Graffiti – abundant content for lifelong learning. Lessons from Anderson, Banksy, and Weller.

Leigh and Sue’s reflection, Activity 5.
(Photos used with permission.)

The history of graffiti stretches all the way back to the days when humans lived in caves. People are constantly making meaning in our everyday lives. Graffiti is often perceived simply as a form of vandalism rather than art or a form of communication about social issues. In choosing this topic, we wanted to provide information that sheds light on the purpose of graffiti, its artists, and possibly, address the stigma associated with it. There is an enormous amount of information available about graffiti, however, the overall interpretation tends to be biased, presenting graffiti in a negative connotation, even as a criminal act, while ignoring the underlying process of communication (Alonso, 1998). Graffiti’s strong association with hip-hop culture in the later part of the 20th century influenced part of this lack of mainstream acceptance  or negative connotations (Thompson, 2009, p. 9).

So. What can graffiti teach us? Basquiat, Haring, and Banksy began their careers ‘writing’ or ‘tagging’ New York City subway cars in the 70s and 80s. The social commentary that graffiti artists, such as Banksy and other engage in, illustrates the power that graffiti as a source of communication that provides a platform for those whose voices could remain unheard is powerful. Questions and debates about graffiti as art or vandalism continue to colour public spaces (Baird & Taylor, 2010; Thompson, 2009). In any event, graffiti and ‘street art’ are free, open, and accessible. Weller and Anderson try to help us as educators make sense of the learning theories and pedagogy to manage and negotiate the open spaces that create at pedagogy of abundance. Banksy is all about accessible art that is open and belongs to the people. Banksy’s picture of “Girl with Balloon”, auctioned by Sothebys for 1.4 million dollars, was  promptly shredded before the horrified eyes of all present at the exclusive art auction. Banksy had a built-in shredder to destroy his work as a statement of taking back control of his street art, where the artist is a medium for the voices of marginalized communities. As Banksy states, “This is the first time the essentially bourgeois world of art has belonged to the people. We need to make it count”(Ellsworth-Jones, 2013, para. 3).

In exploring graffiti, the abundance of information on the Internet made learning about the topic very accessible. Even overwhelming. As a team of two, we decided before we started our  research that we would stay focused on three subtopics: history, culture, and graffiti as a form of communication and education. Weller states that educators “firstly [need to decide] how they can best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice, and secondly how do we best equip learners to make use of it?”(Weller, 2011). Anderson (2016) agree that the second challenge, is the most pressing and central to theories for learning and for teaching in the digital era. Anderson posits that “as important as scaling content is the power of effective search and retrieval methods” (2016, p.41).

Lessons from Weller (2011) and Anderson (2016) armed us with strategies to negotiate the wealth of information on graffiti and to contemplate how we would best equip learners to make use of the information on the topic. Graffiti, like technology, is everywhere and a powerful communication and learning tool. According to Banksy, “As soon as I cut my first stencil I could feel the power there. I also like the political edge. All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars” (Ellsworth-Jones, 2013, para. 5). With such power, comes responsibility, which leads to discussion on the objectivity and reliability of sources. This is something that is pertinent to educators and learners alike: how do we discern what we are reading on the Internet, as we research any given topic, is reliable? “Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet this challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance”(Weller, 2011).

References

Alonso, A. (1998). Urban scribblings on the city landscape. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.614.3042&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Anderson, T. (2016). Chapter 3: Theories for Learning with Emerging Technologies. In Veletsianos, G. (Ed). Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning: Foundations and Applications. Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press. Retrieved from http://www.aupress.ca/books/120258/ebook/03_Veletsianos_2016-Emergence_and_Innovation_in_Digital_Learning.pdf

Baird, J., & Taylor, C. (Eds.). (2010). Ancient graffiti in context. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca

Banksy (nd). Girl with balloon [digital image]. Retrieved from https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-6-iconic-works-banksy

Banky (nd). Extinction and rebellion [digital image]. Retrieved from https://grist.org/article/it-looks-like-banksy-just-created-an-extinction-rebellion-mural/

Ellsworth-Jones, W. (2013). The Story Behind Banksy. Smithsonian.com Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-story-behind-banksy-4310304/

Weller, M. (2011). A pedagogy of abundance. Spanish Journal of Pedagogy, 249, pp. 223-236. Retrieved from http://oro.open.ac.uk/28774/2/BB62B2.pdf