A: Sometimes giving students something that is a little controversial and edgy is a great way of getting them thinking critically and considering multiple points of view.
Street art and graffiti is frequently used as a topic area for discussion in English, but it can also work as the basis for an artist study or for exploring multimedia approaches for presenting work and sharing ideas.
Begin with a prompt or trigger activity to stimulate interest in the topic.
This can be a presentation by a local artist, an online exploration of some street art in your city or perhaps a planned and supervised tour of the streets and laneways in your area which include street art (obviously this last suggestion needs to be carefully assessed and considered in light of your own location and student needs to ensure safety).
The upcoming ‘Banksy’ art exhibition in Melbourne could also work as a useful prompt for integrating arts and English content, as well as stimulating interest in a unique style of art.
Banksy remains an elusive and secretive artist, despite his ever widening fame and the extraordinary prices that some of his works now command.
The exhibition in Melbourne displays works which are held in the private collections of several collectors, including Banksy’s former manager and agent Steve Lazarides.
If you are not in Melbourne, the Banksy website (banksy.co.uk) also contains a comprehensive display of his indoor and outdoor works from many different locations around the world.
Banksy began his artistic career as a street artist in England in the early 1990s.
He soon developed a distinctive stencil style which he reportedly started to use because it made his pieces much faster to complete, therefore reducing the amount of time he needed to spend painting in public.
Today, some of his works fetch many thousands of dollars and are highly prized by many collectors.
At a community level, his work creates controversy as local councils and business seek a balance between the interest stimulated by having a Banksy painted on their walls and their right to a wall which is free of graffiti.
He remains a secretive and elusive figure, keen to shy away from the public spotlight and protective of his own privacy and personal information.
Banksy’s works provide a thought provoking commentary on political, cultural and social issues, often by taking two seemingly juxtaposed images and combining them together.
One of his famous works depicts a man in the act of throwing a Molotov cocktail, but instead of holding a bottle in his hand he is instead holding a bunch of flowers.
This image is a useful one for demonstrating visually how two ideas can co-exist within a single piece of art, at once existing in opposition to each other but at the same time being part of a larger idea.
Another work shows a young girl with her hand outstretched to a heart shaped balloon.
The balloon, painted red, is the only colour in an otherwise grey and black image.
These images are straightforward to locate online and can be the prompt for some passionate discussion about what Banksy’s meaning was when he created the works, as well as how they have been depicted (for example, is the young girl releasing her balloon to the world, or has it been swept from her grasp by the wind which has also made her hair blow forwards as she stretches upwards?)
Students will enjoy exploring his work and producing their own written or spoken content in response to it, evaluating his art in its own right as well as in the context of its commentary on various points of view.
They can also explore their own responses to his work and begin to develop and articulate their thoughts and feelings about the place of graffiti and street art in the landscape of public and private spaces, ownership of places and property and broader community opinion on current affairs and issues in the day to day life of cities around the world.