Should graffiti be considered art or vandalism?
"It may be called art, but I don't like it," replied Paula DuBois of Gary.
I asked DuBois this loaded question as she looked at a freshly painted graffiti art project on the long-closed Ming Ling restaurant in the Miller section of her city. Like with most passers-by, including her three older female friends that day, DuBois had to study the graffiti to make heads or tails of it.
At first blush, it looks like vandalism. Upon further review, it becomes art. Of sorts.
The two artists who created this project are known in the graffiti art world as Zore and ZorZorZor. They painted this project last week and have already moved on to find other streetscape canvases, beginning in Germany.
"The fact these artists want to come to our town and share their art with us, free of charge, says a lot," said Meg Roman, executive director of the Miller Beach Arts & Creative District. "It really captures the community spirit that is so alive in Miller, and gives local artists and performers a chance to showcase their work."
Zore and ZorZorZor came to Miller to showcase their internationally known work as part of the ongoing "Lake Effekt" summer festival taking place through June 13. (For information, go to http://www.millerbeacharts.org.)
Jerry Davich, Post-Tribune
A freshly painted graffiti art mural covers the long-closed Ming Ling restaurant in the Miller section of Gary. Two artists, known as Zore and ZorZorZor, painted the mural as part of the ongoing “Lake Effekt” summer festival.
A freshly painted graffiti art mural covers the long-closed Ming Ling restaurant in the Miller section of Gary. Two artists, known as Zore and ZorZorZor, painted the mural as part of the ongoing “Lake Effekt” summer festival. (Jerry Davich, Post-Tribune)
Hosted by Roman's organization and supported by dozens of vendors, artists and area groups, the festival is a three-week celebration of art exhibits, pop-up art displays and panel discussions about the very nature of art.
Most specifically graffiti art, which has gang-related origins and a vandalism-pockmarked reputation. The festival's 2013 debut was very successful, but it also prompted critical questions about showcasing graffiti as art. Critics asked if this form of art would spread into vandalism across the city and beyond. No, it did not.
However, with another fest taking place soon, similar fears and concerns have popped up about graffiti murals in this small arts-friendly community.
"Most people in town don't want this in our neighborhood," said Bob Massimino, a Miller resident who joined a lively debate on my Facebook page about this issue. "This does not help promote a safe and business-friendly atmosphere."
Cullen Ben-Daniel, president of the Miller Historical Society, disagreed.
"This is not vandalism," he countered. "These are murals which are being created under contract with the owners of these buildings. Just because you don't like this type of art, or don't understand the purpose of this event, does not make it vandalism."
This hits at the crux of this controversial topic — education versus interpretation.
"The untrained eye will see graffiti solely as vandalism or urban decay," said Ishmael Muhammad Nieves of Hammond, who goes by "Ish" in the graffiti world.
What some observers interpret as urban blight, others see as urban bloom, says Ish, who's been creating such murals for more than 30 years.
He organized the street-art section of the inaugural fest and he's back again to help recruit new artists, educate visitors and dispel decades-old myths about graffiti art. On Saturday evening, he will be leading a public discussion at the Marshall J. Gardner Center for the Arts titled: Is It Art or Vandalism?
"It's both actually," said Ish, an electrical engineer by trade who grew up on New York City's Lower East Side. "It's a 60-year-old question that's never been fully answered."
He readily acknowledged graffiti art's roots with street gangs "tagging" their turf but says it has since evolved into an artistic expression. Just because it's gang influenced doesn't mean it's gang-related, like many other forms of art, including hip-hop music, Ish noted.
Graffiti art also has served as a social identity for generations of youth.
"For many people, they don't understand it. It's like a foreign language," Ish said.
Many of the buildings used for this art form have been long abandoned and long ignored by the surrounding community, Ish said. Until the buildings become art canvases and draw ire from residents, similar to what happened to Ming Ling.
It should be noted that Roman's organization has signed contracts from all business owners allowing their property to be adorned with graffiti art.
"This is a completely sanctioned public art event," she said. "The owners give permission for their walls to be painted, but the artists have artistic license for what images they are going to paint. If an owner wants a specific image created it is considered commissioned work for which the artist would be paid."
The contract also states no violence or profanity can be depicted.
On Saturday night, Ish will use a PowerPoint presentation to aid his public discussion.
"Images speak louder than words," he said.
This is the mantra for many of these artists, such as Flex, Traz, Steph, The Champ, Skeme and T-Kid, coming from Northwest Indiana, Chicago, Indianapolis and New York.
"The artists are wonderful people, very organized, polite, passionate, interesting and multifaceted," Roman said. "Graffiti art, public art and graffiti writing is simply another art form. Art is personal and can take on many forms. It would not make sense to expect everyone to have the same taste.
"I did not know a great deal about graffiti before I started working with the crew on this project, but I am very pleased to say I have been enlightened."
After studying the graffiti on Ming Ling's walls, and talking with Ish, who I've known for many years, I, too, feel more enlightened about this subject. I challenge you to visit Lake Street in Miller and decide for yourself before tagging your prejudice on this colorful issue.
Roman will be a guest on my "Casual Fridays" radio show at noon Friday on WLPR-FM, 89.1, streaming at http://lakeshorepublicmedia.org/local-programs/casual-fridays/. Call in to join the discussion at (219) 769-9577.
Essay Graffiti: Art or Vandalism?
1139 Words5 Pages
Art: the ultimate form of self expression. But, what constitutes an art? And, who decides? These very questions plague society as it tries to decide and define the official status of graffiti--art or vandalism? Because it has found its way into art galleries and because of the community of artists who challenge and inspire each other, graffiti should be considered art and as a way to express oneself.
The origin and history of graffiti is not what one might expect. Believed to have been created by a Philadelphia high school student named Cornbread in 1967, it was a bold effort to catch the attention of a girl (De Melker). In this same time period, graffiti sprung up in New York as well. It was “one among many forms of social protest” during…show more content…
Many cities view graffiti as dirty and worthless; for example, the city of San Antonio has arranged an anti-graffiti campaign in which the city boldly states “graffiti is ugly” (“Graffiti”). This attitude towards graffiti and the obsession with ridding cities of graffiti sparked the ever-present negative outlook on the craft, spoiling its artistic value.
This negative shadow on the art form of graffiti has caused the decline of the graffiti movement. As many have predicted, “graffiti may eventually disappear” (“The Writing's on the Wall; Graffiti”). Graffiti has already begun to dwindle from what was once a flourishing art movement, to an almost disesteemed hobby. However, a soiled reputation is not the only culprit in the murder of authentic graffiti. The occupation of the current generation with technology and social media has caused many artists to focus solely on selling their work and gaining attention through social networking platforms. Another, perhaps more common, reason for the decline is the improvement of police work and punishments for those indulging in the illegal form of graffiti (“The Writing's on the Wall; Graffiti”). Because of this decline in authentic and prohibited graffiti, artists have channeled their work into new forms and established their own artistic community. As graffiti recently transitioned to a more respectable art form, it developed a more respectable name: street art.