Sign Language 1



Students explore signs and vocabulary linked to the work of Keith Haring.


To explore ways of making students' own visual lexicon or vocabulary of signs.


Haring in the Subway

An object, word, or picture which has a particular meaning to a person or group of people.

"I am intrigued with the shapes people choose as their symbols to create a language. There is within all forms a basic structure, an indication of the entire object with a minimum of lines that becomes a symbol. This is common to all languages, all people, all times."
-Keith Haring, journal entry, 1979

"The way it began, was to draw my tag. Tag, meaning signature or what graffiti artists called their name. So my tag was an animal, which started to look more and more like a dog. Then I drew a little person crawling on all fours, and the more I drew it, the more it became The Baby. So on the streets I'd do various configurations of the dog and the baby. Sometimes, it would be a row of babies, and the dog behind them. I was using these images, always bearing in mind the Burroughs/Gysin cut-up ideas. And I juxtaposed these different tags or signatures or image, which would convey a different meaning depending on how you combined them."
-Keith Haring, John Gruen, Keith Haring, The Authorized Biography, p. 65

341A | Drawing The Line - A Portrait of Keith Haring Video
142a | Whitney Exhibition Catalog | Paperback
554a | Keith Haring, Authorized Biography | Paperback




Invent Your Own Sign Language in Pictures

Invent a way to sign your name as a tag or a picture-sign.
Choose an image that represents you- a figure, animal, or object.
Think of the simplest way you can make a line drawing of the image.
Practice drawing your tag or picture-signature until you can draw it quickly and easily.

Continue inventing your own set of visual symbols, or sign language.
Think about three or more things that are important to you and design a sign that represents them. Practice line drawings of these images.

Draw 1-4 squares like a comic strip, or Xerox and use the squares provided.

Use your invented sign language to create a message or story about an issue that is important to you.

How will you suggest movement, power, energy, or mood?


Suggested Discussion with Students

How do you sign your name?

Do you have a tag?
What does it look like as a visual sign?
How does it represent you?
Do people know it is yours? How?

Which culture(s) used a pictorial system of writing in the past?

Which languages or modes of communication incorporate a pictorial sign system today?


Ask your students to show their sign language stories to the class, and have the class use their imagination to tell what happens in the stories.

The Whitney's web site