Saturday, September 9, 2017

Graffiti Revisited

Graffiti...  Two years ago I wrote a blog post discussing whether graffiti art projects belong in the art curriculum, particularly in the elementary and middle school, which is where I have the most teaching experience.  You can find that post, "Does graffiti art belong in the art curriculum?" HERE.   As most of you recently started a new school year, deciding what belongs in your curriculum and what doesn't is probably forefront in your mind.  Perhaps it is time for me to be a little provocative.  So here goes. 
At the time of the former blog post, comments on the post were mixed in their opinions, but people in the Art Teacher Facebook group mostly disagreed with my stance.  One comment on my blog post went so far as to say "Shame on you" and went on to say that I "don't have the open, experimental artist soul that spearheads new art and change."  I always was very conscious of the fact that I worked in a public school, in a relatively conservative rural community, and I felt that as an elementary teacher I had a responsibility to be respectful of my community. So maybe in that context she was correct in her assessment of me; I don't know. 
Two years later, my opinions haven't changed much on the topic of graffiti.  I am personally opposed to giving precious time in an art curriculum to having students do graffiti art projects.  With the endless possibilities available for possible art projects, is it appropriate to teach students to design a "tag" of their name?  Note that I have NOT said that it is inappropriate to DISCUSS street art, and to discuss the ethics of it, and to discuss the difference between true street art and graffiti/tags, which is vandalism.  But I cannot in good  conscience approve of having young students do a PROJECT based on an illegal activity.  My opinion and I'm entitled to it. 
A recent walk to the grocery store on the local bike path prompted me to revisit this topic on the blog.  The photos in today's post are from this walk.  Much of the walk is through a wooded path that passes through neighborhoods and then heads behind these buildings pictured, and on to the grocery store, before crossing a bridge and heading back through more peaceful wooded neighborhoods.  Most of this graffiti in these pics is recent, at least to my knowledge, and consists of "tags".  One name, which says something like "SPUREE" (if I'm reading it correctly) was largely painted in several places on a few different buildings.  The buildings are the back sides of warehouse/industrial type buildings.  Are they attractive buildings from the back?  Not particularly.  But does this graffiti make them more attractive?  I would say no.  It appears invasive, uninvited.  And without the permission of the building owner to put the graffiti there, it is VANDALISM. 
Anyhow, I often see Facebook posts in one of various Art Teacher groups sharing projects where students have designed their own "tags" as a graffiti art project.  As I've already said, my reaction to these projects is the same as it was two years ago when I wrote the prior blog post, and I will repeat myself:  Tagging is graffiti, graffiti is vandalism, and vandalism is illegal. As a public school teacher for 36 years (now retired), I feel I had a responsibility to my school community to to model responsible behavior.  Since graffiti is illegal, in my opinion, teaching kids to design their names "graffiti-style" is not modeling responsible behavior and isn't an appropriate art project for kids.  Yes, the kids will think it is cool. But hey, there's a lot of things that kids think are cool that aren't particularly good ideas for us to be teaching, don't you think?  
Don't get me wrong; I repeat that I am not opposed to discussing street art and artists, particularly at the secondary level where dialogue about the ethics of street art could be provocative and enlightening.  Certainly this discussion can include defining the difference between street art and tagging/graffiti.  But having that discussion is NOT the same thing as simply teaching young kids how to design a "tag" because it "looks cool".  There's such unlimited possibility when it comes to designing art projects for your students. How do you make those choices?

I know I'm going to get disagreement to this blog post.  And yes, I've seen some beautiful, provocative, and even humorous and charming examples of street art, and like I said, the topic is deserving of discussion, but if you do, make sure you discuss the issue of legality.  Do the artists who created these pieces have the permission of the buildings where they were placed?  If someone did a large piece of street art on a building you own, without your permission or knowledge, would you approve?  What if you don't?  Is it appropriate to break the law sometimes, but not other times?  So many  provocative issues to discuss....  Have fun mulling this over!

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm......my right bra strap slips, but I figured it was because the left side is the mastectomy reconstruction.....and skirts twist but I figured it was because I have a big butt. No dr ever said anything about my back....but not sure they looked specifically. I've got an dr appt next month and will ask. Thanks for the insight, Phyll.

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