Last month was National Bullying Prevention Month, an annual effort to raise awareness and encourage schools, communities and organizations to work together to stop bullying. As part of this effort, we asked you – the PicsArt community – to take a pledge promising to be kind, be inclusive, stand up for others, and report bullying when you see it.

We’re excited to share that nearly 100,000 of you took our #IChooseKindness pledge! 

We’re absolutely thrilled, humbled, and proud that so many of you committed to keeping PicsArt a safe and positive place. We know it can be tough to be a creator in an evolving world, and we’re forever grateful to have such a supportive community.

Just take it from fellow PicsArtist(and now employee) Zara Avoyan. She knows exactly what it’s like to be a creator in today’s world where building a personal brand online has become a new norm. Below, Zara shares her thoughts and experiences as an illustrator, online bullying, and the importance of championing one another.

Digital Bullying Could Deter A Whole Generation of Artists… It Almost Happened to Me

By Zara Avoyan

One, ten, twenty…it didn’t take long for me to count to thirty as I flipped through my old kindergarten drawings. There, in my childhood bedroom, I came across something I thought I’d lost for good: a nostalgia that really reminded me how fun illustration and design used to be. Back then, there was no pressure, no portfolio, and no “likes” or views to worry about. 

These days, I’ve graduated from doodling and am now an artist by trade, working as an illustrator and content strategist at the creative platform PicsArt. My chosen industry is not an easy one, though. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last year there were just 281,500 graphic designers and 51,900 fine artists. In our country of 329M people, that means that artists and graphic designers make up only .1% of the population. That number is going down, too, as the same Bureau predicts fewer designers and artists in years to come. 

Reasons for the decline might seem pretty clear. From limited access to art tools or low computer literacy, to a sense of intense competition, to even the trope of the “starving artist”—there is so much that can work to dissuade young people from pursuing art. But in my own experience, there is also a much more taboo factor at play impacting artists growing up in the digital world: bullying. I’ve seen how a culture of online harassment, and the unfortunate lack of safe spaces, can prevent childhood art hobbies from turning into adult careers. 

When I was around 10 or 11, I remember the first time my brother lent me his graphics tablet, an old piece of hardware that would be considered antique by now. Soon after, I built up a YouTube channel full of animated clips, some of which actually reached hundreds of thousands of views. (The YouTube channel in question will remain anonymous to spare myself the embarrassment). At the same time, I was a shy kid, avoiding big group activities and keeping my circle small. Drawing wasn’t just my hobby—it was my safe space. 

Even though a lot of my YouTube audience was very supportive, I did have a fair share of people that did not like what I made. And these commenters did not hold back. When I uploaded my designs and animations to YouTube, I never expected them to reach hundreds of thousands of strangers— strangers who probably had no clue that their hateful comments were aimed at a child. At the time, I would read through every single comment, taking each one as seriously as a professor’s critique. Some of these would make me so upset that I’d end up crying, with my parents trying to find the delicate balance of telling me to stop caring about what others thought and that I have every right to be upset. 

As luck would have it, my father happened to have a longer term solution. In a way, my frustrations were the match that first sparked the idea of PicsArt in his head. He envisioned a safe place where someone like me could easily go create what they’d just spent hours drawing and editing, without being judged. Flash forward to 2020 and this has blossomed into the company that I illustrate for full-time. 

But not everyone has the luck or access that I have. I imagine growing up in today’s world, where the internet moves at hyperspeed. I think that if I were a budding artist now, I would feel too afraid to share my work with the world. I consider the fierce competition, the sheer amount of people online, the number of potential trolls. Even some of my most talented friends feel too anxious to show the internet what they do. It’s not easy. But it’s also such a loss for the creative arts world.

I’d like to think I’ve grown up to be the exact opposite of who I used to be back then: I’m a lot less shy, more confident in my work, and rarely pay attention to negativity. The work I do at PicsArt is for anyone else who might be going through the same experiences, no matter the age. Reflecting on this past October, which was coined National Bullying Prevention Month, I want to lessen the taboo and normalize talking about the online harassment that many young visual artists have to deal with, with some even considering it a rite of passage. According to Pew Research, online harassment is more commonplace among teens than it ever has been, with 60% experiencing it at some point. This shouldn’t be the case. 

Truly, all I ever wanted as an artist was a community and mutual support. Luckily, I don’t have to build one from the ground up: the foundation already exists. The art and design world, which has often been a safe space for experimentation outside the stiff walls of tradition, can break down even more walls by acknowledging and speaking up about bullying as an issue that prevents young artists from turning their passion into a lifelong career. 

By championing encouragement, safety, diversity, and mutual support, we can reduce the amount of young artists who put down the pencil or log off for good. Maybe, we can even shift those Bureau of Labor numbers in the opposite direction. Or at the very least, bring about new, safer spaces to create.

If you’d like to spread the love and become an anti-bullying champion, check out these  7 Ways to Choose Kindness Over Bullying, written in collaboration with Project B3, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering student voices to Be Safe, Be Smart and Be Kind online. They offer support for community-wide initiatives by providing leadership and social media programs and workshops for middle and high school students, as well as curriculum, resources and seminars for teachers and parents. Follow them @projectB3_org!

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READ  7 Ways To Choose Kindness Over Bullying