Student stands by “controversial” mural that shows life of a man ending in marriage and fatherhood

posted at 6:11 pm on April 9, 2012 by Tina Korbe

Liz Bierendy, a 17-year-old artist who attends Pilgrim High School in Warwick, R.I., has had to defend her artistic vision for a mural to cover a wall of the high school. The work, designed to show the progression of a boy from childhood to adulthood, ends with a depiction of a man standing hand-in-hand with a woman and child. The man and woman wear wedding bands.

Critics said the mural might not represent the life experiences of many of the students at Pilgrim High School — so Bierendy should have to change it. Fortunately, the Warwick School Superintended inserted himself into the controversy and insisted that Bierendy should be allowed to finish the mural as she designed it.

My first thought when I read this story was of the elephant-dung-dusted image of the Virgin Mary that once was brought to New York’s Brooklyn Museum of Art. When Christians complained, the common refrain was, “What’s the matter? It’s just art.” That’s what I want to ask Bierendy’s critics now: “What’s the matter? It’s just art.”

Very few artistic works are so grand and sweeping as to reflect the whole of human experience. It’s an expert artistic strategy to attempt to reflect that part of reality with which the artist is most familiar. So it was that Jane Austen wrote of the love lives of the landed class in the eighteenth and nineteenth century English countryside. So it was that Louisa May Alcott wrote a story of four “little women” closely patterned after herself and her sisters. Often, artists’ most imaginative attempts at the construction or reconstruction of a world they’ve never actually experienced themselves fall flat. The Twilight series should be evidence enough of that. That Bierendy was accurately reflecting some sliver of human experience should be enough to satisfy any pro-art critics.

But another layer to this story exists. The reaction to Bierendy’s mural underscores society’s alarming tendency to adjust standards to fit the way we live, rather than adjust the way we live to fit standards. (Incidentally, I’d note that many of these standards are rooted not just in societal mores, but in natural law. We’re not actually able to “change” them — just to deny or ignore them at our own peril. But that’s another post!) While we should be realistic about human nature and certainly shouldn’t base governmental policies on idealistic assumptions, we should nevertheless work to renew the culture such that it brews better and better behavior in each successive generation.

No family is perfect, but the facts still support the idea that the so-called “traditional” or “nuclear” family is the best context in which to bring up children. Consider just a few statistics:  Adolescents in single-parent homes are more likely to be sexually active than their peers in two-parent homes. Boys whose fathers aren’t involved in their lives are more likely to exhibit aggression and antisocial behavior than boys whose fathers are involved. Girls whose fathers are frequently absent are more likely to become pregnant as teenagers than girls whose fathers are consistently present. Meanwhile, teens from intact families are less likely to initiate drug and alcohol use, have lower smoking and drinking rates than their peers and are less likely to abuse drugs. If, then, we consider it to be better for kids not to smoke, drink and have sex as teenagers, then it is better for kids to grow up in an intact family. That’s not a judgment; it’s just a description.

The need for art that depicts the traditional progression to adulthood is greater than ever. Too few examples exist in real life these days. Art can fill the gap and show millennials who seem determined to delay responsibility for as long as possible that something else is possible. Whereas a blog post (yes, like this one) that lectures kids my age to consider marriage and parenthood as valid priorities is easy to tune out, art might actually invite them to consider again the advantages to the traditional “transition to adulthood.” Anecdotal evidence suggests that kids aren’t actually happier remaining kids when their brains and bodies are long past the point of developing. They might not know it, but they want to be adults who not only take full responsibility for themselves but are at least capable of taking responsibility for a child, too. A depiction of a smiling, hand-holding family (however cheesy that might seem) might help kids themselves to become aware of that fact.


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Actually, in the history of human history, the stable nuclear family *is* the transgressive form, if we’re talking about the number of years most people in any given society lived within it.

libfreeordie on April 9, 2012 at 9:14 PM

Something I’ve noticed in men who are faithfully married and have raised or are raising children – there is a component to their characters that is missing in mine and one which I will never achieve, being 60 and never having been married. There is a “completeness” there, an ineffable quality, but glaringly obvious to one who is not afraid to look and note its lack in one’s self.

