Monday, January 2, 2012

Street Knowledge, by King Adz

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A shift in perspective is seldom a negative experience.

My thoughts about graffiti have been shifting for the past several months as I research a potential story idea, and sure enough, the broadening of my knowledge has proven positive. For years, I had the same reaction to graffiti that I think most people have -- it's a blight on any cityscape, and disrespectful of both the property owner and the community. For me, I lumped together as graffiti anything I saw spray-painted on walls and other surfaces that was not desired by the owners of these surfaces. And then I didn't give the whole idea much more consideration.

Some of what I thought in the past, I still agree with. In vastly over-simplified terms, I don't think people should paint their names (or even draw pictures) on personal property -- that is, homes and other private spaces owned by an individual or a family. And I think that if people are going to paint their names in the public viewing space, they could at least do something to make it either beautiful or (even better) thought-provoking, rather than treating a can of spray-paint as a surrogate penis used to pee on everything in sight.

But my perspectives have been broadened in other ways. First of all, what I lumped together as "graffiti" is, as most encompassing terms are, wildly lacking in the nuance of the different styles of street art. And that term is perhaps the key -- some spray-can folks are out to vandalize, while other people's motivation is the creation of art. The beautification of public space, the recapturing of public visual space (seriously, just think about how many times a day your eyes take in entirely unbidden advertising -- would your life not be better off taking in some form of art instead, whether or not you personally liked the style?), the stimulation of the mind, a raising of social consciousness: all of these are various and different goals of street art, and even so I'm leaving out a whole range of reasons.

The reasons for public art are as diverse as the materials used -- to say that all street art is spray-painted is like saying Renaissance art was all done with a paintbrush. Would I have ever thought of cross-stitched civil disobedience, or vinyl-printed billboard hijacking, or clothing fashion, or even vendored food as street art? Not before reading Street Knowledge, one heck of an introductory encyclopedic look at the world-wide realm of street culture.

I'm not suggesting you should change your own opinions of what you call graffiti. But there's much more to the artistic side of the act than Banksy (though that guy deserves the recognition he gets). Would learning a bit more about the culture of street art harm you in any way? Even if your mind remains unbudged, at least you'd have good solid backing for your beliefs. I'm pretty sure that's simply called an education.

Even the street artists wouldn't want you to agree with them. They'd want you to think about what they're doing. That's about as civil a disobedience as I've ever heard of.

1 comment:

  1. So glad you posted on this! I feel very strongly about all the advertising that is jammed into my visual and mental space. Should we give away our visual realms to tacky, sexy, stupid billboards just because someone had the money to take up that space? I agree with you, ol' microphonic loner, that I'd gain more from art!