Lessing meets Haring



This elementary school in Germany partnered up with some college students to create a challenging mural that functions as visual storytelling and encourages graffiti prevention.


To help students understand the history of their town.

To share Haring's sensibilities with students as they create their own art.

To pose questions about public art.


large wooden boards
paint and painting supplies
drill gun and screws


The project "Lessing and time" was getting started this year by the Lessing primary school. It contained many subprojects like "Lessing and the fashion" where the pupils created a fashion show. Another topic was "Lessing and the music" at which the kids learned a lot about music from history. For the project "Lessing and Art" the kids thought about how to realize it nowadays.
The headmistress had long since been annoyed at the graffiti on the school walls. All efforts to keep them clean failed. So she had the idea to use the art project to prevent the walls from being soiled again.

The idea was to create pictures related to one of Lessing's tales and to paint them very large, adapting Keith Haring's style. The huge painted boards were to be attached on the white surrounding walls.

The students met for the first time and were very excited and curious about the outcome of the project. After a short welcoming and the formation of the groups, each group started discussing the fable: "Der Rangstreit der Tiere" by Lessing. The fable deals with a contest between all the animals who want to find out who of them is the best one. They can't find a solution because each of them acquires the title for itself. So they choose the human to make the decision. The problem is that he prefers the animal that is most useful for him. A lot of them don't appreciate this as the standard of measurement and so the human is excluded from the contest. In the end the lion says that the contest is irrelevant because every animal knows their advantages best. Based on this fable the groups talked about it and how to understand it nowadays.

We hung the drawings at the front of the class and had a discussion which raised these concerns:
- one board should represent Lessing as a silhouette
- another board was to show the contest of the animals
- the topic of the third one was Haring himself
- and all the other boards represented different animals (like the fox, the raven, the rabbit,...) with their specific attribute (like application, leeriness, celerity,...) Following this excercise, each group brainstormed how their images could be simplified to bold, graphic lines and colors; similar to Haring's style.

Students worked on their sketches for two weeks before presenting the completed ideas to the entire class once again. The groups discussed the designs, colors, and shapes, along with planning how to enlarge their images to suit the large-scale, site-specific concerns of their completed project. the images were copied on foil and laid on overhead projectors and now could easily be transferred on to the boards.

The thin pencil drawings on large boards now needed to be filled with color, framing the lanes with black paint, just as Haring did. This needed to be done very carefully which was sometimes difficult because the pupils wanted to apply the colour with very thick brushes. Most surprising was how fast some of the groups were. They hardly needed three meetings to finish their pictures while others needed much longer. But in the end everything was done and looked great!

The last step was to coat the pictures with a protective sealant or polyeurothane. The students were very proud to show each other their finished masterpieces.
The press photos were taken at one of the outer walls of the school. A lot of officials and sponsors had come to see what the students had created. During the opening, some students performed using the Lessing music and dance, followed by a presentation of the mural construction.