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Guerilla Art: arrows, notes and additions

Guerilla Art: arrows, notes and additions

Making guerilla art is exciting and fun! I love the way it makes you become a more active participant of the culture you’re living in. This is also what makes it so valuable to high school students: when they are introduced to guerilla art strategies they explore their school with different, more participating eyes. They develop and make visible a remarkable sense for funny detail when asked to make guerilla art on school territory, throwing their own critical or humorous light on school life, which I find very refreshing!

You will be interested in this article, if you want to know more about guerilla art in schools or if you want to know how you can turn into a guerilla artist yourself with the help of small children.

1. Making arrows or additions inspired by kids

In my post "My Kid: A Guerilla Artist's Best Coach" I talk about how children’s vivid imagination and their so much more open perception of the world can inspire us to become more creative ourselves. Small children have a different understanding of what is reality on the one hand and what is imagination on the other hand, or what is normal and what is odd. While we are still trying to free ourselves from the limiting distinctions between high art and low art, hard facts and soft facts, they are ignorant of these boundaries in the first place. (1)

For example, when I was on parental leave with my second child, I went on a lot of walks with the baby and my then 3-year-old son. His way of “standing for a walk” forced me to let go of my normally rather quick pace and, instead, perceive the many shades of yellow in autumn leaves. Everyone who has been around children knows these moments. Likewise, he would see a monster in house façades, or detect little miniature worlds in the corner of a parking lot. Sometimes we would wonder about the looks of this or that funny looking tube poking out of holes at construction sites. What would be a broken piece of metal to me, looked like a tiny bus stop to him. Children are the true champions in detecting beauty in the familiar! With his focus on the appearance, rather than the functional purpose of things, I started to enjoy inventing fictional functions for curious looking gadgets and things. This became truly addictive...it is so much fun to allow yourself to take children's perspective on your every day surroundings. Our imagination shifts, goes wild. At the same time, we are not children. Add a little humor or criticism or draw references to aspects of the society you are living in.

When you become a guerilla artist yourself, your art work has a similar effect on pedestrians. Signs, arrows or additions invite passersby to experience their surroundings a bit differently. So next time a child makes you see your environment in a different light, turn it into guerilla art and thereby make this perception possible to others, too.


Here are four ways to get you started as a guerilla artist:

  • You can leave arrows on public walls or on the pavement, asking pedestrians to focus on a certain detail instead of rushing by in the usual every-day haste.
  • When the arrow is not enough, you can add a little note saying what to focus on.
  • Alternative: draw your note and arrow on post-its.
  • You can attach additions to objects, like stickers of eyes or moustaches, thereby bringing functional objects to life.

How about taking a piece of chalk with you on your next walk around town and see where this takes you?

You may want to consider what kind of message you want to leave behind. Is it rather critical and serious or playful and amusing?

guerilla art kit

Commercial Break: If you don't know her yet, get one of Keri Smith’s amazingly inspiring books! “The Guerilla Art Kit” is where a lot of the ideas on this blog (also) come from. It is a must-read for any art teacher who turns his students into guerilla artists!! She also describes "please note..."-signs, arrows and additions as a form of guerilla art in the book and provides many more helpful hints and tricks.

2. Making arrows or additions with art ed students

I equipped some of my 9th graders with pen, paper and tape and asked them to explore our school and to put up “Please note...” signs. In the break afterwards, going back to the teacher's room, I had the best break ever, discovering signs and arrows at places I've never focused on before and I had so much fun watching other students and teachers reading and responding to them. For example, there was a sign saying, “Please note the flower in the hallway!”. Coming closer, you could see it was a fake flower. Then, there was another note on the flowerpot: “Please note you are in a no-thoroughfare area!” Indeed, the flowerpot is in a hallway that only teachers are allowed to enter. Another note in my art class said “Please note the wonderful shades of green on the ceiling lamp". Looking up, I saw green mold!

Allowing students to pin arrows or post-its around school is a great way to make them more aware of their everyday surroundings and to give them a creative voice in the institution they visit every day. You invite them to make visible their own perspective on things around school, which makes them feel as a meaningful and active part of the school community. I’ve had such surprising, refreshing and humorous results so far and I can't wait to hear about your students' guerilla art works!

Notice the "beautiful" view!  - notice sign with arrow attached to a class room window.

Notice the "beautiful" view! - notice sign with arrow attached to a class room window.

Afterthought: I think it is necessary to discuss with students their responsibily when doing this. Up to now, there was not a single student who has created an inappropriate or discriminating sign. Instead, a lot of their work shows good-will or irony as the signs mostly aimed to cheer up other students. Don't be afraid that some students might cross a line! Because if this happens, I see it as a pedagogic challenge and an authentic opportunity to reflect upon the effect of guerilla art works and how the quality of them can differ.

What do you think? Please leave a comment!


(1) Art teachers, are you interested in this topic? Here are two links I find inspiring...definitely worth another blog post, if not even a whole new category in this blog! The Art of Education Radio podcast "The Death of Art Education" points out that there are "serious shifts underway that are undermining and changing the status quo of art education". If you are looking for material you can use in your high school art classes to discuss the contemporary discourse on high art versus amateur art, have a look at the website "The Museum of Everything", which provides a huge amount of provocative quotes for you to use in your class room.



My Kid: A Guerilla Artist’s Best Coach!

My Kid: A Guerilla Artist’s Best Coach!