Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Graffiti A Sign of Cultural Decay

It was a bad sign and disheartening to see. While strolling along the new, upper-cliff walk at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, Maine — one of my favorite places — I saw the graffiti. Park officials had cleared brush from a small level area and put in a picnic table surrounded by a semicircle of ten or twelve boulders rolled into place. Then some selfish, depraved individual came along with a can of red spray paint and defaced them.

It’s an otherwise lovely spot in a stunningly beautiful park with views of Portland Head Light, the shipping channel to Portland Harbor, islands in Casco Bay, and the open Atlantic beyond. Now, however, anyone enjoying a picnic there is forced to look at undecipherable symbols on most of the boulders and a good old, “F*** You” on one of them. If I were a judge and the apprehended vandal came before me, I would force him (it’s most likely a young male) to sand off every bit of that red paint by hand, however long that takes, or go to jail for the maximum sentence.

Graffiti signals a deteriorating society, the cultural equivalent of a canary in a coal mine. It should be eradicated as soon as it is detected. To leave it is to invite more. I’d liken it to the “broken window theory” first put forth by George Kelling and James Wilson in a 1982 Atlantic article: “if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken.” It’s the same with graffiti. Leave it up and it will spread.
Woodford's Corner http://portlanddaily.cradockphotography.com
I’ve witnessed the phenomenon over the past seven years driving up and down Portland, Maine’s Forest Avenue every week. Stuck in traffic, I’d stare at graffiti on buildings and rooftops. At first, property owners would hastily remove it either by sandblasting it off brick walls or painting over it on other surfaces. After a year or two, however, those efforts slowed down. Now it appears proprietors have given up and the contagion is getting out of control.

"Graffiti is Art, Not Vandalism" claims an article in the Temple University newspaper Temple News. The argument is ridiculous at best. Graffiti spoils someone else’s property. I’d liken it to a dog lifting his leg on a building to mark his territory. How would a genuine artist feel if he or she purchased a large canvas and a graffiti “artist” sprayed on it in the dark of night? If vandal “artists” won’t rent billboards, how about they walk around wearing a sandwich board to display their “art”? One commenter wrote: “Graffiti is filth, period. That is like saying I took an artistic dump on the sidewalk.”
Subway in Rome
In Rome four years ago I hired a guide to show us around the Eternal City. He pointed out endless fountains — repetitive, stone-carved, muscular nudes laying around displaying genitalia. We, especially my grandson and I, were more interested in historical sites like the Colosseum and the Vatican, but each day I would ask him his opinion of the graffiti we were seeing everywhere. “Oh, that’s art too,” he insisted. On the third day, we encountered old paintings under an archway defaced by someone with a spray can. Finally, he admitted, “That is sh*t!”

This pushed our guide over the edge
Guides are licensed by Italy’s government to comment only in certain ways, but our guide got so exasperated he finally ignored those constraints. Rome was bad, but Athens, Greece is by far the worst graffiti-ridden European city I’ve seen so far. It’s a rather ugly city anyway, apart from the Acropolis and a few other sites, and graffiti is epidemic. On that trip, I was part of a larger family group and didn’t want to rain on the parade by asking our guide about it — a lovely older woman named Dora. There was much less in the rest of Greece outside Athens which was amazingly beautiful.

Walking back from Acropolis in Athens
The graffiti I saw at Fort Williams was fresh. Park officials there are very diligent and I hope they will have either painted the stones or replaced them by the time I return next weekend. The City of Portland is attempting to alleviate their problem by advising property owners, but I’m sad to report that it seems to be losing the battle.


Uber_Fritz said...

So if it is classified as art, then put in on poster board and bring it to a show? And for those who refer to it as art surely would not mind their homes and cars decorated on a still night.

Nick Peace said...

I agree with you that spray paint is an eyesore and can lead to "broken windows" deterioration of areas. I've lived somewhere in my travels that came up with an idea that alleviated this: Every seller of spray paint must record identification information from every buyer. Because spray paint is the tool of graffiti artists everywhere. Control and regulate the tool.

CaptDMO said...

"...sand off every bit of that red paint by hand..."
Nah, prematurely erodes the stone.
Harsh solvents/ acids.
(para)" ...most likely a young male...."
But certainly NOT limited to

Sami Gay said...

Nick Peace, that's an absurd suggestion, but one that the right would probably embrace while at the same time resisting any attempt at firearm regulation.