Write On: A Response to “How Graffitti Empowers Big Government”

by: Ashley Brayley 

Palestinian graffiti artist Njm sprays graffiti message on controversial Israeli barrier in al-Ram

Reason.com published an article on “How Graffitti Empowers Big Government” at the end of January.  It was  obviously written by someone who is in the mindset of supporting corporate rights of advertising instead of the idea of empowering individuals who deserve a voice. I am disgusted by the idea of “good graffiti” vs. “bad graffiti”. Who has the authority to decide that any work of art is good or bad?! And “…artless scrawls of talent-less 12 year olds…” ?! Whoa…that’s a lofty and judgmental statement. There are many places where graffiti is not as regulated, such as Chicago, and you don’t see tags on doorways of Starbucks-type companies. I was recently in Israel and graffiti there seemed to be very well-received in public spaces. I cannot find a link to any website that reveals Israel’s graffiti laws by city, although some of the spaces used were designated for street artists and some were not, I did not once see an acid tag or spray on businesses which were open and well-maintained by store owners. Sure, the rolling doors on kiosks in the shuk (the open-air market) are painted (at night when the shops are closed the market becomes a beautiful makeshift gallery), but there seemed to be a sense of respect and understanding between the public, the vendors, and the artists. Why is this the case? It is a FACT that when felt-tip markers and other tools become labeled as objects of graffiti paraphernalia that folks (of all ages) often move on to acid tagging on windows or even reverse graffiti (the use of cleaning materials to create graffiti on dirty walls) in order to continue their passion using materials that do not carry suspicion leading to fines or arrest. In America the policy around graffiti seems to be about censorship of anyone without deep pockets. But when there is a greater commitment by local government to abolish the artform instead of embracing it they are only generating more fuel for the secretly outspoken and stoking a fire that will never be snuffed.   

Why would the author of this article even compare societies that simply allow vandalism to systems of reform and resist which are already in place? I’m not too sure how many cities in the world actually allow graffiti to happen legally all over the place, so this idea is absurd. People have been writing on the walls since the dawn of man and they will not stop – no matter the cost. I do not and will not feel bad for any corporation, such as Starbucks, for artists taking up advertising wall space. Yes, corporate America pays for advertising space but we dont get to decide weather or not to see it and absorb it everyday. Why is the bombardment of advertisement not a crime? Because it generates corporate profits and government taxes. No matter how terribly designed or offensive it is, big business can feed the public essentially whatever it wants because they have the capital to obtain legal space and they are protected by the government. 
 
Greg Beato’s article is completely skewed and most seasoned artists will tell you themselves that when one writes on a public surface they are not only bringing vibrancy by way of free speech and communication to their communities but that they are also creating jobs for people who work in the graffiti cleanup industry. I‘m not saying that is the only reason why people go out and do it, but most graffiti artists certainly understand the fact that money is being spent to combat the artform. If graffiti empowers big government it’s because it motivates them to buy into preventions that are in some cases supplied by companies owned by government policy makers. The empowerment (of big government?) comes from having the ability to devise a system of tying together the creation of public policy and law with corporate rights reserved for them and not the general public. Overall I’d say that graffiti and government spending to combat graffiti is a beautiful display of a symbiotic relationship. Write on, my friends! 
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