I suspect it is this lack, particularly in the homosexual community, and the denial of that lack that drives much of the Left’s angst towards the institution.

Cleombrotus on April 9, 2012 at 9:29 PM

If I was the student artist, and forced to alter the mural because it “might not represent the life experiences of many of the students” at the school, I would have come right back at the school administrators and challenge them to come up with a mural design that would “represent the life experiences of many of the students.”

Show the man as single and employed? “Many students will remain unemployed.”
Show the man as gay? “Many students are straight.”
Show the man doing any identifiable activity? “Not everyone will perform that activity.”
Show nothing but a series of stick figures getting slightly larger with time? “Some students have pituatary disorders and will not grow any further in height. You are discriminating against them.”
In the end, the mural will have to be nothing but a series of amorphous shapes, floating on a gray background — and even that will discriminate against anyone who achieves physical form.

The only solution: mass suicide of the entire administration and student body. It’s the only way out of the dilemma.

Zombie on April 9, 2012 at 9:31 PM

Life as we know it definitely ends at parenthood. All that’s left is the “afterlife”, for better or for worse.

elfman on April 9, 2012 at 9:34 PM

Actually, in the history of human history, the stable nuclear family *is* the transgressive form, if we’re talking about the number of years most people in any given society lived within it.

libfreeordie on April 9, 2012 at 9:14 PM

The history of human history includes cave men. Any given society includes the Taliban and those charming indigenous tribes where 10 year old girls give birth. Can you narrow it down to Western Civilization – or what’s left of it?

Buy Danish on April 9, 2012 at 9:37 PM

I will note this:

In my high school, lo these many years ago, we had a similar mural. Needless to say, a minority student was chosen to paint it, because anything else would be RAY-cyst, and in our case an Hispanic student was chosen, even though the school was only about 10% Hispanic (the rest of school was about equally divided between black, Asian and white. True multiculturalism!).

Anyway, the student painted this massive grandiose epic of the life of an Hispanic student, mostly involving gang activity, and in the final panel, which in our case was HUGE, the character was now a young man: Dressed in cholo pants and a pimp hat, and a white t-shirt barely covering his prison and gang tattoos, in front of a ’54 Chevy lowrider covered in skulls and flame designs. A joint dangled from his lips. Behind him, his bitch was sprawling sexily on the hood, her boobs spilling out of her tube top. Written in gang-graffiti-style lettering, arched above them scene, were the words “AZTLAN NATION – La Raza.

As far as I know, there was no uproar or outcry — one day, the mural just appeared, and no one was allowed to comment on it publicly.

Needless to say, it did not reflect the experiences of, at a minimum, 90% of the school, and one would hope that it didn’t predict the future for the Hispanic 10% either.

Like time I checked, it was still there.

Zombie on April 9, 2012 at 9:42 PM

In the style of Wikipedia:

We know for a fact that before the postwar boom (aided and abetted by federal welfare for the suburbs) that many American families were anything but what conservatives frame as “traditional.” [Needs citation]
Many men traveled in order to work, large extended family units worked collectively in order to make the most of big tracts of land. [Needs citation]
Children in poor families were sent to better off relatives be they Aunts or cousins. [Needs citation]
Fathers were very rarely part of children’s lives for a host of reasons. [Needs citation]
Few states had explicit laws against bigamy until the turn of the 20th century and fewer enforced them before the growth of the beauracratized state in the early decades of the 20th century.[Needs citation]
But we somehow transformed the 1950s, into “the way its always been.” Which is hilarious. At most the nuclear family described the way it was for the American middle class. But the “middle class” was the minority of Americans until the post-World War II era. [Needs citation]

Maybe this guy/gal works for the Soliciter General.

Nutstuyu on April 9, 2012 at 9:46 PM

It should be controversial. Having children causes all the human suffering in the world.

