had (and continues to) bully lots of people within a supposedly safe and caring environment. I know you can’t believe everything you read on the internet but some of the names making the accusations were other well-known people within the art community. There’s no smoke without fire as they say. I didn’t continue with the class.
That’s the other thing about bullying – it can take so many forms. Clearly physical bullying is a horrendous thing to go through but I can’t help thinking that emotional bullying leaves more long lasting wounds. And that experiences at an early age can shape who we are as adults. I was bullied for a while at school. I’m not sure why, I was maybe an easy target as an awkward and shy twelve year old. The main perpetrator was a girl who had been my best friend for a few years before that and she used to spread lies about me – things I had supposedly said or done until I didn’t really have any friends for about a year. I don’t actually remember a lot about that time (that’s what the deep dark parts of your brain are for) other than sitting along eating my sandwiches at lunchtime. Luckily, I was eventually accepted into another group of friends and things improved. I sometimes saw this girl once we were both adults. I used to give her a big cheery hello and take a little bit of pleasure in watching her squirm. I guess her now ‘adult self’ felt a bit bad for what had happened.
I’m not going to say the experience ruined my life, it didn’t. It was a bad time, of course, but it passed. I do wonder though if it has shaped how I am now. I was probably never going to be a loud, confident person but I wonder if it has left some old scars buried deep inside which affect my perception of things now. I still have the tendency to try to please everyone and a fear of not being liked. Or an irrational fear that people are looking at me or talking about me. My rational brain realises that not everyone is going to like me and its not worth trying to make them – people are all so different, its not realistic to expect everyone to like or get on with everyone else. And I shouldn’t flatter myself that people are that interested in me or what I do that they would feel the need to talk about me. But my irrational brain makes me want to try to make everyone like me and there’s always that niggling fear that people are talking about how I look or what I do. Its probably not unreasonable to suspect that this has stemmed from my experience of bullying 28 years ago.
Now 12 year old girls aren’t the nicest and it could be argued that they don’t really know the impact of what they’re doing. This is backed up by the reaction I got when I encountered my childhood bully as an adult. But lots of bullies don’t come in small child-sizes packages. They are found everywhere – in organisations like the army or police, in workplaces and now, it seems, even the online art community. As an adult, there’s no excuse – its just wrong, potentially harmful and unnecessary. You want to big yourself up and make you feel better about yourself by bullying someone else? How about trying a little kindness, it works wonders.