Street Art vs. Museum Art: An Expedition

Mar 28, 2018 | All School, Fine Arts, Inquiry, Lower School News

Contributed by the Grade 4 Teaching Team: Emily Edwards, Jeff Frantal, Margaret Gunter
Have you ever stopped to observe the graffiti or street art around Atlanta? Have you ever wondered how it came to be? Why is it there? Is it illegal? These are the questions that students in fourth grade have been exploring over the past two weeks.
Fourth grade has been studying Opinion Writing, learning about perspectives of an argument. During the planning stages of this unit, fourth grade teacher Jeff Frantal shared his personal curiosity of street art. The essential question that he shared with the team was, “Is graffiti art, vandalism or both?
Two expeditions were then set into motion to aid in our research of this topic. The first was to visit the Atlanta BeltLine, Krog Street Tunnel, and Edgewood Avenue to embark on a guided tour of the street art. Atlanta Street Artist Joe King, a member of our personal learning network, agreed to meet us and take us on this journey. The second expedition would take place two days later when we would travel to the High Museum of Art in Midtown to explore curated artwork. This expedition also related back to our knowledge of the Italian Renaissance from our recent read aloud, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler.
With their homeroom teachers, our learners embarked on discovery work surrounding art and graffiti. Through zoom-ins, photographs, definitions, and personal experiences, they started to understand and define their personal viewpoints more clearly. Many were starting to believe that there is no right answer, it simply depends on the situation and the reasoning behind the art. What an incredible question to debate because there didn’t seem to be a single answer that fit all situations!
On Friday, March 16 we met with an Atlanta Street Artist, Joe King, and he led us on a graffiti tour. Along our drive downtown, students spotted a lot of graffiti under overpasses and on the sides of buildings. We met Joe at the Old Fourth Ward Skate Park and made our way toward Krog Street on the Atlanta BeltLine. Joe paused under various overpasses and near buildings to share the history of this area and how it came to be. We learned the differences between commissioned street art and street art done for fun. Joe is an incredible storyteller and knew about all of the local artists, their motivations, their triumphs and failures, and shared about this tight knit community of artists who share their craft with our city.
We were all very curious about how one might know when graffiti is allowed and where it can be placed. Joe was even asked, “Were you ever arrested for placing your artwork somewhere that it wasn’t allowed?” Many of our wonders were answered as we strolled through the ever-changing, Krog Street Tunnel.
When we emerged from the tunnel onto Edgewood Avenue, we saw four- to five-story walls covered in painted murals. Each one exhibited bright colors, shapes, motivational quotes, and images, encouraging reflection. Joe shared many of the stories behind the murals, and how the street artists collaborate with teach one another and learn more about their craft.
Mollie noted, “We saw big circles that looked like flowers. I also really liked the one that Joe King created. I liked that he was inspired by a stranger and made that stranger’s day by bringing him to life.”
This expedition allowed us to bring our lessons into the real world and vice-versa, which is what we love to do at Mount Vernon.
Grace White, an Old Fourth Ward resident and Lower School Learning Coach, joined us for the expedition. This is her reflection that she shared with Joe King following our visit, “Thank you for deepening my love, respect, and admiration of a community I am proud to call home. More importantly, thank you for sharing your personal story of taking the loss of your livelihood and turning it into your cure, path, and ultimately a life with joy and purpose. And huge props for giving us all a greater appreciation of art.”
The following Tuesday, March 20, fourth grade traveled to the High Museum of Art to compare and contrast the artwork they had seen in the city. We all viewed contemporary art: “A Fire That No Water Could Put Out,” Civil Rights Photography, Joris Laarman Lab: Design in the Digital Age, and art from the Italian Renaissance. 
We made connections to the artwork and spent time reading the descriptions next to each photograph, painting, and sculpture.
Ashlyn and Tori remarked, “We liked the Atlanta Street Art the best. We didn’t have to stay in one place and we could touch the artwork. On the BeltLine we were able to meet someone who had created the art and ask him questions.”
Mac personally liked the museum better. “It had air conditioning, so it wasn’t as cold as it was outside. It was cool to look at, especially the outside of the building which was kind of like an optical illusion.”
We learned that the question we asked our students does not have one, single answer. By setting the conditions for our kids to consider and form their own opinions, they were able to construct engaging, open-ended lessons — bringing them into the real world in genuine, relevant ways. In other words, real learning happened here.