Friday, August 24, 2007

Adidas: Graffiti is legitimate art

Having written recently about the need to create legitimate public spaces for graffiti art as part of the solution to uninvited graffiti, I was interested to notice that shoemaker Adidas was receiving backlash in Australia for hiring a graffiti artist to paint a billboard in Melbourne.

While critics say "It's trying to legitimise what is illegal activity," Adidas retorted that graffiti is a legitimate form of art:

The sportswear giant has commissioned graffiti artists from around the world to design a range of sneakers to be sold in Foot Locker stores.

The company said it did not endorse illegal graffiti, but wanted to provide a legal avenue for graffiti artists to display their work.

Adidas spokesman Cameron Baranski said the project encouraged young people to make a living out of graffiti art, instead of writing on walls illegally.

"There's a big difference between what Nuroc's done up there and vandalism and tagging," Mr Baranski said.

"What Nuroc has done up there is a piece of art. I challenge anyone to say it's not a legitimate piece of art."

I think Adidas is on the right track here for public policy reasons, not because I think the ad campaign will work (who knows on that score): Outlawing graffiti only contributes to the outlaw mythos that fuels it. Mainstreaming graffiti - and giving incentives to graffiti artists through payment, access to public spaces, etc. - will help control the medium.

Giving serious artists public space reinforces the key distinction between invited and uninvited graffiti, between legitimate art and art that is simultaneously vandalism and a crime. That public education process cannot occur in an environment where even commissioned graffiti art is demonized.

UPDATE: Graffiti is going upscale! Here are the $175 per pair sneakers Adidas is promoting with its graffiti art, dubbed Adidas Originals. Yikes! For $175 I can buy a pair of decent, white sneakers, hire a graff artist to paint them, then take us both out to dinner on the leftover cash.

See Grits' recent series on graffiti law and policy solutions:


Anonymous said...

Well, if Adidas says so, it must be true.......

Gritsforbreakfast said...

From the art in the picture, do you disagree?

Anonymous said...

No, I think Adidas is disingenuous.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Perhaps, in which case I'd like more corporations to begin disingenuously paying graffiti artists to produce art in public spaces! :)

Anonymous said...

You would. :)

Anonymous said...

I like the billboard pictured. I like the colors, composition, and general feel. It looks vibrant and full of youthfull good cheer.

Anon at 8:33, 9:13 and 10:14 seems angry about something. I feel taking the time to enjoy art would bring some cheer into an angry life?

Matt Bramanti said...

Grits, doesn't your post assume that graffiti is a zero-sum game? It looks like you believe that there will be a fixed amount of graffiti decorating our public places.

It seems to me that you don't believe graffiti can be reduced, and so the only thing left to do is legitimize it, subsidize it, and limit it to certain places.

I have no problem with a company paying an artist to paint its property. But I fail to see why legitimizing something that used to be called vandalism is good public policy, for the same reason we shouldn't have safe window-breaking parks or Slash Tires on Junkyard-Bound Cars Day.

Anonymous said...

The psychologist at 12:59.


Anonymous said...

Are hackers, creative in their own right, any less destructive than these artists?

Would creatively hacking this web sight be viewed as artistic? Or would it depend on how good the art was?

Anonymous said...

Anon at 10:18

Companies routinely pay hackers to hack their systems. The company management finds tremendous value in knowing the vulnerabilities of their secure data.

You have decided that a "hacker" is bad and your thinking stopped at that moment.

There is value in everything on this earth, even hackers. And yes, the creativity and art are subjective. Not everyone appreciates the same thing. That is why we have freedom of speech!

Hardy Wilkerson said...

I take it you suggest that the ends, i.e. the creation of "art" justifies any means to achieve that end.

Be it the artistic desecration of another's property or the destruction of an innocent website by an uninvited hacker.

The satisfaction of the the artist or hacker is justification enough.

The owner of the property or websight's desires are of no concern. They should just enjoy the artist's vision.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@hardyleon - You take it incorrectly. If you'd like a more accurate rendition of what I think should be done about graffiti, read here and here. You've spat out a bunch of stereotypes that more reflect your biases than my views.

Matt, I do believe that graffiti can be reduced and the links I just gave provide my suggestions for doing so. Also, I haven't proposed legalizing vandalism, though I believe felony graffiti raps are inappropriately harsh and rather foolish punishments. I'd just rather put public resources into repairing harm and encouraging creative youth than stuffing full prisons with wall writers. I think it's a more effective use of public resources to change the culture surrounding graffiti.

BTW, I wouldn't worry about the cost of "subsidizing" graffiti - I promise that can't remotely cost what the current criminal enforcement approach costs. See the link on cost benefit analysis in the post for more on that. best,

Matt Bramanti said...

I'd just rather put public resources into repairing harm and encouraging creative youth than stuffing full prisons with wall writers.

Do you think most graffiti is a creative outlet or gangbangers marking their territory?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Matt, I think it's both, more one than the other depending on where you live. That's why I think the rapid cleanup of uninvited graffiti is the most effective "punishment." It impacts both classes of offenders when they don't play by the rules.

And btw, even some of those who are "creative" taggers are bad artists. Dirty Third Streets seems to capture the full spectrum. Just because someone thinks of themself as creative doesn't mean you want their tag on your property. best,

Mr Jherek said...

It's not bad actually, I drive past it every day (bet you didn't realise you had a reader in Australia.) There's a few more of these around Melbourne.

Mind you were not that liberal about graffiti the courst upped a community service sentence to three months jail for one "artist".

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Howdy Mr. Jherek, and any other Aussies out there reading!

As for whether y'all are "liberal" on graffiti, you would be in Texas. Three months? We hand out 2-year, no-parole felony sentences to graffiti artists, mate! Really!

BTW, did you see that I'd profiled the views of one of your countrymen last month who's doing good work in Adelaide?

Thanks for reading, and the input. And if they do any more graffiti billboards in Melbourne, take a digital pic and send it along! best,

Anonymous said...

Grits, this is so great an idea; I love it. Also, maybe colored chalk could gain in acceptance (and reduce the penalty) while making the poignant and tragic point that we all face as humans--impermanence.