The Receptiveness of Graffiti

Apr 23, 12 The Receptiveness of Graffiti







In my opinion graffiti elude the vision. On the one hand this is because of the places where they are painted, on the other hand this is because of their appearance. You see a lot of graffiti while looking out of the window during a journey by train. But because trains tend to travel at high speed, the graffiti pass by so fast, that you cannot really see them. You only notice splash of colours on the walls along the railway tracks.

A lot of graffiti are also to be found in narrow alleys. Here you could theoretically stop and look at the graffiti for as long as you wish. But there are only a few people who would stop in a narrow alley to admire the walls. Most of the wall paintings are so large that you should have the possibility to take a step back in order to be able to grasp the painting in its entirety. This possibility is not given in a narrow alley. Therefore you have to walk up and down in front of the picture, take in all its different parts and assemble them again in your mind. In order to verify the mental picture you go to the end of the alley and glance back at the graffiti which is strongly distorted from this perspective. This way of taking in the picture is not ideal for grasping it correctly.

Many large, carefully executed graffiti are to be found on places where there is usually enough space to take as many steps back as you need to be able to see the painting in its entirety. But instead of accommodating the spectator, the graffiti are painted in such a fashion that they become illegible. It is a huge tangle of lines, forms and colours.

I already hear the today’s graffiti-scene scoff: „You don’t see it because you’re a toy! You know nothing about graffiti, that’s why you don’t get it. Graffiti is not meant for the crowd. The ones who breathe and live graffiti they understand the painting at once.”

I could start arguing now. I could take those statements apart one by one and prove that on the one hand they are just parroted, on the other hand there is neither rhyme nor reason in them. But since I do not have a direct opponent, I will not argue.

Instead I would like to ask a question: As graffiti does everything possible not to be understood by the crowd, why does it lament of not being understood? The graffiti-sceneWhatever this graffiti-scene might be. I have the feeling that the graffiti-scene consists of 90% enthusiastic fans, who however lack important knowledge about graffiti and its history. The kids who look for a cool hobby start spraying, because graffiti allowed itself to become a playground for cool kids in all its years of existence. It is hip for a little girl to dress up as a princess for Shrove Tuesday or Halloween, just as it is hip for the rebellious youth to dress up as a graffiti writer.
Even the claim that graffiti is a youth movement is absurd. Graffiti has existed for more than sixty years. At the beginning it might have been a youth movement, but today it is certainly no more. The youth of that time is of mature age now. You cannot inherit a youth movement. It exists solely when it emerges and wears off when the persons involved grow up. The fact that graffiti still exists today is an indication that it is not a youth movement and it has never been. From its very beginnings it has been a timeless kind of artistic expression. Whoever claims that graffiti is youth culture talks nonsense and more than that he damages graffiti in this way, because he tries to force it into an unnatural cast.
That doesn’t mean that graffiti does not have boundaries. There is a statement very widely spread that claims: “Graffiti is expression and does not have any boundaries.” What does this mean: “Graffiti is expression”? Everything is expression. I express myself if I yawn during a boring conversation; I express myself if I lament about the high prices in the supermarket; if I say thank you for the flowers; if I paint an impressionistic painting; if I chisel a statue out of marble… all that is expression. But it is not graffiti. So you cannot say graffiti is expression.
“But this is not what we try to say! We say that graffiti is an expression of disapproval of the system.” Disapproval of the system? How do I disapprove of the system, if I paint a picture on a bridge pier? Do I disapprove of the system because in my opinion this pier has to be colourful instead of gray? Or because in my opinion all public buildings belong to everyone, they belong to me as well, so I can do with them as I please? What kind of disapproval of the system is this? The driver who drives by that bridge pier does not see the picture, because his eyes are concentrated on the road. The fellow passengers can see only a blur of paint. The pedestrians cannot see the painting at all because they walk over the bridge. The officials either take a picture of it to try to find the author. Or they order the painting to be removed. Or they don’t do anything.
You can only disapprove of the system if the graffiti is commented by the creator and understood by the society. But this happens very rarely taken into consideration the large amount of graffiti which are produced.
invests extremely much into legend building. Even the Old MastersIt is nothing new that artists build up legends around themselves. To name a few: Albrecht Dürer, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Diego Rivera, etc. would turn green with envy. But at the same time the graffiti-scene inhibits itself with a very strong loyalty to its often misunderstood past, which makes it impossible to join the art community on a peer level.

I do not expect that graffiti would ever accept to have anything to do with museums or galleries which are so deeply unpopular with the graffiti-scene. Nor do I expect that graffiti adopts the same forms as the established art, but I would very much welcome if it stopped hiding cowardly in a corner and griping sulkily from time to time. Graffiti – the real graffiti – is worth much more than that and deserves much more respect and appreciation than it gets from both the society and its own creators.

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