Thursday, August 14, 2008

with love to street artists


the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls
- Paul Simon


In Pittsburgh recently a nineteen year-old graffiti artist was charged with offenses that could have resulted in him spending twenty-five years in a maximum-security prison. The judge sentenced him to five years, which was met with sighs of relief from some who were somewhat sympathetic to the youth. I am going to guess that these people have never visited a county jail, let alone a maximum-security prison, let alone served any time in either. Five years is a long time. And for a relatively benign property crime. I suppose I should not be surprised: property is God in what is probably the most ruggedly capitalist society on earth.
As a practical matter I certainly understand that without laws protecting property and proprietors, a necessary modicum of order could not be ensured, but I've always wondered about this idea of ownership. How can anyone really own much of anything? Whether one believes in God, or in evolution, or both, or neither.... no person ever created any of the land that now people in groups calling themselves nation-states claim as theirs, and within those nation-states the leaders and laws of those nations also claim to have the right to give individuals the right to buy and sell pieces of that land as one's own. It all seems quite arbitrary to me: how have some gotten that right to claim land as theirs, and the right to then sell some of that land to some chosen few? Victory in violent conflict. Might may not make right but it is the origin of property rights, which are then mythologized into something beyond question by systems of commerce, consumerism, language, the construction of hierarchies, and to reference a recent post, even pop-culture staples, such as Monopoly, to name just one icon to which we become habituated. For a rabidly supposed-Christian country, we might be in lock-step with a few conveniently chosen details from the Old Testament, but we're a long way from Jesus' commandment to give our coats, as well, to the person who asks for our shirts.

Last weekend I got involved in a somewhat heated debate about the subject of graffiti and street art. My attempts to assert the importance, the political relevance, the very necessity of art were countered by, "then they should put it on a canvas." To which I was unable to ever say, "and how many people would ever see it?" (Not to mention, "Not that it would give much art the exposure it can get on the 'street,' but does 'they should put it on a canvas,' mean you support greater funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and other taxpayer funded art initiatives, education, and distribution?" ) I did get to at least flirt with a discussion about how the very act of putting art in illegal places is performing one of the functions of art, which is to push the envelope, to cause questioning, to express and give form to dissent, but that truth didn't find any takers at the dinner table.

Artists in general don't get much love these days, as many of us endeavoring in poetry know all too intimately, but although our work may motivate rejection slips from editors, stir some unease in our mothers, raise a hair or two of controversy from time to time, and raise some random eyebrows a bit more often than from time to time, I don't think most of us are in much danger of being thrown in the Big House for what we write. At least not in this country. At least not yet. Let's take care to make certain that never happens by letting our lawmakers, as well as our friends, families, and others, know that while laws protecting property may indeed have their place, art is by far the more valuable commodity.

Both of the above by the artist a1one, in Tehran.

In Paris.

In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

An abandoned gas station rebirthed by Jennifer Marsh.

In Perugia, Italy; by Phorm.

In Lebanon.

In Barcelona.

And of course there are those masters like Keith Haring who "started," in part, on the streets. His work is now framed and "owned" by many wealthy collectors and some of the most prestigious museums in the world.

Many of the above images were found on the following sites: Graffiti on Oil , The Wooster Street Art Collective, and Art Crimes. Along with other sites like the Iranian Street Art Report, Dan Witz Street Art (he's amazing), and Urban Art Movement, they are really worth checking out. Wooster is an especially great starting point, and has many links to awe inspiring art and artists.



Anonymous said...

hey, what are you, some kind of socialist?!


love ya, and keep fighting the good fight you brave chickenshit crusader you


versehorse said...

you're a hell of a writer.

you shoud write more, on your blog i mean.