Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Fate of Wall Scribblings

I thought I would go a little off topic here, but recently I have been thinking about Graffiti. Why you ask? Because there is a lot of it on the University campus. People seem to need to validate their existence by providing a "permanent" expression of their own intelligence. There are two schools of thought on graffiti: As an expression of artistic desires, or as a public eye-sore that defaces the location.

The Artistic Expression
Many times graffiti can be truly artistic. Several of the remnants of public lavatories in Pompeii have been preserved as historical evidence of prose and poetry. Modern facilities can likewise have well worded and metered phrases, which despite the subject matter can represent someone with true poetic talent.

Likewise, images and lettering on walls can also have a truly artistic flare. Images left behind in caves, on the side of rocks, and even on the side of hills have been the subject of study and wonder since before recorded history. I remember looking at many of the images left on railway stations in Germany with admiration and a tinge of jealousy. And yet, they remain labelled as "graffiti", because it was made in a location without the location owner's consent.

Defacing Property
Defacing property has a long history, and has often been rewarded with harsh punishments. One of the more interesting instances happened in Athens, when many stone phallic symbols were broken from their bases. These phallic symbols represented the god Hermes, and therefore was considered religious in nature. The citizenry called for justice, and the perpetrators were exiled from Athens. That's how serious vandalism was treated.

Graffiti has also been called vandalism, in that it makes changes to the property to which the owner did not commission. It resonates with the basic desire of possession, and the need to control those possessions. The noncommissioned change of such property is a violation of that feeling of control.

The Point
Basically, the real point here is that regardless of your point of view, there is another that will counter it. I am neither encouraging, nor discouraging the practice, though as a qualifier I think the owner should be given the courtesy of being asked. In the end, within a couple hundred years or so, the common scribblings on a restroom wall will probably be studied as a sign of wide spread literacy. Different lavatories will be examined and cross referenced with others to analyze the distribution of literacy and intelligent thinking.

So here is a little project to think about. Next time you visit a public display of graffiti, look for the quality of the expression left. What does it tell you about the creator? How does it compare with other locations that you have observed?

And if you are someone that likes to leave their mark, think about how it can impact the owner of that property. Be sure to give them the same courtesy that you would want from them, whether you receive it or not.

2 comments:

JustMe said...

I think graffiti are a way to express oneself and in the end they are works of art! Just think of the sad trains: graffiti give them colour, a different shape and they meake them original!!!
I think graffiti must be incentivated and not treated as something illegal and awful.

Jeremy Robb said...

Thanks for the comment justme! There are a lot of examples of very beautiful and artistic graffiti out there. It's also, ultimately, going to define our civilization from the grass-roots.

Perhaps if it were sponsored, more desirable "graffiti" would be seen, instead of hateful or crass references.