Visual literacy has become a key component of young people’s engagement with the world. They are expert consumers and producers of visual texts and whilst the adults in the room might consider themselves literate in symbolism, for many of our students this understanding is intuitive. This post is largely prompted by a comment one of my blog group made about her subject’s interest in manga and the significance of this passion in terms of her post Year 12 studies. Whilst I was languishing over the dilemma of what to make my last post and reveille about, I realised that it was right before me in the art work of my incredibly gifted nephew Elliot Crombie whose work festoons this post. Elliot at twenty-one, not only demonstrates the way that Popular Culture finds expression in his life but also the way that it has transformed his thinking, search for meaning and place in the workforce. Elliot makes social commentary, articulating his concerns and inspirations through the medium of his brush and pen. His respect for Buddhist teachings inspired beautiful paintings of ancient temples and statues and many studies of the Dalai Lama. The wisdom of Nelson Mandela found expression in large canvasses and his engagement with world issues and Popular Culture have lead to t-shirts and customised skateboards. He has his own T-shirt design company and sells his products at markets; he paints what he feels strongly about and his portraits are sold before the paint has dried. His skill with fine pens and brushes took him through years of skulls and tattoo designs and now, post Art Degree, he is apprenticed to a tattoo artist aiming to specialise in portraiture. Elliot is in the hub of responding to all that gravitates around him in his world, and his work resonates across the generations.
The disdain that many adults once felt towards tattoo artists has been replaced with a grudging awe or resounding respect. Evidence of this change in cultural attitudes is emblazoned on the skin of a large proportion of seventeen to twenty-five year olds of both genders. Once the branding of gangs, seamen and Islanders, tattoos have become an articulation of beauty, protest, remembrance and creative expression. Popular Culture has given creative commentary a place as a means of earning a livelihood which didn’t exist in the mainstream to the same extent ten years ago.
Art no longer belongs on walls or on bodies. One-of-a-kind skateboard deck that hang within a picture when not in use, emblazoned with distinct beautifully crafted graphics have given creative expression a new domain. Graffiti art such as Banksy’s work in Bristol has legitimized the form and whilst pointless tagging still takes place, the celebration of graffiti art can be found on castles (Kelburn Estate Ayrshire Scotland) and alley ways in our major cities. Young people are taking art off the walls and into the streets and doing so skillfuly.
Elliot like many of his generation, is carving himself a future of gainful employment and satisfaction with a confidence that commands respect. No longer limited to mainstream conventional career paths, he can craft his own, take diversions, all the time using and developing his visual literacy to communicate his vision of the world and get paid for it. Such optimism, courage and confidence is the legacy that these young people leave.
Elliot Crombie can be reached through Facebook.