Art & The Berlin Wall



This lesson, developed by a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, explores the relationship between Cold War politics, the people who were affected by it, and the artists who examined it. Using the Berlin Wall as a focal point, students have the opportunity to create their own "walls".


a. Students will learn why artists such as Keith Haring chose to make public statements about political or social issues.

b. Students will gain a greater understanding about other Berlin wall artists and their statements through their artwork.

c. Students will generate two discussions.
1.) How did the Cold War affect the lives of those in Berlin, and how would you feel if you were in this circumstance?
2.) What political issue do you feel most connected with?


Slide: Keith Haring painting the Berlin Wall in the Authorized Biography p.154

Books: Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography, by John Gruen
Keith Haring's Bio for Kids
554A | Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography | $17.00

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy

Illusions & Allusions: Photographs of the Berlin Wall, by Leland Rice

Up Against It: Photographs of the Berlin Wall, by Lealand Rice


One 3' x 3' piece of wood for each student
Spray paints
Colored markers


Show students the slide of Keith Haring painting the Berlin Wall in East Germany. Explain that the Berlin wall was a former barrier dividing West Berlin as a symbol of the Cold War. Explain what the Cold War meant to East Germans living in a Communist country. (Wall built august 13, 1961)

Have one student read definitions from The New Dictionary Of Cultural Literacy, define and explain what the Cold War meant and what the Berlin Wall symbolized. Ask students to generate a discussion:

a. How do you think the cold war affected peoples' lives and mentalities?
b. How would you feel to have your freedom enclosed by a wall?

Provide students with information and pictures about Berlin Wall Art and Graffiti. Look at other artists who contributed work to the wall. Examples: Unknown artists, Graffiti artists.

Divide students into groups. Students will brainstorm amongst themselves and have a discussion about current political or social issues that they feel they feel particularly connected with. Students consider questions and sketch out ideas for 3'x3' spray painting projects. Examples: War on Iraq, War on Terrorism, Gulf War, War on Racism.

1. What issues do you feel concerned about?
2. How does this issue affect your own life?
3. How could you adapt your art work to express your concerns for the issue?
4. Why do you feel a connection with this issue?
5. How would you inform the world of your concerns about the issue through spray painting artwork?

Students draw out plans for work on wood. Create art work through spray painting type graffiti procedure.

Assess student's knowledge of the Cold War and the Berlin wall. How well do they understand Keith Haring, unknown artists and Graffiti artists statements and ideas about political issues. Were students actively participating in brainstorming and discussion groups? Assess students' sketches and final project for their understanding of making art about political or social issues.


What is the difference between a wall that protects and a wall that separates?

Can walls be symbolic or metaphorical? How? What kinds of things would a metaphorical wall protect someone from?

What are the benefits of creating walls, both real and imagined? What are the pitfalls?

Can you find any situation today that uses walls or boundaries to separate people and/or ideas?

What walls do you create? Differentiate the ones that enclose you vs the ones that surround those around you.