Graffiti vs. Art

I had meant to write a longer response to Cara’s comment about graffiti, and never got around to it.  So here’s a belated post, featuring two of my older son’s favorite Worcester sites.

We used to love to see these eyes (next to the former Bancroft Motors )staring at us whenever we went to the main branch of the library.  They reminded me of nothing so much as the eyes Doctor T. J. Eckleburg; he always said they were one of his favorite sites in Worcester.

Cue the (in)famous Rockwell/Michael Jackson tune

Those eyes were beautiful.

But, if the artist didn’t get permission from the property owner, those eyes were graffiti: spray-painted on the side of a garage door in a lot, amidst various pieces of trash, perpetually threatened to be covered over by encroaching weeds.

No matter how fond I was of those eyes, they were graffiti.

Let’s look at everyone’s favorite bus stop:

We'd all ride the bus more if the stops were built like this!

When my husband and children have the opportunity, they like to go to this bus stop and clean it up.  These pictures were taken in the Spring, and my family cleaned up most of the trash you see in here.

DPW also works to keep the level of trash in here at a minimum, and the graffiti you see below was covered over with black paint several months ago.

I have to say that I’m not a fan of painting over graffiti in a case like this, because it ruins the natural look of the stone; I’d rather a graffiti remover were tried first.

We took away the trash that was in here.

Cara made a point in her comment about how she thinks that we should try to understand why the “Hip Hop Generation” feels the need to tag things with graffiti.  My respectfully considered reply is that any such “reason” is entirely beside the point.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who have reasons for running red lights; unless they’re employed in emergency services and on an actual call, that reason — good or bad — should not give them license to run the red light, nor should it prevent them from receiving a ticket.

There are plenty of kids who hate school, some with good reason.  No amount of hating school — no matter what the reason — warrants the kind of destruction that was wreaked upon Belmont Community School several months ago.

Whenever I talk (or hear) about illegal dumping, I hear reasons for why people dump: it’s too expensive, it’s too inconvenient, etc.  But those aren’t reasons, those are excuses.  So I’m not sure what difference it will be hearing the reasons why someone decides to violate people’s property rights — either a private citizen or the city at large — rather than express their pseudo-artistic tendencies on something they own.

I’m tired of people violating my right to have a cute-looking stone bus stop because their social insecurities can only be expressed via spray paint.  I’m tired of people thinking that their right to dump their mattresses and roof shingles is more important than my right to have a peaceful walk in the woods.

Both are intentional acts that violate ordinances and/or laws, and both show an utter disregard for anyone else’s rights.  Dumping on someone else’s property is wrong, and putting your “tag” (whether beautiful or ugly) on someone else’s property is equally wrong.

Let’s not get side-tracked by the “reasons” (excuses) that criminals offer for their behavior.  If the offender finds himself (or herself) in front of a judge when they’ve been caught doing something illegal, they can try to get some leniency in their sentencing by offering their excuses.  Most of us are not the legislators who craft laws, nor are most of us the judges who impose the penalties associated with those laws.  Most of us are just citizens who are expected to comply with laws — in this case, laws that protect the property of others.

Let’s not try to “paint” the issue of graffiti as some sort of civil disobedience aimed at overturning unjust laws.  These people are inflicting costly damage on the properties of others, which in a sense is little different than illegal dumping.  Both cost money/time to clean up, and violate the rights of others.  In our sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden & angsty Hip Hop Generation, let’s not make it easier for that one particular group to violate laws with inpunity and harm the property of others, by legitimizing their excuses.  Because it doesn’t matter.  Causing harm to others (whether to their persons or their property) is an activity that almost all of us agree should be illegal.

Anyway, the the internet now allows us to create graffiti harmlessly on our computers.

3 thoughts on “Graffiti vs. Art

  1. Joe says:

    Well said.

    It’s nice that you and your family took it upon yourselves to clean up the Belmont Street Bus stop. I get the impression it’s not where you live- just something you pass by.

  2. Cara says:

    I want to clarify that I do not approve of tagging. I think it is more productive though, especially with how much more likely a kid is to be a life-long inmate once they’ve been incarcerated, to engage kids who are tagging in beautifying and cleaning up their community the way that you so often lead. When I was a kid, we cleaned up and gardened in a neighborhood vacant lot, and it stayed that way, because the young people felt engaged in keeping it that way. I think that if we want to make things like graffiti go away then we DO need to consider WHY they happen. We ABSOLUTELY need to trouble ourselves with why criminal behavior occurs if we want to make long-term changes. That’s the entire reason that research exists. I truly believe that if every neighborhood had someone like you, Nicole, working hard to keep the neighborhood clean, and ENGAGING neighbors in the same, then many teens who would vandalize to express ownership, would instead stand against such vandalism.

  3. Cara says:

    Oh also, I think another big point is that the big white splotches of paint do just as much to demoralize a neighborhood as random scrawled fake names. I agree that a cleaner would be better, especially one that isn’t introducing toxins into the neighborhood. Ultimately though, I think the most important thing to do is to encourage people like Nicole to continue to take leadership roles in beautifying their communities. A “graffiti task force” that made more public art like the mural near the hanover available to tour neighborhoods would be great community service for people caught tagging.

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