Writing On The Walls Of Public Property: Part 3 – Vandalism

Brighton-based writer Andrew Finch discusses the relationship between graffiti and vandalism in the third part of his forthcoming zine “WRITING ON THE WALLS OF PUBLIC PROPERTY IS NEITHER DONE FOR CRITICAL ACCLAIM NOR FINANCIAL REWARD – IT IS THEREFORE THE PUREST FORM OF ART. DISCUSS”.

The main question of debate that constantly rises in relation to graffiti is the distinction between what constitutes art, and what constitutes simple vandalism. Too many times you hear how people try to exercise their self-assured liberal selves by stating that they are able to appreciate street ‘art’, a piece that has form and composition, but simply cannot appreciate tags, believing it to be an ugly form of nonsensical vandalism that just should not exist in society, for it encourages crime and puts a dent in their middle-class existence.

First of all, what tagging consists of is an alias, a pseudonym to which the artist or ‘tagger’ can remain loyal to. Often a single word comprises the tag that can mean anything and everything, from the initials of a gang to a former childhood nickname of the artist. The tag is a hand-style that the artist tries in a variety of forms in order to establish the form they think is best, and they practice out in a type of trial and error. The tag becomes their signature and their mark. It is completely their own, except no one knows it. Therefore the main purpose behind it is creating a recognisable signature the artist can put to their work on the streets, so they become someone while remaining no one.

Often the tag is scrawled on walls where a piece doesn’t exist, which is simply ‘tagging’ the wall for the purpose of putting your name there, to let people know you were there, and more importantly- you felt it necessary to make a point of it. This is what people don’t understand, what they see as ugly and unnecessary, a completely illegal act void of purpose. But what they don’t understand is that by leaving a tag upon a wall, the artist is giving themselves a sense of purpose. This is crucial in cities where graffiti exists, where the blank face, grey wall void sucks away all personality, the curvature or colour of a tag lets the city breathe. Tagging tells a story, the best type that leaves out the unnecessary vocabulary and digressing; its beginning and end are both set on the street, and you are the middle man who creates the middle by your response to it. And if your response to it be repulsion, then surely as individuals who advocate the use of free speech in a society where people cannot speak up while showing their faces, this is a hugely important part to diversity in thought, in its challenging of what you see to be as acceptable or unacceptable. The beauty of the tag being; it couldn’t give a shit what you think, the tagger never hangs around long enough for you to tell him, he lets you decide for yourself. Surely the real vandalism is the billboards and bus-stop advertisements that plague the urban backdrop and tell us what to buy, what to wear, what to think and who to be, endlessly. A tag will tell you nothing, it is void of prejudice and bias and it will not attempt to dictate who you are or want to be. Bay Area artist Barry McGee sums it up pretty well; ‘a kids tag is a kids tag’. It’s nothing short of what it is, and nothing more than what it’s supposed to be.

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