Friday, January 6, 2017

Graffiti As Art Except When It's Not!

Drawings from the caves of Lascaux, France
 Graffiti is as old as the cavemen of the Neolithic era. It may be older but the earliest records we have of man as an artist, that we are privy to is the amazing graffiti in the caves of France. Considering they are at least 40,000 years old, it is remarkable they still exist.
     When Pompeii was uncovered in the 1800's after being covered by ash from Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., one of the surprising finds was graffiti that had survived even red hot lava on the walls of the city. Some of the inscriptions were "X" rated while others were a form of advertisements for "X" rated services.
    So ... graffiti is pretty much as old as modern man (homo sapiens about 50,000 years old) who became used to advertising ... something. Some critics have been known to say art is nothing more than a form of advertising.
Romans were masters of the
intricacies of advertising
    In modern times, especially since my memory from the 50's, graffiti has been used by young men in groups or gangs marking their territory, much like a dog urinating on a fire hydrant letting other dogs know, this land is theirs.
Berliners making their thoughts known on the Berlin Wall
     I have come to admire graffiti as an art form especially after noting that in Europe ... the Berlin Wall, a few isolated spots in Prague, Mexico, Brazil and all over Southern California, that there seems to be a style, almost an internationalist style for graffiti art.
     The Long Beach Art Museum admired it so much, they put their collection in storage, painted their walls white and invited known and sketchy artists to decorate their walls. From what I heard, the show was a success and very well attended. I wrote about it a few years ago. What those artists created was every bit as inventive and considered as any Impressionist, Expressionist or Modernist work of art. It deserves to be admired and valued.
Street taggers caught in the act
     Up to a point! While I worked for a paper in East Los Angeles, then Monterey Park and finally Pico Rivera then becoming Block Captain in Rosemead, the scourge of the public and police was the graffiti by all the competing gangs. At one point it was ubiquitous, one gangs tag competing and often written over another's. Rosemead had a hot line that you could call and they would send out a crew to remove it ASAP because to neglect it only invited more. Some thought these crews actually encouraged the gangs so they would always have a job. However, it was successful and in a short time, the plague of graffiti vanished.
Graffiti becomes a problem when its in your 'hood!
     Well, until today when I noticed this "ABM" written on a transformer on the sidewalk in front of my Condo complex here in Palm Springs. I had seen this before but usually I walk my dog in the dark of night (she has a perchance of eating around 4:30 am) so unable to sleep we walk in the dark.
     I know from experience with law enforcement officials that they always know what gang has done what tag but say they can't make an arrest unless they see it happen. I questioned them then and again today; why do you have to "see" them? Tagging is just like a signature. When you write a check, does the clerk at AT&T, Edison, Macy's or Sears need to see you to sign the check in person before cashing it? Even in the 21st Century more and more entities are using "Digital" signatures on the Internet and they are considered valid enough to have the force of law. Goodness, I even signed 99% of my loan papers over the Internet having to only have one document that required a notary.
     So, since law officials know the name of the gang, usually most if not all of the members, when they tag a building, that in effect is their signature and what they are doing is against the law ... defacing private or public property.
     Tagging is not a victimless crime. There is time and expense for the victum to repair or paint over the damage done. Some cities have enacted laws that if and when caught, parents are responsible for their minor children caught tagging. The cities that have done this have seen such actions drop dramatically. If the parents don't pay, their wages can be garnished until the cost of the damage is repaid plus the cost of the court costs. Parents that thought it was funny when their child was caught were not happy at the cost of their "humor" when they had to pay and parents became parents again not tolerating continuing humor. Ah, as a wise old friend said, "Money turns the crank!" I would add either the getting or the going of that money turns that crank.
     The time has come to honor quality graffiti and time to punish those that generate tagging used as a guise for graffiti. Everything is known about them except maybe seeing them in action. If we can honor a check that is signed presumably by ourselves, mailed three thousand miles away and honored as payment, we can also say that any individual or group using a "signature" must be held responsible for their actions.
     Graffiti is also becoming and may have always been a tool for revolution. Here we have very elaborate artwork promoting "Jihad." If you were to see that on any building here in the US you can bet law enforcement would be over it like white on rice. There is no tolerance for such signage let alone the behavior that created this. Are those marks made on your wall, your school, your whatever else building any less important? I think not. The time has come to separate art from vandalism.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. 

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