Earlier this week, we took a walk on pathfinder. We went under a bridge, and the kids found lots of spray paint on it. They asked me what it was, and why it was there, and what it meant.
I told them it was called “graffiti” – telling a new word always involves spelling it to Mary.
They had lots of questions about why someone would paint on a building or a bridge, and I knew they needed answers before they painted on our house.
And seriously, because these kinds of questions are rich with material they need to know.
That’s when I knew it would be our theme for this week, even though it wasn’t one I had planned.
We watched THIS VIDEO about the history of graffiti. They learned about how “graffiti” comes from the Italian word graffere, which means to scratch on a surface, and that this ‘scratching’ can be done on any surface with any implement, permanent or not. They looked at pictures from daddy’s collection from New York, of spray paint graffiti, stickers, pencil graffiti, and other media.
We studied how graffiti goes back as far as the cave art of the Paleolithic Age, looking at pictures for some examples. We looked at pictures of the ruins of Greek buildings with ancient graffiti on them, and talked about the stories we can learn from people by reading ancient records. We talked about how graffiti is an expression, sometimes of rebellion and sometimes of passion, sometimes of poetry and sometimes of love.
Then I reminded them what I told them on our walk that day, that it is illegal to paint on other people’s buildings.
So we watched THIS VIDEO, about whether graffiti is art or vandalism, and talked about how some of the people that were arrested for graffiti in the past are now famous artists. I asked them questions like why is it art? What makes it art? Why is it illegal? What makes them criminals? What makes them artists? How do you know if it is art or vandalism? Can it be both? How can they do art without getting arrested? Why are people who used to get arrested famous now for art? I also reminded them that our articles of faith call us to obey the law, so what are the boundaries for graffiti? Are there any? When does graffiti stop being art, and are there any places we should never ever do graffiti? They had an amazing discussion, and it was an incredible experience to watch their wheels turn and feel them thinking through both sides and having to sort through these pieces.
We also talked about how graffiti can be very political. We watched THIS VIDEO about an artist in Kenya who is calling for social change, and teaching the next generation through graffiti. We talked about what “social issues” means, and why people would want “change.” I also told them about meeting Keith Haring when I was in fifth grade, and what kinds of social change he wanted – including “good” people not being mean to people who had made unwise choices (we did not get into an AIDS discussion, but it is something I learned about at the time). Then we looked at Nathan’s pictures of Banksy work, and the Banksy work we saw in Israel and in the West Bank, and talked about what his works meant and were trying to say. Banksy is so amazing that they really got into it, then, and I think it clicked what we were trying to show them about symbols and expression and being a voice for positive change.
Then we explored, for a really long time, what kinds of things they would like to change about the world. We got really specific, until they had their own image designed for some “graffiti” with crayons on paper. They wanted change by teaching the world “no screaming at kids, and no kids screaming, either.”
We explored ways to show this in a picture without using any words, and they were able to connect the image of a stop sign with not doing something anymore. It was still a word, but at least they identified a symbol. They even came up with the idea to draw the stop sign as someone’s mouth, so people would know to stop screaming.
And that’s what we used for our art lesson today:
They also wanted to tag their names, so we watched this video to study graffiti writing:
Then they did their names in oil pastels!