Keith Haring: Drawing the Line

Today we will watch a brief movie about another influential 80s street artist, Keith Haring. We will discuss our reactions to the movie and publish a 150-word response to our blogs.

keithharingjeanmichelbasquiatwhitneymuseum1987_edited Keith Haring was an American artist and social activist. He moved to New York City in 1978 and befriended fellow emerging artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, who shared his interest in the graffiti art of the city’s streets. Haring began using the city as his canvas, making chalk drawings in subway stations. These graffiti drawings attracted the attention of New York commuters, as well as the city authorities; Haring was arrested for vandalism on numerous occasions.

The energy and optimism of Haring’s art, with its bold lines and bright colors, brought him popularity with a wide audience. In an effort to make his art more accessible, Haring opened a retail store called the Pop Shop in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood in 1986; the shop sold posters, T-shirts and other affordable items featuring Haring’s signature designs. Over the brief span of his career, the artist completed more than 50 public works. In 1988, he was diagnosed with AIDS and shifted the focus of his art to AIDS activism. Keith Haring died in 1990 at the age of 31 of AIDS-related complications, but his art, with its deceptively simple style and its deeper themes of love, death, war and social harmony, continues to appeal strongly to viewers.

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A Pile of Crowns, for Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1988

Learn more about Keith Haring by browsing the websites for The Keith Haring Foundation and Haring Kids and this interview with Haring less than a year before his death. Then visit the Pop Shop, which is still open, to get a sense of Haring’s legacy. In 2014, Forever21 launched a Haring/Basquiat clothing line.

Think about the following questions as you watch the movie and write your response:

  • What are some ways Haring’s art is influenced by Andy Warhol? Why do you think Andy Warhol befriended him?
  • Legendary art dealer Leo Castelli featured Keith Haring’s work in his gallery around the same time he rejected Baquiat under the premise that he was “too old to deal with such a difficult artist.” What are some differences between Haring’s and Basquiat’s personalities and work that you think may have caused Castelli to make this decision?
  • Keith Haring says that “the role of the artist in society is to be a kind of antagonist.” What do you think?
  • This movie was produced in 1989. What are some new perspectives we have 25 years later? Consider the points below:
    • It does not mention that he was gay or that he died of AIDS, despite the fact that gay rights and AIDS awareness were two the main social issues in his artwork. How do you think these issues would be addressed if the movie was produced today?
    • One of the critics mentions that the main conflict in the art world in the next 10 years will be the struggle between the old art world’s creation of art for art’s sake and the rise of art for the masses and the creation of art for consumers. One of the questions that repeatedly arose in the movie was whether it is ok for an artist to make an artwork with the intention of creating something that will sell? Do you think this is still controversial? Elaborate.
  • Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat were friends. Compare their lives, personalities, artwork, creative process, struggles, and young deaths. Who do you relate to more? Why?
  • How did Keith Haring pave the way for contemporary commercial artists, such as Shepard Fairey, and contemporary street artists, such as Banksy?

Today we will:

  • watch “Drawing the Line,” a 30-minute movie about Keith Haring
  • discuss the questions above as a class
  • write a 150-word blog response to the life and art of Keith Haring
  • brainstorm ideas for the street art project
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