A couple of years ago, when graffiti was just graffiti, and street artists were just vandals, I really hated it all. But things change, and for whatever reasons, my view of graffiti has changed too.
The other day I was driving on the 110 freeway coming home from the beach. I actually wasn’t doing much driving, I was crawling along the highway, with thousands of other cars just trying to get somewhere in life, so they can love something before they die.
As I was stuck in this traffic, somewhere by the Staples Center, I noticed a big pink elephant stenciled to my right under the overpass. It was incredible.
Here I am in traffic, wasting precious moments of my life in this car, and suddenly, I am given, for free, the opportunity to view something created by my fellow man, because he wanted to share it with us — the people of the freeway. What is free in life anymore? This act reeks of freedom, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the artist.
Street art excites me, and do you want to know why? Because according to society, it’s not supposed to be there, and I like that. Why should the beauty of the earth be destroyed by billboards, just because some fat cat in marketing is paying for it? So what, somebody vandalized an ad? Good riddance.
By nature, we humans are creative beings. Our desire to express ourselves and show others how the world appears to us is one of the most personal experiences we can share. All we are doing on this planet is trying to make sense of ourselves, while hoping there is someone out there who understands us as well. Humans have been drawing on walls since the dawn of man. It’s an ancient art form, in a more complex society with new tools. The media we use have evolved, but the message has always remained the same.
When we aren’t given the freedom to fully share with others our story, and without consequence, we can easily forget about the power we have. The people behind the street-art phenomenon are taking their power and running hard and fast from the brainwashing shackles that bind, keeping us afraid. They do good for humanity by putting true beauty and expressionism back into the places where it was once taken away.
As long as I am being forcefully exposed to 600 or more ads a day, I will enjoy seeing these acts of creativity and humor over people trying to sell me their brand of self-hatred.
Graffiti isn’t art. It’s vandalism. We can go back and forth about the definition of art all day long, but you don’t need legislature to tell you that painting whatever you want on other people’s stuff is wrong.
I’ve purchased graffiti. I’ve put my hard earned cash into the hands of some of some hipster toolbag at some ironically anti-consumerist bookstore to pick up Banksy’s “Wall and Piece” – and I won’t even try to defend myself by saying it was a gift, even though it was.
I honestly enjoyed the book, and was swept up in this street art craze: laughing at all the stick-it-to-the man stencils; dazzled by the genuine beauty these renegade artists could create with cans of spray paint; wooed by both the brilliant wit of the pieces and also the anti-establishment activism it seemed to be promoting.
But then I saw that people were creating “Banksy tours” so that enthusiasts could gather together while guides led them to his various, preserved works. I noticed more and more of these little graffiti books popping up, and not just as coffee table collages of counter-culture, but touting themselves as catalogues of legitimate art. And finally, I saw these “masterpieces” going up for sale in galleries with prices skyrocketing into the hundreds of thousands.
Somehow, the act of taking the graffiti off the outside of a building and putting it inside a building changed it from anarchy to artistry – vandalism became valued.
Initially I had considered that maybe what I was observing was a counter-counter-culture movement executed by money-hungry morons who were only exploiting the popularity of graffiti to make some quick cash. But the street art craze continued to book venues and pack in potential buyers. It became a business.
There were street art dealers. There were street art interpreters. There were street art classes. Finally, they made a movie about street art that should have knocked these nouveau riche street-art snobs off their superficially desecrated, pretentiously paint-splattered walls. But it didn’t. No one got the joke.
In this movie, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy himself demonstrated – with back-handed impunity – that you can’t commercialize counter-culture. You can’t make street art mainstream art. Vandalism isn’t a product for sale, it’s a crime. As soon as graffiti stopped being criminal and started being commercial, it stopped being an expression and started being consumable property.
And yet, everyone is still buying it. Everyone is still appreciating the “artistic values” of some punk’s “expression” plastered all over other people’s property.
Street art as legitimate art destroys the entire idea of graffiti, which is that you can’t own beauty, you can’t possess brilliance, you can’t buy art. Art isn’t for sale, it belongs to everybody – even if they don’t want it there.
I don’t condone vandalism because I don’t want people to set my car on fire under the impression that melted aluminum is creatively artistic. But I’m more vehemently opposed to capitalizing on a purely anti-capitalist movement. So stop buying graffiti – it’s just vandalism. It isn’t art.