Things I Like That You Might Like Too: Graffiti
Apr 2011 29

Things I Like That You Might Like Too: Graffiti

Posted In Art,Blog,DIY

by Aaron Colter

graffiti noun : (1) a key indication of poverty, language of the people, costly vandalism, the most prevalent medium of art in the world, landmarks for violence, an expression that transcends the false constructs of race, and yet another segment of black culture to be appropriated, and at the same time demonized, by the white majority in America. (2) unauthorized writing or drawing on a public surface.

Growing up outside east Denver, I remember helping clean graffiti off the side of the church my family attended. It was back soon after we tried to wash it off the first time, and the second. After a while, we stopped doing anything about it.

I didn’t always like graffiti, but it always interested me. The act of carving one’s name on the surface of something physical, in secret, somewhere someone would see it someday – it’s primal, but a sign of self-reflection, intelligence even.

Modern graffiti started to take-off in the late 1970s, around the same time hip-hop was gaining momentum. Like the music, the art was born out of frustration, necessity, and the part of the human spirit that urges us to create. Although New York is still the Mecca of illegal art, each city has its own code. The work seen on the streets of Los Angeles is as recognizable in its form and influence, as are tags in Detroit.

If you’re at all interested in the culture and history of graffiti, Netflix has a dozen or so films you can watch on instant-stream, including the popular Exit Through the Gift Shop from the elusive Banksy, and several others from the early 1990s that are less theatrical.

Perhaps, like I used believe, you draw a distinction between “good” graffiti and “bad” graffiti. If a piece is artistically beautiful in an objective way, you’re less likely to be offended by spray-paint in your neighborhood than if you perceive something to be nothing more than a poorly scrawled name. I get it. But, you’re wrong.

Every artist has to practice. There’s a good chance if you see a shitty tag, it’s from some kid who finally managed to muster the courage, or rather, overcome teen angst to obtain a can of paint and do something that could very well end with their ass in the back of a squad car.

It’s easy to brush off such acts as nothing more than the mistakes of misguided youth, however, that’s taking the easy way out. Yes, a lot of it graffiti is done by angry kids looking to fuck-up public places at night. I would argue there’s inherent beauty in that alone. But, if you dig a little more academia and a little less anarchy in your debate, consider the society in which we live that is so dysfunctional that human beings in their most confusing time of development have so few outlets to express the flaws they see and feel in our broken system that they’re spurred to attack the symbols of that society even in the face of arrest.

I’m pissed when I see kids try to overtake a spot they’re too novice to properly utilize, but not the act itself. Hate the sin, love the sinner, right?

Despite being a pretty clever side-show in the vein of I’m Not Here, something Banksy said in his film Exit Through the Gift Shop struck me; something to the affect that everyday we’re bombard by advertisements in public places that we have no say in seeing or influencing. Sure, we could buy a billboard if we had the money, or maybe rework city laws to remove unwanted displays, but let’s face it – none of those things are happening. In fact, there’s even a constitutional debate in the state of Washington to decide what is and isn’t public art.

Ron English said something similar in Supersize Me, that the famous Renaissance masters painting cityscapes and sunsets that went on to be hung in museums all over the world. But in America, all he sees are McDonald’s logos, car dealerships, strip-malls, and advertisements for light beer. Thus, because corporations have the money and political influence, and our society is spurred on by a weird form of capitalism, each and every one of us has to see the most pandering bullshit imaginable on our way to work at what is probably a shitty job.

Unacceptable.

Graffiti is also rooted in politics and rebellion, even more so today due to the evolving styles, and breadth and depth of the artists involved in the medium. We do not have to be ruled by commercials in our everyday life. We do not have to complacently watch our streets turn into bland, unidentifiable blocks of consumerism. We can take up a pen, a can of paint, a thing of glue, and we can make our world into what we want to see.

Your idea of a beautiful reality may not be mine – in fact it almost assuredly isn’t – so we’ll battle with ideas and brushes. Art will beget art until layers of wood and ink start to amass a complex history of the time and the feelings of a community.

Graffiti is an act, it doesn’t have to be tied to gang-association or poverty. It can be whatever we want it to be. Graffiti is a wonderful language anyone can use to communicate emotions too grand to be said in words, too abstract to be discussed, too powerful for anything other than what it is.

I’m not suggesting graffiti should be legalized. The property entanglements and decisions of judges, officials, cops, landlords, construction firms, and concerned parents are far too stacked and uncertain for that to ever come to pass. Besides, there are more important things to worry about, like how our country is spending its way to destruction by bombing the fuck out of the Middle East, or the fact that public schools are getting worse every year.

I am suggesting you, yes, you – you reading this right now – you should graffiti something.

Once you start to learn graffiti, trust me, it will change your reality. You’ll notice the nooks and crannies of everyday life where someone has tried to reach out to another conscious mind.

“I’m here.”

You’ll start to recognize patterns, see improvements in those whose names you may never know, whose faces you may never see, but whose soul you will connect with, even if for only a brief moment.

Walk around your neighborhood, get to know what’s being said, where, and by whom. Then, add to the conversation.

***

If you have something that you think I might like that others might like too, please email youmightlike [at] gmail [dot] com.

What I’m reading: Subway Art, Wall and Piece, Wonton Soup

What I’m listening to: Sub Pop – Terminal Sales Vol. 4, Bob Marley – Gold Collection 1970-1971, Jon Timm – C1 B1

What I’m drinking: Goose Island’s Sofie, Samuel Smith’s Organically Produced Lager Beer, Highway 78 Scotch Ale

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