Past Comments

February Issue 2008
by Tom Starland

Vandalism - Not Art

There has been some sort of debate going on in Charleston, SC, between the Post & Courier newspaper and - I guess its readers about whether graffiti being posted everywhere in the area - on anything and everything is art.

On Dec. 14, 2007, the P&C offered as its "Friday 5" section a full page of a selection of hundreds of examples of what they have called "street art, tagging, vandalism, graffiti" - I guess they're not sure what it is, found by a reporter just walking down King Street from Columbus to Market streets. He found hundreds on just one section of one street in historic Charleston. Believe me - it's everywhere.

The page also offered five opinions on the subject: from a City of Charleston Police Officer; a City of Charleston attorney; a property owner in the city who has paid for graffiti to be painted inside his business, who also has suffered thousands of dollars in unauthorized vandalism; an anonymous "graffiti writer"; and comments taken from the website of Shepard Fairey. The three people who represent the people who own the property which is being vandalized all stated that this is against the law and unwanted. The two who do the vandalizing feel this is just a new form of self expression, marketing or even art.

What a bunch of crap! There is no art involved in vandalism. You can call it street art, graffiti, or whatever, but it's still vandalism when it's done on property you don't own and even if you own the property it can be a violation of public ordinances. What's to debate?

Charleston artist, John Carrol Doyle wrote a letter to the editor, printed in the P&C on Jan. 1, 2008, in what I can only feel is a response to this "Friday 5" offering stating that, "no true artist would ever deface another artist's work", referring to the architects of the historic (1883) building which was vandalized on King Street.

After debunking the argument that some of these people who do this vandalism are talented, Doyle made an appeal to this younger generation - who claim to care so much about the earth's environment to care about the environment we all live in - all of it.

I lay the blame for this vandalism movement at the feet of Shepard Fairey and the College of Charleston art department which has held Fairey up as a example of a successful artist. He started this mess by placing his Andre the Giant/Obey stickers all over the streets of Charleston. Now an army of students have followed in his footsteps in making their mark on Charleston.

In a Nov. 22, 2007, article in the P&C, Olivia Pool offered an article titled, "Young, underground artists and the evolving Lowcountry art scene," where she gave Fairey as one of two examples of successful artists from Charleston who have gone on to greener pastures. She offers this on Fairey, "What started as a fun game tagging the streets of Charleston with Andre the Giant/Obey stickers and graffiti has now landed Fairey with an entire company, magazine and clothing line."

What more encouragement does a young artist need? Vandalism can be a path to fame and fortune.

Pool also offers in her article the following statement about the balance between the established art community in Charleston and this younger generation of artists, "But, like it or not, there's a trainful of young hipsters charging through town, ready to make their presence known."

"Charleston will have to find a balance in sustaining the old and embracing the new."

Well, I for one am not willing to make any room for those who think vandalism is a form of art or artistic expression - old or young.

Yes, I might be considered to be part of the "old farts" generation, but this issue isn't about a generation gap. There is not any way you can justify defacing public and private property as something an old guy can't understand.

You would think that the "old farts" who own and manage the Post & Courier would know what's right and wrong, but I guess when you're chasing that 30 and under demographics you can lose track of what's right.

Here's a hint - vandals don't buy papers.

Make no mistake - whatever you want to call this vandalism - it's not art in any form, and it's not wanted by anyone I know and respect.

I wonder where Mr. Fairey lives?

Don't worry - I know what's right.


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