(This is a response to one of our previously published articles which you can find here.)
Being a Brighton local, I frequent Upper Lewes Road on my walk home from work on a weekly basis and have therefore witnessed the poorly executed tags that one our previous bloggers has so fiercely argued against. A discussion of veganism, anarchism and graffiti: he’s written an interesting article with good points. I agree that a scribble of the word ‘vegan’ will indeed achieve very little if the anonymous tagger intends on converting people to an animal product-free lifestyle. But several of the arguments made deserve to be addressed.
First of all, I am no expert but I know a little more than the average (moral) citizen about the dark world that is graffiti. I know that in this taboo graffing community, Banksy is not a respected artist. Many graffers resent his use of stencil, because it lacks spontaneity (a pillar of the graffiti world) and because of the commodification of his work. While some great street art is painted over, when it’s a Bansky piece it’s glorified, put behind a protective plastic shield in the case of the Prince Albert pub, and is made into a tourist attraction. Many graffers argue that their work, be it a tag, a throw-up or a bombing piece, is a politically motivated action to counter the state hegemony. Property laws and state domination are the enemy, and graffiti is a middle finger up to that. It embodies the sentiment of: ‘Fuck the state! Fuck you all!’ Not always, but often.
Now I don’t agree with all of this; I personally think that planned big pieces by artists such as Aroe, the Cassette Lord or any council-commissioned street art is amazing and adds to Brighton’s vibrant artistic scene. What most people don’t realise, as the article I’m responding to exemplifies, is how people became good enough street artists to be sponsored by the council. It’s perfectly possible that some graffers did an Art Foundation and have aspirations to be the next Picasso or Andy Warhol. But as I’ve already said, street art is almost always political; it’s about disagreeing with the system, which is why its place in society is different to that of fine art or sculpture. And how did the highly revered Banksy get to where he is today? Like most graffers, he probably started off doing shitty tags at 13, got a rush from it, and played with the walls of his city to improve. It’s an exploration, and the harder the wall is to get to, the more respect the piece earns. That’s further down the line though: the first step of learning how to graff is about can control. Then it’s about consistency, hence loads of tags all in a row, then it’s about experimenting with different styles and progressing to a level where it’s more artistic. Everybody has to start somewhere, and who knows, maybe in ten years’ time the vegan/anarchist tagger will be better than Banksy (we might all doubt it but hey, in this world anything is possible). If you like street art you have to respect the fact that most of those artists started off doing similar scribbles on bins and billboards. These tags might be ‘dingy’ to some and that’s understandable but Street Art would never have got to where it is today without that urban shabbiness.
My second point is that, even if it was only out of fury, those tags made the author of the article do some research about Veganarchism. Correct me if I’m wrong but is it not inherently contradictory to argue that those tags wouldn’t make you think or have their desired impact, if those who view it do research about it? Perhaps the author is right, that the perpetrator of those tags represents a complete lack of intelligence. But then graffiti is sometimes about pissing people off, and maybe it’s pissing off the wrong people but I’m sure plenty of people have walked past those tags and been amused by them. Or proud, even, to live in a city characterised by left-wing political activism, albeit with a four quid can of red paint probably stolen from B&Q. Brighton prides itself on being an open-minded city. Loving street art but hating on tags – well, I would describe that as ignorant, but I’ll settle for the word paradoxical.