Sunday, June 24, 2007


I just read in the Corvallis G-T that a recent high school graduate was convicted of spray-painting graffiti on some local buildings. That's against the law, sure, fine whatever. But what caught my eye was the end of an editorial by Theresa Novak, a Gazette-Times editor, in which she said:

Personally, I have little appreciation for the day-glo colors and lurid imagery that typify graffiti works, but I do have appreciation for those who pursue their chosen method of creative expression — up to the point where it means unauthorized spray-painting of someone else’s home or business. That’s vandalism, not art.

I'm not realy in the mood to sugarcoat it, so I'll just say it: She's wrong. As wrong as can be, anyway. Why?

Art is subjective, that's why. In fact, I would go so far to say that it is the subjectivity of art that gives it meaning.

Given that, Ms. Novak would not be wrong if she said "I don't consider what this kid has done to be art. I consider it vandalism." That's fine - she is not speaking for anyone else. However, let me remind you of what she actually said:

That’s vandalism, not art.

What she is making is a claim to objective truth - that the graffiti in question is not art for anyone, anywhere, ever. The not-so-subtle implication is that graffiti can't be art if it's on someone else's property.

To which I respond: When the hell did art have to be legal to be art? An old friend of mine once told me that he considers art 'self-mutilation made public,' and I think that's as good a definition as any, frankly. And besides, perhaps Theresa Novak needs to be introduced to Banksy. He, more than anything or anyone else I've ever seen, is a strong argument for the idea that graffiti can be (and is) art on par with anything else.

I encourage y'all to explore the Banksy page - his work is amazing.

And a disclaimer: I have not seen the graffiti of Colin Wonnacott at all and therefore have no idea if I'd consider what *he* did art or not. Instead, my point is that there's no reasonable way to claim, as Novak does, that no illegal graffiti can be art. Trying to draw a relationship between art and legality is a dangerous and foolhardy thing to do.


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