Tag It: Graffiti in the Classroom

By Nieviadomy, Jinny | School Arts, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Tag It: Graffiti in the Classroom


Nieviadomy, Jinny, School Arts


A truly inspirational form of art is not always displayed on gallery walls. It can be found by looking out your window, down the street, at the edge of town, or even on the train tracks.

I find it rare to hear people--except graffiti writers themselves--speak about graffiti as a form of art. Graffiti writing is usually equated with vandalism due to the frequent illegal placement of quick, single-line tag names scrawled on garbage bins, walls, and train cars.

I have been fascinated by the full pieces done on walls and train cars since I was young. There it was--bright, bold and in my face--intricate patterns, intermingling shapes and letters, and vibrant colors. I decided to bring my passion and knowledge of this artistic form of expression into the classroom.

When introducing graffiti as an art form, I break it down into small lessons focusing on line, shape, perspective, and color. I start by showing students a PowerPoint presentation of various graffiti images from around the world. The images themselves are immediate attention grabbers. I always clarify right away that I am not teaching them how to spray paint train cars but how to create art using words. These images allow for a great class discussion on graffiti in relation to vandalism, spray-painting techniques, or just the sensational images! You have a great opportunity to cover the facts about legal and illegal graffiti as art or vandalism.

Line Alphabets

I then introduce typography. We view and discuss the different line styles in alphabets designed by typographers. We view everything from basic, simple styles, to funky, creative styles. We discuss direction, thickness, and thinness of lines. Students share their likes and dislikes in the styles or specific letters within a style. One area of focus is the way each typographer creates unity in the style through similarities of each letter. The goal for each student is to create a unique, individual, stylized alphabet and give it a name. The criteria for the line alphabet are: awareness of line direction, thickness, unity of their alphabet, and creativity. Students incorporate upside-down, backward, and a mixture of upper- and lowercase letters into their alphabets.

Shape Alphabets

Students now focus on shape. We revisit the typographer's examples of various stylized block, bubble, and shape alphabets. Included in the examples are actual graffiti fonts, illuminations, and alphabets that have a "theme" such as thorns, utensils, or tools. …

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