I recently watched a film entitled “Next: A Primer On Urban Painting”, a film about graffiti art. I first became aware of graffiti as a movement back in the 60’s as New York City subway cars inexplicably began to sprout a rash of markings that rapidly spread from car to car! I must admit that I have confused feelings about graffiti! One of the segments in this film showed the Berlin Wall covered with a colorful riot of graffiti murals! I found this image so beautiful, such a potent symbol of oppression had been turned into a celebration of color and life-fulness! I find when graffiti-style work is done on panels or canvas I love the chaotic mix of colors and symbols and words, all of which force me to work at observing rather than to passively stare at the work!
It’s once graffiti leaps off the panel or canvas and onto buildings that my conflicted feelings come into play! I really have a hard time with the concept that individuals can deface public space because they feel that they have a right to exercise their craft anywhere, sometimes even invoking their right to exercise free speech! To yell “fire!” in a theater would cause a stampede of panic in which individuals would be hurt! Therefore Society says that in such a situation the right to free speech is superseded by the right of others to gather in safety!
By what supposed right does an individual appropriate the property of another and use it as a canvas for expressing their art? Frankly, the covert tagging and running that some graffiti enthusiasts exercise reminds me of a dog pissing on a wall in order to claim it! Graffiti highlights an important difference between Mainland and Hawaiian cultures. The Mainland is dominated by the Gospel of Me, of my doing what I want no matter what anyone says about it! Hawaiian culture on the other hand is governed by an understanding that Us is more important than Me… what one chooses to do in public is guided by knowing that public behavior affects everyone else!
The recent example of the guy in the museum spraying a stencil on a Picasso painting seems to me to be the logical outcome of the argument that graffiti artists have the right to exercise their craft wherever they see fit even if that means exercising it over the work of another and defacing the original which Society holds in esteem. Whether on the Mainland or in Hawaii, we do not exist in a vacuum! By being a member of Society we exist within a relationship to others and we need to take into consideration as we go about living our life. From a spiritual point of view my life is not about Me but about Us and the way in which I interact with others!