Sunday, August 19, 2007

Graffiti, art, vandalism, and subversion

"Graffiti is not art, it's malicious vandalism," says the leader of an anti-graffiti campaign in London.

I hear this a lot. My question: Can't it be both?

Reacting to my post, "Toward a restorative graffiti policy," Proximo from Dallas Sidebar asked, "How would you address the subversive component to tagging? Isn't that the element that really drives the art form and will graffiti artists give up that power?" I responded there, if you'd like to see my answer.

But the "subversive component" Proximo mentions is PRECISELY that graffiti can be simultaneously art AND vandalism. Remedies that assume it's one or the other - be they complete prohibition or libertine acquiescence - IMO will fail to find a stable, viable equilibrium.

London now seeks to force parents to pay for property damage caused by wall writing kids, but that's futile - if the parents could contain them, they wouldn't be out graff writing in the first place! Sometimes I think the people who write municipal statutes must never have raised teenagers. Does anybody think rebellious teens care if their parents have to pay a fine? Hell, that's just one more way to punish your parents!

The closer I pay attention to how cities around the world react to graffiti, the more I think that strictly punitive approaches foolishly fuel the subversion that Proximo correctly says "drives the art form." Graffiti is art. And it is vandalism. Indeed, that contradiction defines its essence.

See Grits' recent series on graffiti problems and solutions:

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Jail sentences and stiff fines do deter high income professionals - who write the statutes for others. If we had jail sentences and stiff fines for those who screw consumers and workers with pollution and unsafe working conditions or for those who exploit illegal workers it would deter crime. Consider the shrill feedback about Scooter's 30 month sentence and you see how little it would cost to deter a lot of crime that costs a lot more than street crime.

The criminal justice system doesn't work because it uses white collar deterrents for street criminals and fails to address the crime committed by well connected individuals that often lead to the deplorable conditions that spawn street crime.