Because graffiti is against the law, many times its artistic merit or perhaps even messages of peace and hope get overlooked so as not to promote a criminal act. As a result, it is quite possible that many students may not even have a clear understanding of what graffiti is and how many different kinds of graffiti there are and have been.
Class discussions are a great method of teaching. Teachers can start the conversation by asking the following questions:
Where have you seen graffiti?
(on a wall- inside or outside, on a piece of furniture, on a tree, in a subway, on a vehicle, in a cave, on the street or sidewalk, on a window...)
Describe as many different kinds of graffiti as you can.
(memorials, turf/gang wars, tagging, murals, ancient cave art, directing traffic, communication, Guerrilla Art, social & political activism...)
Why would someone create graffiti?
(to mourn, to honour, to assert one's identity and power, to threaten, to be vengeful, to beatify, as a favour, as a spiritual ritual, to direct traffic, to communicate with others, to make art available to everyone, to expose injustice...)
How is graffiti made?
(with spray-paint or other kinds of paint, minerals and vegetable dyes, chalk, water, marker, or even the absence of a material, like when someone uses their finger to write through a dusty surface...)
Why is graffiti against the law?
(defacing of private property, costly to restore property, hurtful & hateful messages, a promoter of gang warfare, political messages that are not agreeable to the public...)
Show students images of "classic" graffiti (surf the web for numerous links to graffiti that may be suitable for students to view). Discuss commonalities, such as color, line, scale, style, and application. Imagine the role a set of conditions play in an artist's work and working process. Conditions such as the products the artist can afford to make their work with, the time, size, and location constraints. Compare the intention as well as the condition in which graffiti was made with more traditional forms of painting such as landscape and portraiture. Perhaps most important, uncover the psychological motivations behind "Tagging", the act of creating graffiti that contains a name or symbol of the artist- an act that references the claiming of self-empowerment and identity. Question students why these young graffiti artists would feel a desire to extend their voice and presence in public, maybe even without consent or permission. Where do these artists come from, what might their living conditions and family life be like? How do issues like these affect the desire for personal identity and freedom of expression?
If possible take the students on a "Graffiti Hunt". It could be just a walk through and outside of the school, or perhaps a small field trip somewhere that would be likely to have some graffiti. Take note of all of the different messages you find. If on the school premises ONLY, the class may choose to restore a location that has some graffiti on it. This experience would be helpful for students to see the effort and time that goes into removing hateful messages. You may also send students on their own "Graffiti Hunts" for homework- in and around their house.
The topic of graffiti is included in our Values, Influences and Peers program that is presented to grade 5 & 6 students throughout our region. To request a V.I.P. or a graffiti presentation for your students please fill in the School Presentation Request Form.
Students' Mischief Activity Booklet.