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August 14, 2009


Graffiti. I find it such a vexing subject.

Put aside members of the audience who refuse to engage with graffiti as art. You'll always have people like that. "My kid could do that," is merely a filter to establish who in the audience you want to talk to. ("Death panel" is another filter: there's no point in even starting a conversation with them.)

Lichtenstein is to comic books as graffiti is to ... what? Who hangs a tag masterpiece on their livingroom wall? There's no question that good graffiti requires a high level of skill, but it's so inextricably tied up with the context -- in this case the literal canvas -- that it's hard to take it seriously outside of that context as art. When you take if off the side of the #6 train, it becomes merely an art class exercise in exploring the potential of a medium. It stops functioning in anything other than a technical sense once you hang it on your wall. I'm going too far in saying that it's the Tweet of art, but at the same time it's anchored in the same kind of ephemeral way. If you published a collection of people's Tweets about the Iranian election protests, I'd find it frustrating in the same way as a collection of graffiti paintings: the real story feels elsewhere -- deeper, broader, tied to something bigger that lends it significance. You wouldn't say that about, say, a Goya painting, which in some larger sense "stands on its own."

Where do graffiti artists go with their work as they get older? I'd like to see a documentary about that. Do they start custom skateboard businesses and start saving for their kids' college funds? Tattoo shops? Are they curators at MOMA? Where's it all go? Are they artists or hackers?

I'm always a little perplexed when Town Fathers hire graffiti artists to paint the side of a building with a graffiti mural. The transgressive power of vandalism-art has totally different meanings for young people and old people. Young people like transgressive because it frees them to destroy the identity they didn't get to choose, and create the one they like. Old people value order and everything that comes with it. Graffiti isn't just a "celebration" of creativity: it's a kind of artistic suicide bombing, designed to disrupt the ordered context of art and culture. It's a kind of throwing Warhol's Campbell's soup can through the window of your car.

Totally different from hip hop.

Dan Owen

It was highly contagious.
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an infected person could be "dancing at nine o'clock and dead by
--It was, as the name suggets, characterized by a high fever and sweating.
--It wasn't the plague, and it wasn't smallpox.

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