I Love Vandalism! Do You?

from the archives

Over the weekend the hubster and I watched the indie documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, which films various street artists, (also known as graffiti artists) in their quest to cover cities with their artwork. The most infamous of the street artists is the elusive Banksy, who also happened to produce the film.

Banksy has pulled off some of the most genius/risky/devious pranks and art displays among all street artists. He appears in the film with his face blacked out, voice disguised–still an enigma. No one knows who this mystery man is but, his creativity and talent are undeniable, even if you disagree with his mode of operation.

After watching this movie, I realized…I think I love vandalism…

My favorite Banksy work is a stencil of a girl holding a bouquet of balloons, being lifted up and away over the controversial Israeli West Bank barrier. He created a total of nine stencils on the security wall, most of them, as the Guardian explains, “provocative without being directly polemical.”

Exit Through the Giftshop is, on the other hand, quite ambiguous and leaves audiences guessing, as to who is the real Banksy? It may in fact be a mockumentary, as many speculate, but either way, I was hooked. The risks these artists take to have their work displayed is staggering. The political messages, the social commentary, the resistance to the status quo: Glorious.

I loved every second of it. I was even weighing whether or not I too could become a controversial yet mysterious street artist. I’d name myself She-Ra, after my favorite girlhood cartoon character.

After the movie however, I admitted to my husband that if I see some schmuck with a rusty can of green spray paint throwing some hideous slashes, crisscrosses or, heaven forbid, his name (“Little G Dawg” for instance) up on a city wall, I consider it vandalism. Little G Dawg is a hooligan.

On the other hand, if I see some master of his craft, a Banksy, or Shepard Fairey, or JR, and watch them leave behind a magnificent piece of artwork, albeit still on the side of a public building, well, then I call that a masterpiece. That’s not graffiti. That is genius. Illegal, yes, but still genius.

Surprisingly, Exit Through the Gift Shop raises some of the same questions: What is art really? Who decides? What process does an artist have to go through in order to be considered a true artist? Is art still art even if it is disposable? Or if it is illegal?

So now I pose the questions to you: When you view “street art” images do you consider them art or graffiti? Is that painting or illustration, displayed illegally on the front of a public building, vandalism or simply unsolicited art? What do you think? Should it be welcomed or prosecuted?

3 thoughts on “I Love Vandalism! Do You?”

  1. I think that offbeat creativity is always interesting – provided it is actually creative. The problem is that one person’s art is another person’s vandalism.

    I have long had fantasies involving the modification of public signage, to change the mundane into something humorous or thought-provoking.

    For instance, I went to college in a small town where no one really wanted (or needed) to stop at intersections, so the town had installed “Yield” signs at most intersections. I often had the urge to get stickers printed up so I could go around and install the words “Not To Temptation” under the word “Yield” on each sign.

    I’m certain that doing so would have been viewed as vandalism, not creative art, so I took the message to heart personally, and yielded not to the temptation to do so. :-)

  2. I have always considered it art with the exception of your aptly described “G-Dawg” scenario. Unfortunately it may get covered up. The beauty, in part, is due to the fact that it is done covertly, and many times with such emotion or message attached. I have to admit I have painted a few times as well as fine tuned some bathroom walls. Always for the better in my opinion. Thanks for the movie recommendation.

  3. When we went to NYC one time, we rode the subway into Brooklyn. As we went around a certain ‘bend’, we found buildings with the most incredible art on them. It was gorgeous and so ‘real’ with emotion. I loved it. I guess it felt like ‘art’ had escaped its typical confines of fancy buildings and quiet museums and came to where we all live.

    But I agree on the ‘g-dawg’ stuff. Please don’t use offensive language/art. I’m usually not in the mood for ‘digust’.

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