To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment- Emerson
Todd and I attended the Tyler School of Arts’ Graphic Design opening of the magnificent ‘Restaurant Project.’ Students needed to design a make-believe restaurant, come up with a theme, an accompanying menu, take-out bag and any extras they could come up with. Bryce is an illustrator. He has been an illustrator ever since he was 4 years old and began to draw things like whales with party hats (1st drawing) and illustrate what was in his incredible mind. He wanted to draw with a tool in his hand and he wanted to create a pop-up menu, fun-loving lad that he is. Bryce’s restaurant was called ‘Beanstalk’- Fairy Tales, Friends & Food, and he had to write all the copy related to Fairy Tales. Now, of course, it was not going to be a sweetness and light, happy little menu but creepy. Always on the creepy side.
So when we went down to Tyler School of Art at Temple and attended the Restaurant opening and were thrilled to learn that he won first place for MENU.
Throughout the course of the project, however, which lasted months, Bryce struggled with what he wanted to do, his vision, and also pleasing his professor. It was challenging to decide who to please and finding a balance, for his professor was extremely hard to please.
When we went down to Tyler for the opening,I knew I might meet this professor and I was already concerned over how our conversation would go down. The topic was Bryce’s future as an illustrator.
“I know Bryce likes to illustrate and he is a very good illustrator, but it is an extremely competitive area to get into,” said the professor.
And I said, “Well, that is what he has always wanted to do- write and illustrate books- for as long as he can remember.”
“But is it sooooo competitive. He really should take more computer classes and go into graphic design FIRST.”
And I said, “He does not WANT to be a graphic designer. He wants to be an illustrator. ”
“I’ve encouraged him to get into web designing first. That would be easier.”
And I said, ‘Bryce does not want to design websites. He does not even like the computer. He wants to illustrate with a tool in his hand. This is what makes him happy. His first choice of school was not Tyler, where Graphic Design reigns supreme. It was University of the Arts whose Illustration program is unrivaled. But we could not afford to send him there and so he is at Tyler, where Illustrators are in the minority.”
About this time in the conversation, another mother walked by and said out loud, “Tiger Mother!” The woman was referring to the overpowering Chinese mother in the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua and I knew it was not a compliment. I flashed her a look.
Once more the professor said, “It’s just very very competitive out there in the illustration world. I would not encourage him to start there.”
Right about now, my blood pressure was rising and my mouth was about to say things that I may not have any control over and might regret later. I was looking over at Bryce who was standing next to both and was visibly sweating. I knew that this professor found flaw after flaw with my son’s menu, as he did with every students. Even now, at the grand opening of the show, he dwelled on what was still not right instead of complimenting the students on a job well done. And although Bryce won first place for his Menu, this prize was not delivered by his professor, but by an outside judge, a very prestigious New York designer, much to the professor’s chagrin.
Now I knew that this professor did not have a clue on how this budding illustrator had been raised- to love life, seek happiness, value freedom and independence, to follow his heart and NOT chase after the almighty dollar. He also did not know that because of my son’s talent and brains, he received enough scholarships that he did not have to worry about debt when he graduated and could be a little flexible in what he pursued. And, he did not know who his mother is.
“Well, I am an author who has illustrated four of my six published books and I am working on a new one. Bryce will be illustrating it. I’m hoping it will help him get started.”
And everything changed. The professor started to stumble on his words and blurted out , “Really? Well that would be great. That would be a wonderful start for him. ”
After the opening, the professor began sharing illustration contests with Bryce and offered to critique and help him with my book illustrations.
I was glad I opened my mouth but also very glad I did not say anything I would regret later. And if this is what a Tiger Mother does- defends her son’s true heart, then let the name calling continue.
Bryce claims he learned a lot from this professor and I’m sure he did. But when I was at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, I had a painting professor who was very hard on me. After two years, I wanted to transfer to a professional art school, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and I only had one painting class to show for myself. No matter how hard I tried and how diligent I worked, I received straight D’s for grades. I was freaking. Why would they want me at the Academy with a painting grade like this? I applied anyway and at the end of that semester, I received an A+ in Painting. When I questioned the prof, he replied, “That was the grade you truly deserved all along but I didn’t think you would work up to your potential if I gave it to you.” OK!
Other students may have listened to the prof and the negative voices in their heads and thought, “I am no good.” Since I was blessed with being completely deaf to any voices, they never interfered with my quest. But he could have destroyed my future, He could have smashed my dreams. He could have set me on a downward spiral of thinking very little of myself. Just like Bryce’s professor could direct him down a path that was not his true direction if he was not strong enough and did not believe in his own vision.
A Graphic Design artist/friend of mine for many years disagrees with me on how these types of professors treat their students. When Bryce first went to art school, he reported profs who were so hard on the students that they habitually made them cry in class, saying how terrible they were at the art. They said it was to sift the wheat from the chaff.
My artist friend said that this type of bullying is necessary. That this is the way it is going to be in the real world and I should take the prof’s part. I begged to differ. I do not believe any human being has the right to belittle another, especially a fragile student, especially a fragile freshman. It is so easy to fail at college as it is. I believe we should be building one another up, including the professors who get paid so much money to teach our children at the universities that, in turn, cost a tremendous amount of money. I think there should ONLY be supreme support and TEACHING, not trashing. Trashing does nothing positive for a person, especially a vulnerable young student who is trying very hard to believe in themselves.
Bryce is pretty strong of heart when it comes to knowing what he wants to do with his life, what makes him happy. Still, he periodically has lapses where he says, “Everyone in school is serving internships at graphic design firms. Do you think I should be too?” And I reply, “You don’t want to be a graphic designer. You want to illustrate. Your life, you work, your job, can look completely different from EVERYONE else’s at that school. You are on your own path to happy which is individual. Do not ever compare yourself to anyone else. Do not ever let anyone sway you to be someone who does not resonate with your heart.” GROWL!