Street art in the classroom, or just outside it

Teenagers are fascinated by graffiti and street art, they love the scale of it, they love the youthfulness of it and they love the illegality of it. To find ways to draw on this enthusiasm is a challenge for educators. Obviously that last point is something of a problem for education. The moral code of teaching doesn’t really accommodate defacing other people’s property! So how to circumvent this restriction?

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Is painting on large sheets of paper the solution, spray painting canvases or seeking permission to use a specially designated wall somewhere? These are possibilities but none of them really engage with the way that this form of art engages with a location, a real location that was there already and has been added to by the artist, or in the case of a school, by the pupil.
It is with this in mind in have been doing a kind of site specific/street art project with my youngest pupils (age 12) this week. It’s a little bit of street art with a site specific content, a little bit of Michael Craig Martin and maybe a little bit of Claus Oldenburg or Roy Lichtenstein too, but above all it is about working together, working on a large scale and changing the way a familiar place looks through the addition of a creative intervention.
Working with coloured tape the group work receives a unity through its consistent quality of line. It’s a rapid approach (two ninety minutes sessions in my case), that gives fast results but also allows for adjustment and corrections.
But above all the two fantastic qualities this work has, and that it shares with most street art, is that it is large scale and that it adds to an existing environment. Both qualities bring with them a kind of element of surprise for the pupils and an excitement that is quite different to working on a sheet of paper at a table.

Update:  Some comments form a question I had on Facebook as to how I approached the assignment practically….

It was all relatively intuitive. First a little drawing work on a sheet of paper. My requirements were that it had to be an object that had something to do with the art dept and that it had to have a three dimensional appearance. There was no too conscious scaling up, it was more a question of just starting. The great thing about the tape is that it allows easily for corrections, if two lines aren’t parallel when they were meant to be, it’s just a case of pulling one of the lines off and repositioning. As I say above, just make sure that the tape isn’t too sticky. School won’t thank you for stripping the paint off the wall! Working on a glass wall would be great too…..from inside and out. I think that looking at Michael Craig Martin’s work helped quite a lot too.

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