Exploring Bullying through Artmaking

By Tellie, Benjamin; Dracup, Josh | Art Education, January 2016 | Go to article overview

Exploring Bullying through Artmaking


Tellie, Benjamin, Dracup, Josh, Art Education


School bullying is a complicated aspect of violence, it can be difficult for teachers to identify bullying and hard for students to report. By definition, bullying is when someone repeatedly and purposefully says or does hurtful things to another. This can include behaviors that are "offensive, abusive, malicious, insulting, and/or intimidating" (Quigg, 2011, p. 1). Some students struggle with bullying in the classroom and in the general school setting, but also through the Internet, blogs, e-mail, text messaging, and phone use (Campbell, 2005). In a national survey of students ages 12-18, in the 2012-2013 school year, 5,386,000 (21.5%) reported being bullied and 1,713,000 (6.9%) students reported being cyber-bullied (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics, 2015). Students may be bullied for many reasons not limited to the following: race; identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT); weight; or disability (Hertzog, 2015).

Bullying can affect students in a variety of ways including school absences due to fear of victimization, physical, verbal, and/or social abuse during the school day (Belliveau, 2004). As a result of bullying incidents, victims struggle with feelings and mental health issues associated with depression, anxiety, and loneliness (Graham, 2006). These mental health issues are more likely to develop in adults if they were bullied as children, than if they were not bullied at all (Koebler, 2013). A study conducted in 2005 by the National Institute of Health cites that bullying in schools affects students' "school achievement, prosocial skills, and psychological well-being for both victims and perpetrators" (Wang, Iannotti, & Nans el, 2009, p. 370).

Bullying is a serious societal and cultural issue. The causes of bullying are indeed complex and can be attributed toward a host of issues including, but not limited to, insufficient psychosocial functioning, behavioral issues, and hostility toward the school environment (Nansel et al., 2001). Sometimes, it is difficult for teachers to intervene when bullying occurs as many incidents are isolated within their class and they are unable to witness what is happening (Mishna, Scarcello, Pepler, & Wiener, 2005). To further complicate the issue, a student can inconspicuously direct bullying behaviors toward someone else through their computer using social media, making it difficult for a teacher to witness.

Creating Studio Projects That Address Bullying

To help reduce violence in their school communities and foster compassion in their students, the authors challenged their middle and high school students to place themselves in metaphorical roles by creating an original "defender" superhero character drawing, a power "creature" made out of clay, and a recycled material sculpture. These studio projects magnified students' personal stories about bullying as they reflected on positive values, personality traits, and power dynamics related to bullying. Students explored characteristics of bullies and many complexities that occur in bullying situations including social struggles, arger issues, frustrations, fears, and denial.

An instructional goal throughout the projects was developing a sense of awareness with students in regard to available support systems in school, examining positive, empathetic, and inclusive attitudes and learning how to prevent, approach, and report bullying situations. The projects are a response to school-wide bullying behaviors observed by the authors: a student publishing profane language toward another on a youth-based website; a student antagonizing another physically in class; a student intending to cause harm to a teacher when the student shook hands while having a concealed tack; students made fun of because of their gender identity, sexual preference, and orientation. The authors developed and instructed these lessons at their respective schools and collaborated long-distance to support the context of their study. …

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