I came across this online Age newspaper article by Kylie Northover, ‘Graffiti is enough to give a critic an art attack’ (8 May 2010), a response to ‘Hey Banksy, graffiti is vandalism not art’ by Charles Purcell (4 May 2010). I was duly horrified.
Purcell concludes his smug, ignorant rant with the following outrageous suggestion:
Note to Banksy: graffiti is not art, it is vandalism, no matter how many vapid celebrities or art world luvvies tell you otherwise. My advice for Customs is to search Banksy thoroughly for spray cans upon his arrival in Sydney, along with a stern warning that we won’t tolerate any of his nonsense. He should be allowed to present his film, then driven directly to the airport, without the chance to stop and deface some great public building with kitsch commentary. And perhaps given a gentle kick up the arse and the exhortation to ”wake up to yourself, mate” at the departure gates.
(Note to the Age: why condone the exhortation of harassment, violence and the suggestion of some kind of state-sanctioned unlawful extradition? Particularly as bad-taste jokes are not in vogue at the Age.)
Northover’s defence of London artist, Banksy,was sincere, but struck me as lukewarm.
Whether you love his work or not – and I’m well aware of the criticism of his work as lightweight socio-political bumpf – it’s hard to deny that Banksy is an artist of sorts. He may well be a prankster with a spray can merely exploring the concept of art as a commodity, but he’s still an artist, not a vandal.
In an online interview, Snarl tells us ‘Graffiti is to art, what death metal is to music’. I think this sells the genre short. Clearly, Banksy is an artist and not ‘of sorts’. Not conforming to the laws of society has no bearing on such a definition – or shouldn’t have.
But what really rankles is a chunk of the respondent comments. For example, here is Margaret from Sydney’s response to Purcell’s article:
Here here [sic] Charles, I say that we go one step further and castrate all teenagers who are caught grafitting [sic]our fair city. This would ensure that they can never breed children who grow up in a society where painting on walls is considered acceptable. And yes, I agree with your last point that we should indeed be searching the bags of all foreigners whom [sic]enter this country to ensure that they do not have any spray cans.
Now, Margaret may be joking – the idea that anyone would be carrying spray cans on an aeroplane is certainly amusing – but disturbingly: I’m not sure! Even if Margaret has been too clever for me, the suggestion of a crusade for methodical child-abuse strikes me as several giant leaps in a very frightening and humourless direction. But potential fascist-perversion, xenophobia and general stupidity aside – where is Margaret talking about when she says ‘our fair city’?
Ours? Hers? Mine? The graff writers/artists shouting out with their irreverent voice?
With our permission, the ruling class foists its materialist-capitalist manifesto on this country, controlling us with the threat of violence. Contravene the laws and be arrested. Resist arrest and be shot. A little extreme, perhaps? Kids are hardly likely to be shot for resisting police? Think again.
But say it is ‘our’ fair city. Corporations pollute the public space and have done so, unchallenged, for years. In fact – we pay them handsomely with our consumer dollars to clutter up ‘our city’ with images and slogans. Advertisements intentionally erode self-acceptance, vilify difference and sell us the destruction of nature and wellbeing. Advertising images are designed to inculcate consumerism and chauvinism of all kinds.
Free art, on the other hand, is a crime.
Victoria’s penalties for graffiti offences include imprisonment of up to 2 years.
Yes, folks will say ‘tags are not art, some of that crap I’ve seen is not art’. Have another look around the galleries and what’s hanging in people’s homes. Art doesn’t have to be ‘legal’ or ‘nice’ to be art. And if you’re still not sure: check out MelbourneGraffiti.com and Art Cries Out.
Unless I have again misinterpreted the irony, with this idiotic response to Northover’s article:
No matter how much artistic merit a painting may have, it is pure vandalism if placed on the property of another person or body without permission.. If Leonardo Da Vinci were around today and dared to paint the Mona Lisa on the wall of my home without my prior permission, I’d have not the slightest hesitation in suing him for every cent of the cost of removing it!!
Ron from Armidale sums up the materialist/capitalist ideas of property and ownership that the best (and worst) graffiti artists challenge.