Streetart and especially graffiti is one of the rawest expression and one of the safest of urban art. Graffiti ranges from the simplest of tags through the most complex of artistic creations. A tag is an individual sign, mostly a stylised name. The term streetart and graffiti relates to the fact that the art is unsanctioned, placed in public and often unwanted. More and more streetart becomes wanted and is even supported by the municipalities to avoid graffiti. Graffiti is also a destructive art, where one individual will often paint over what another has done. If people like what you’ve made, they are likely to leave it, but if they disagree with your statement or style, they will paint over it. So streetart and graffiti is, in many ways, community generated and moderated.
Besides streetart is a major inspiration for my work in general, my interest is also in how learning differs from the more formal ways that we learn in higher education.
Graffiti is something that is picked up through practice and sprayed onto the school, not taught by it. It is learnt and influenced by ‘peers’ and what has come before, like skateboarding, hiphop, rap and jazz music. For an outsider it looks like there are no rules and no ‘teachers’. But as an insider you know that it conforms rigidly to certain rules, rules which are learnt and followed, taught by the culture and ‘teachers’. Ofcourse this is all very informal. What could this teach you about your own learning and also how you teach (if you are a teacher)?
Whatever we think about it, there is no doubt that the world of streetart and graffiti is a highly specialist learning environment. Harsh and shaped over time. People willingly immerse themselves in, and it’s fascinating to reflect on what we can learn from this.
Streetart and graffiti are a market driven environment of limited prime real estate to paint on. People often ‘make their name’ by painting tags in dangerous or inaccessible places. Also the ‘culture’ teaches a lot. Maybe even the way that people engage with graffiti, in highly informal, spontaneous, peer reviewed, risk-involving and untamed ways teach us lessons maybe even give us techniques that we can experiment with in learning design.
The nature of peer review and how work is layered on top of other work may inform us in how we create communal learning spaces and learning environments online.
Social media have transformed the way in which streetart and graffiti is perceived and distributed. Mainstream media are picking up artists like Banksy (http://www.banksy.co.uk/) and Blek le Rat (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blek_le_Rat). They are the current media darlings and highly collectable. What started away from the spotlights has grown into a ‘poster boy’ status, in the spotlights.
In streetart and graffiti, even in sponsored subways and skate parks, the underground world is one that combines learning with reward. If you become good, become recognised, become famous, there is a way of gaining notoriety or fame. Graffiti can set you free.
So maybe the time is right for graffiti to leave the streets and become mainstream?
Unlikely, because although we can adopt the graphical style of graffiti, the spray paint and curves, the stencils and tags, we can’t make the illegal legal. Whilst streetart and graffiti is characterised by style, it’s also characterised by location and legality. This makes the experience of the maker and the audience truly unique. I wish all the learning experiences were like this.