This past week I took time out from working on The NAKED Project to mentor a 14-year-old girl for her Montessori school’s work/study internship program. She wanted to intern with me because of her interest in fashion and magazines. Interests shared by most 14 year girls. The project I assigned to her was to create a magazine that embraced and celebrated the hobbies and preoccupations of her peers.
To get to know my intern better, I had her create a vision board that represented her interests/thoughts/emotions. My belief is that creative expressions often tell more about what a person is thinking and feeling than verbal communication.
Toward the end of our first day we reviewed her vision board (above photo) and discussed the concept for the magazine that she would go on create during the week. One look at her vision board and I was drawn to the letters she assembled, forming the words “Be Different.” At a time when so many teens are feeling the pressure to conform in our society for fear of being bullied if they don’t, I felt that her message was a bold and authentic statement as well as a great title for a magazine. Short, catchy, honest and direct.
When I look back, I think my teen years were some of the hardest. You are just beginning to develop your own identity while being besieged with pressure to “fit in.” It takes great courage for a teen, either male or female, to break away from the group mentality – to be different. The media messages are mixed and confusing. Shows like MTV’s Skins depict the blatant debauchery of our youth while Glee sends a message that being different can be creatively rewarding.
At the start of our project I had asked my intern how she liked her art courses at school. She was indifferent – bordering on slightly critical. Her main complaint was that the instructor said “trees must be brown” leaving no room for personal interpretation or expressionism. I told her that this project was all about thinking outside the box. She embraced the assignment.
Yesterday as we worked on the completion of her magazine project, I was overwhelmed by just how “outside the box” her thinking was. Her story ideas where original, her writing thoughtful, and her visuals impressive. Many of us underestimate the creative potential of our youth. It seems with so much of their time spent on applying for high school or college admissions and focusing on S.A.T. scores that the fine arts can often be overlooked in the process. Creative self-expression through art can help students gain insight and self-awareness, increase self esteem, develop interpersonal skills, and release stress. I found it interesting that most of my intern’s classmates selected to work with professionals in creative fields. Gallery owners, glassblowers, sculptors, and photographers also participated in this internship program. Art is inspiring.
Mentoring is rewarding. Whether it is mentoring women newly diagnosed with breast cancer or young students with their work/study projects, I find that I grow and learn as much from them as vice versa. Taking some needed time-out from my dedication to The NAKED Project was beneficial. This week I was able to look at the world through the eyes of a healthy, unique and enthusiastic 14-year-old girl. Optimism can be contagious – I think I caught hers.
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