Graffiti is art. Is it?

OK, sometimes it’s just a mess on a wall. But when ‘graffiti‘ becomes ‘art‘ then it is interesting.

Your students will have frequently been exposed to graffiti and will have seen many examples of it around them – especially if they come from an urban area. It’s as part of the urban landscape as high-rise buildings. It can have a serious role to play in social and political commentary or it can be simply an exploration of form and colour.

It’s seen by some as a criminal act that defaces buildings and other people’s property, by others as a genuine artistic genre that uses the urban landscape as it’s ‘canvas’ and that is intimately connected to that landscape.

These opposing opinions make it a great focus area for developing a lesson and opening your students up to some thought-provoking conversation, and new vocabulary and expressions that can be used to describe art, emotion, feelings, politics and culture.

As a teacher you can easily take it out of the classroom and get you and your students involved in some real world application of your lesson (as suggested below for part 2 or lesson 2 of the series). Just take a walk down almost any urban street and get them talking!

The Lesson

Three lessons of 60 minutes each are suggested for this topic:

  1. Introducing the topic and vocabulary. Starting the discussion.
  2. Group or individual ‘field’ work: Collecting examples and building a mini-presentation.
  3. Sharing the sample graffiti collected in Lesson 2 and discussing.
    • To learn vocabulary related to graffiti and the broader world of art
    • To practise speaking skills including describing graffiti, giving opinions and agreeing and disagreeing
    • To practise presentation skills

Age group: 16 to adult
Level: B1 / B2 / Intermediate to upper-intermediate
Time: 3 x 60  minutes
Materials: Graffiti student worksheet and lesson plan


Graffiti are writing or drawings that have been scribbled, scratched, or painted illicitly on a wall or other surface, often in a public place. Graffiti range from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings, and they have existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and the Roman Empire.


Graffiti range from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings and pieces.In modern times, paint (particularly spray paint) and marker pens have become the most commonly used graffiti materials. In most countries, marking or painting property without the property owner’s consent is considered defacement and vandalism, which is a punishable crime.

The artist in the video:

[su_accordion][su_spoiler title=”About the artist in the video”]Brooklyn based Tony “Rubin” Sjöman (b.1975) was nine years old when he wrote his first tag. The son of Finnish immigrant workers to Sweden, he was raised in a working class housing project in Gothenburg, Sweden. Surrounded by grey concrete and tram tunnels, the walls whispered his name. He grabbed a spray can and set out on a journey that he’s still on today. Rubin has become a staple of the New York City street art scene and he has put his trademark on concrete and brick all over the world, from his native Scandinavia to Thailand and Miami Art Basel. His abstract and geometrical pieces are rooted in traditional graffiti but break the rules of the craft with its muted color palette and Scandinavianly clean lines. Rubin draws inspiration from his gritty upbringing, the tram tunnels where he first learned the craft and from the contrasts that have formed him into the artist he is today: the skyline of the hectic metropolis versus the serenity of the Nordic nature, all perfectly balanced in his art. Rubin’s work has been featured in Vice Magazine, Juxtapoz and several of the world’s leading street art media outlets and the first comprehensive art book featuring his murals and studio works “Rubin: New York / Scandinavia” (Dokument) is released in the spring 2016. Rubin’s studio work has been on display at Scope New York, Scope Miami and in galleries throughout New York City, Miami and Los Angeles. Rubin resides in Brooklyn NYC but he’s just as home in the wilderness of Lapland where he spends the summers with his wife and son in a log house among reindeer and underneath the midnight sun.

Rubin’s website:

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