Guest Blog from Portugal: Lisbon Art

Art can be found all over the world, and our fabulous art teacher, Jennifer Shaby, wrote today’s post from her trip to Portugal this summer.  Ooh! Ah!  She found art everywhere, even where you might not expect it…


I always like to check out art museums when I travel. While in Lisbon, Portugal, I visited two fantastic museums: the Berardo Collection & the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. I saw everything from Ancient Greek coins, illuminated manuscripts, Impressionist, Surrealist and Pop Art pieces by artists whose names you would recognize (or else I have failed as a teacher….), and works by Portuguese artists. Check out this painting by Portuguese painter Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso called The Life of Instruments. 

I feel pretty confident that you can identify the movement that this piece represents. But, the most surprising, and perhaps the most interesting, art I saw was not in a museum. During my taxi ride from the airport to my hostel, I noticed tons of graffiti tags lining the walls on either side of the highway and asked the driver about it. He told me that there is, indeed, a lot of graffiti around Lisbon. On Friday evening I joined up with a group going on an urban art walk, which was led by a guide from my hostel. He explained that there is a lot of street art in Lisbon that has been commissioned by the municipal government, and so the illegal element that we often think of when we see “graffiti” does not necessarily hold true here in Lisbon. There are plenty of tags and stencils around, too, and we wandered around the dilapidated walls of an old building that have been covered in graffiti. While this particular “collection” is not supported by the city, they don´t seem to be actively getting rid of it, either. One mural we saw covered the sides of a couple of buildings and was inspired by Fado, a style of Portuguese singing.

We ended our tour in a parking garage, where several artists were each given a floor of the structure to work on. While I don´t typically enjoy my time spent in parking garages, it was very cool to discover the colorful and whimsical  paintings covering the walls and posts as we spiraled down the ramp. I love that the city is supporting these artists and that the government appreciates the value that this work provides to the community and to its visitors. Wandering the streets in search of the next historic site listed in my guidebooks, the pleasure of being surprised by quirky, humorous art on the city’s walls only increased my enjoyment of the city. Don´t get me wrong – I´m not suggesting that you go out and start painting the walls of the parking garage in your downtown, or spray paint the sides of abandoned buildings – it is illegal. But, I do think it’s worthwhile for us to reconsider what we think of as “art” sometimes, and keep an open mind about the ways that art can enrich our public spaces and create some unexpected joy.

~ Ms. Shaby


Did you like Ms. Shaby’s post? Add your comments and questions here, and you might feel like you are sitting in art class. Do you know which art movement she is writing about?

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12 replies »

  1. Wow!!
    Pretty cool post, Ms. Shaby!!

    I never knew Lisbon had so much art in places where we might think is illegal! I actually thought all countries counted graffiti as illegal. But now I know better.
    Hmm…. is the art movement (for the first art piece) Cubism? Are you going to let the answer out once many people have guessed?
    Do you think this is the way Portuguese people express their art? If so, why? If not, what other ways do you think they express their art? Is this the most unusual way you’ve seen art expressed? Ever? What other ways do you think other countries would express their art?
    Overall, I think this is a really creative way to show art!!

    😉 ~ Anna

  2. Thanks for commenting, Anna!

    You ask such great questions…First, graffiti is actually illegal in Lisbon, but there are specific projects that are supported by the government, and they employ artists who typically do street art to create work in designated areas. There is still a lot of illegal graffiti around, too, but it doesn’t always get cleaned up.

    You asked if this is a typical way for the Portuguese to express themselves artistically. Interestingly, one of their traditional art forms is ceramic tiles that are used to cover both interior and exterior walls of buildings, called azulejos. Many of the buildings I saw in Lisbon and other cities have these azulejos covering part or all of the facade. Some of them are patterned, some have botanical or animal motifs, and many of them show historical themes. There are plenty of differences between azulejos and modern street art in Portugal, but the idea of displaying art on the walls of buildings and city structures is not new in Portugal.

    And…..I wonder what other readers think about your response to the movement question…?

    • Thanks for answering my questions, Ms. Shaby!!
      I wonder what the answer to the movement is …
      😉 ~ Anna

      • Cubism!!! Ms McNamara would be proud!

        Enjoy the rest of your summer, and we’ll see you soon….

  3. Cool! Very interesting art work. We hope to visit Portugal one day. We speak Portuguese at home and have many Portuguese influences since my family came from Brazil which was explored by Portugal. Thank you Ms. Shaby!

  4. thats so cool! i go on a bike path and underneath a highway, there was always a TON of graffiti. Here’s the catch: it was really pretty. From Charley Brown and Snoopy to five foot long emerald eyes the art looked masterful. They covered it all up a few weeks later with grey paint that peels and leaves faded traces of what was once there. I almost missed the graffiti… it made me think of the unknown artists that drew them, and also… the grey paint is way uglier. 😀

  5. I have 4 friends from Portugal. They moved to cape cod and stayed in the hotel for 40 days!!!!! 🙂
    – Thanks

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