Mitchell Heisman on April 9, 2012 at 9:25 PM

Dude. You’re like the final bad guy in a video game or comic book or something. The nihilist who decides the universe must be destroyed to end all of our suffering.

RINO in Name Only on April 9, 2012 at 9:48 PM

Cleombrotus on April 9, 2012 at 9:29 PM

I went boating with a neighbor and a his 50 y/o fit childhood bachelor friend a few years ago. I didn’t exactly envy him, but was happy that men like him existed, still dating pretty young women… still living the adolescent dream that we abandoned in order to have a family. You sense a “completeness” in married men, maybe… Or maybe that’s just a grass is always greener perspective. Maybe completeness is hanging onto your values rather than doing a 50/50 compromise to wed and procreate. I think that having a family is a personal choice with no clear winner.

elfman on April 9, 2012 at 9:48 PM

Maybe completeness is hanging onto your values rather than doing a 50/50 compromise to wed and procreate.

elfman on April 9, 2012 at 9:48 PM

The mere fact that you preface that statement with “maybe” shows me that you’re not very certain of your thesis.

Cleombrotus on April 9, 2012 at 10:09 PM

someone needs to help him market this. He’ll make enough to pay for a good chunk of his college. DD

Darvin Dowdy on April 9, 2012 at 10:36 PM

(Incidentally, I’d note that many of these standards are rooted not just in societal mores, but in natural law. We’re not actually able to “change” them — just to deny or ignore them at our own peril. But that’s another post!)

Yowsah!

Tina Korbe is so HAWT.

locomotivebreath1901 on April 9, 2012 at 10:46 PM

NoDonkey on April 9, 2012 at 9:12 PM

Preach it, brother! I married young and had to laugh at my single friends as they bragged about their (non-existent) sex lives. I have had a more active sex life for the last 25 years than all of them put together! I also have a partner, a friend, and a co-conspirator in life, for life.
Marriage is not the end of life, it is the beginning!

Random Numbers (Brian Epps) on April 9, 2012 at 11:05 PM

“Liz Bierendy, submit to self-criticism!”

Kenosha Kid on April 9, 2012 at 11:10 PM

Maybe completeness is hanging onto your values rather than doing a 50/50 compromise to wed and procreate. I think that having a family is a personal choice with no clear winner.

elfman on April 9, 2012 at 9:48 PM

I think it depends on what your values are in the first place. If you’re sitting by the telephone every Friday night crying, then you are as much a ‘loser’ as someone who weds on a whim and spends the next 5 decades hating every day of it.

And as for the whole “love/marriage/baby carriage” shebang…it doesn’t make you a better or worse person (spare me the outrage, plz), it’s just another opportunity to succeed or fail but with much higher stakes.

MelonCollie on April 9, 2012 at 11:15 PM

The only solution: mass suicide of the entire administration and student body. It’s the only way out of the dilemma.

Zombie on April 9, 2012 at 9:31 PM

Given your name, could we add T-Virus afterwards?

ctwelve on April 9, 2012 at 11:48 PM

Dude. You’re like the final bad guy in a video game or comic book or something. The nihilist who decides the universe must be destroyed to end all of our suffering.

RINO in Name Only on April 9, 2012 at 9:48 PM

I don’t think it must be destroyed. I think it would be better if it was.

But I don’t make existential decisions for others, just for myself.

Mitchell Heisman on April 10, 2012 at 12:09 AM

The problem isn’t that men’s free and irresponsible life ends at marriage, the real issue that screws over everyone in the nation is the dirty little secret that women’s lives start when they learn to use men as stepping stones to financial independence.

Speakup on April 10, 2012 at 12:40 AM

Totalitarians can’t be happy until they take away every right except the right to think and at like THEM.

Civil wars have been fought over less.

They had best tread lightly given the mood of the country. Alot of good god-fearing people fed up with this nonsense.

SilverDeth on April 10, 2012 at 1:35 AM

The only solution: mass suicide of the entire administration and student body. It’s the only way out of the dilemma.

