I could have easily spent nearly an hour tracing the genesis of the world's written languages if a group of kids writing graffiti on a wall with "digital spray cans" hadn't drawn me away. In one of the museum's boldest moves, graffiti is regarded as a cultural asset of human communication, and the exhibit digitally stores each graffiti tag as part of "Exhibit Commons," a place where visitors can contribute their own works or testimonies as a way to break down curatorial gates and engage the public.Actually, it's EXACTLY like saying "drink responsibly." And isn't that a good message? We tell people to drink responsibly on the assumption that it's futile to tell them to not drink. Our nation found that out for sure, once and for all, during the Prohibition era. The slogan is a pragmatic compromise: Nothing wrong with that, in my book.
I gave this whole elegant spiel to Gary and Lily Swenson, who were observing the exhibit from afar. They weren't buying it.
"It's teaching them graffiti! It's not a good idea," Gary said.
I pointed out a disclaimer written next to the graffiti wall that read: "Uninvited graffiti is illegal. . . . Please paint responsibly."
Lily rolled her eyes: "That's like saying, 'Drink responsibly.'"
Similarly, society has prohibited graffiti to the point of making it a felony in many instances, yet what American city isn't littered with graffiti tags? (Photo via Dirty Third Streets)
The Liberty museum recognizes that writing on walls with spray paint is something fun that many kids like to do (like picking a giant nose, as it turns out - who'da thought?), so it uses that fact to teach them instead of to punish them.
Where else are kids taught to draw the distinction between invited and "uninvited" graffiti, between fun and vandalism? Who has explained to them the nuances of how free speech and property rights mingle? Who has told them, "it's okay to have fun, it's okay to be happy and do things you enjoy, just enjoy them responsibly" Probably no one, except for the museum's valorous attempt. I think that's an important message that's too often lost:"Paint responsibly" - after all, what you create is a "cultural asset."
See prior, related Grits posts:
- Graffiti solutions: A cost-benefit analysis
- Digital graffiti, or, Is there something to a wall that wants us to write on it?
- R.I.P. Victor Montano: Houston graffiti artist
- Can you be arrested for public knitting?
- Out of our minds: Isn't felony graffiti overkill for sixth graders?
- Charging graffiti as a state jail felony?