Bring the Street to the Classroom

Incorporating contemporary and historical examples of art can be a tricky considering most, if not all teachers, want to focus the majority of class time on art making. If you’re like me, you probably don’t have enough time to thoroughly explore all the fabulous art discussions you spent hours researching. So, what is an adequate amount to time to spend discussing and writing about trends, movements, and philosophies? Who knows! And that’s why I love the freedom of teaching. We get to experiment with what works for us.

Personally, I spend about 15 minutes a week discussing historical or contemporary artwork. I would like to spotlight a writing activity I use to explore contemporary art in the form of street art. I call this activity an “Art Talk”. Essentially, the activity is a short constructive response (SCR) where students respond to an open ended question using the information given.

Here’s a more comprehensive explanation:

Ideally, I want students to infer about the meaning of the artwork and use evidence to support their beliefs. Students also critique the piece by referencing the elements and principles of design. Art vocabulary is encouraged throughout their response.

When I am searching for artwork to analyze, I look for street art that has some sort of social commentary. Some are simple stencil designs like from artists like Banksy or iheart. Others are large scale murals like Blu, Swoon, and Seth Globepainter. As the trimester persists, I try to find pieces which are harder to decipher.

Here is an example I used with 8th graders. Students observed a piece by Bikismo called the “Handshake” found in Williamsburg, New York City.

Here’s an excerpt from her response:

“The message of this artwork to me is that deals can be deadly. I also think it might mean stabbing someone in the back or someone betraying them. I do like this artwork because it explains that people or deals can have serious danger. Finally, I like this artwork because it explains that you can’t trust anyone you meet.”

I like using this piece for many reason. One, Bikismo is known for his photorealistic approach which is a nice change of pace. Second, I think the dangerous nature of the guns juxtaposed with white collar fashion makes for some unique responses. Plus, the details are just plain spectacular. Chrome is a very difficult texture to create with a spray can. I really appreciate the black and white quality of the figures because the viewer is not focused on race.

Finally, being cognitive of ELL learners, I include a checklist at the bottom of the page for students to use during the writing process. When I use this activity for collecting data, I find that students who use the checklist tend to score higher than students who do not. Overall, this quick writing assignment disguised as an “Art Talk” helps incorporate language art components while exposing students to forms of contemporary art.     

Here’s a link to more examples if you are interested.


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