Zombie on April 9, 2012 at 9:31 PM

Nuke them from orbit – it’s the only way to be sure.

SilverDeth on April 10, 2012 at 1:36 AM

I am glad the superintendent let the artist finish the artwork the way she wanted to.

But you know this won’t be the end of it.

There will be some hyper-sensitive student, or liberal parent, or activist group, who will look at the mural and worry because the mural is not “inclusive” enough for some groups. Then the ACLU will get involved, and you know which side they will fight on.(hint – not the artists’)

Something similar happened at the public school here. A student in art class was supposed to draw a landscape, so he drew it, but he also added a cross with the words “John 3:16 a message of hope” on it. The idiot art “teacher” threatened to fail him if he didn’t remove it.
He didn’t remove it, and was given a failing grade for the project.
Thankfully he told his parents, and they got a pro-family group involved. Well, long story short, he was able to keep the artwork as-is, and was finally graded on an un-biased scale, and was given a passing grade. And it only took a simple clubbing over the head to get this teacher to “change her mind” on it.

I mean, it is ART class! Isn’t it art where you are supposed to be able to put what you feel into the artwork, without being threatened by some ignorant teacher because she doesn’t share you views nor want to see them???!!

Sterling Holobyte on April 10, 2012 at 2:00 AM

Now if the artist had given the guy 4 wives (clad in burkas), everything would have been kosher, er, I mean, okay. Diversity and all, you know.

CJ on April 10, 2012 at 5:43 AM

As a married man who enjoyed beig single I can agree, your, as you knew it is over after marriage and children. Then a new one begins. Not so bad though.

jake49 on April 10, 2012 at 6:39 AM

It should be controversial. Having children causes all the human suffering in the world.

Mitchell Heisman on April 9, 2012 at 9:25 PM

In one sense you’re correct: the rest of have to suffer with spoiled little selfish children such as yourself…

zoyclem on April 10, 2012 at 7:41 AM

Too bad it did not depict the perfect family scene under sharia law. The guy would have 3-5 wifes. Some would be beaten or cooking his dinner or raising his kids. Of course, the women would have had their genitals removed to ensure they did not have impure thoughts and in deference to allah.

The women also wouldn’t be able to read, vote, drive and own any kind of property or have any kind of legal rights or standing. They could be stoned to death for any of a mulititude of serious sins such as infidelity, back talking her man, not walking the proper distance behind her man in public and showing her face in public without her head tent on.

It would be one big happy family. No complaints or issues with that lovely scene by our press or public teachers.

acyl72 on April 10, 2012 at 7:42 AM

Tina, you should do a story on the decline of America in coorelation to institutional prayer taken out of schools, either to debunk it or prove it.

Durka-Durka on April 10, 2012 at 9:06 AM

It should be controversial. Having children causes all the human suffering in the world.

Mitchell Heisman on April 9, 2012 at 9:25 PM

And all of the joy . . .

NoDonkey on April 10, 2012 at 9:11 AM

How post-modern. Yawn.

eyedoc on April 10, 2012 at 9:14 AM

For me, it ended with a case of beer and a sheep in the back paddock. We’re both quite happy now, thanks. But I will admit that I’m offended that our lives are not on a mural some where.

http://images.travelpod.com/users/bunnyluv1969/1.1228145880.edit_cap_tour_1_130.jpg

PorchDawg on April 10, 2012 at 9:14 AM

If, then, we consider it to be better for kids not to smoke, drink and have sex as teenagers, then it is better for kids to grow up in an intact family. That’s not a judgment; it’s just a description.

It is a judgment…and it is a valid and appropriate judgment based upon the realities of human nature and observed history.

Granted, it is not always possible to achieve a stable two parent family…that doesn’t mean it isn’t the best scenario.

krome on April 10, 2012 at 9:31 AM

Give the liberals enough time, and they’ll make “mother” into a dirty word (shades of Brave New World).

disa on April 10, 2012 at 8:31 PM

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