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An active graffiti and street art spot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Today, a three-day conference titled Philosophy of Street Art: Art in and of the Street begins at Pratt Institute and New York University. Organized by Gregg Horowitz of Pratt, Nicholas Riggle of Lafayette College, and Christy Mag Uidhir of the University of Houston, the event will feature an artist panel (with Leon Reid IV, HOTTEA, ELBOW-TOE, and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh), two days of papers and discussions, and a keynote lecture by a leading authority on the topic, Alison Young of the University of Melbourne, who will speak about “Mainstreaming the Street: The Cultural Value of Illicit Street Art.”

I spoke to Riggle about why a group of philosophers and social scientists is interested in street art and what fascinates them about the field.

A complete schedule for the conference, which is free and open to the public, is available online.

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On Driggs Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Hrag Vartanian: As a philosopher, what fascinates you about street art?

Nicholas Riggle: First of all, there’s just the classic philosophical question: what is it? What is street art? You might think it’s just art in the street, but that can’t be right because you can stick a painting on the sidewalk without making street art. So what is it? Does it have to be illegal or nonconsensual in some sense? Does it have to be motivated by a certain worldview or social condition? What is “the street,” anyway? Is it just a logistical space that facilitates travel by car and foot, or is it a richer sociocultural space, perhaps one that promotes public interaction? There’s also a range of questions street art raises for philosophical aesthetics. Is there anything distinctive about street art’s power as art — or does it achieve no more than can be achieved by painting, sculpture, installation, and so on? Is street art a postmodern art form, or is it something new, perhaps a distinctive response to problems that arose with modern art?

By the way, we’re not exclusively interested in street art — we’re also interested in graffiti and the distinctive questions it raises. Stepping back a bit from these specific questions about the art form, one might pose more general questions about street art and culture. I think anyone who pays attention to art senses that street art is a new and exciting practice. So why is it around now? What’s exciting about it? What is it about our cultural and technological era that makes street art so compelling to so many people? Should they be so compelled?

HV: Why hasn’t a conference like this happened until now?

NR: There have been several conferences on street art, but none with a specifically philosophical focus. Philosophers have been a little late to the party on this one. It’s not easy to definitively say why, especially given the influence of street art and graffiti on the culture — on art production, appreciation, and collection.

I would put it down to a range of factors: a lack of awareness or familiarity, a sense that it’s not as interesting as traditional art, and perhaps a bit of a “highbrow” bias or a tendency to avoid popular culture. But the antidote to all that is a sincere look at the art form, which to be sure contains some really bad art, but which also contains some of the most exciting artworks produced in this century. Of course, I know more than a few philosophers who are interested in street art but who haven’t, and probably wouldn’t, write a philosophical paper about it. I don’t quite understand why — especially since it’s so much fun.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

HV: What themes did you see in the submissions you received for the conference and the papers you finally selected?

NR: My co-organizers and I were thrilled to get many, many more good submissions than we could possibly accept, and they covered a wide range of topics: whether illegality is a necessary condition for street art; whether “the street” provides a uniform audience; whether street art is a counterexample to popular ways of thinking about the nature of art; whether street art can play a distinctive role in the advancement of feminist causes; how we should think about the preservation of street art — should we treat it like ruins or as a performance? That’s a very small sample of the fascinating and challenging questions posed by the papers we received. It proved to us beyond any doubt that street art is a rich topic for philosophical discussion.

On Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

HV: Philosophically, do you see any differences between street art and graffiti? What differentiates them?

NR: I think they’re different art forms, but there’s room for disagreement. (I’ve argued for the distinction in an academic paper on street art). I’m hoping we will discuss the issue at the conference. My thought is that graffiti should be distinguished by its connection to a certain attitude and writing style that developed in Philadelphia and NYC in the ’70s and ’80s. As such its closest artistic relative is calligraphy. I think of street art as art that uses the street artistically. Some graffiti does that and some doesn’t, so some graffiti is street art and some isn’t. I think that’s the right conclusion, and it’s one that plays out in the street. Lots of graffiti writers hate street art, and lots of street artists ignore graffiti. Of course, lots of painters hate other painters, so maybe that doesn’t cut either way!

HV: How has your understanding of the field changed in the last decade, considering street art has increasingly converged with more conventional contemporary art and commercialization? Has it made for a more problematic topic of contemplation or a richer one?

NR: This is a great question, and something we’ll discuss a lot at the conference, especially in the artist panel discussion. Also, I’m very excited about Alison Young’s keynote lecture, which is about the mainstreaming of street art and graffiti.

My own view is that people are too quick to accept that street art is something that can be commercialized, “gallerized,” or otherwise bought, sold, and hyped up for the market, but my views about that have to do with what I think it means to use the street artistically. The street is a cultural space, one of the essential functions of which is to promote public interaction by facilitating self-expression. That’s a function that a space can have more or less, and it’s one that a space can lose. Lots of public art isn’t street art because it transforms the space from the street into an art space. Famous or hyped-up street artists are in danger of doing that to the space their art uses. Hype, fame, and mainstreaming can have an extremely pernicious effect on street art — that’s just one of the ways.

It’s a topic that’s on everyone’s mind because of things like Oxygen’s Street Art Throwdown show. (Tatyana is a judge on the show, so I’m sure she’ll have an interesting perspective on it.) I think the mainstreaming of street art and graffiti have made it an even richer topic of contemplation, but I worry that it’s had a negative effect on street art production. Just compare the NYC landscape now to the way it was 10 years ago. You were there! I can’t wait to hear what Leon Reid IV and ELBOW-TOE have to say about this.

HV: I’ve noticed a reluctance on the part of academics to embrace street art and graffiti, similar to the reluctance I’ve seen at museums to exhibiting the work. Why do you think that is? Is there something specific to the fields that threaten power structures or experts, or is it something else?

NR: Who knows?! Why don’t universities have skateparks? But seriously, I mentioned why I think philosophers haven’t paid much attention to it, though I should add that the late Arthur Danto is an exception. He wrote about graffiti in the ’80s and recognized some of its powers and limitations, though he wrote primarily in his capacity as an art critic for The Nation.

Most of the academic work on street art and graffiti has come from sociology and anthropology. The really weird thing is that art history seems especially uninterested in street art and graffiti. There are some exceptions (e.g. more than a few masters theses), but I don’t know why there aren’t more established experts in academia. Our conference is a step in the right direction. I’d be really happy if it helped street art and graffiti find a more secure place in academia.

I hope your readers will consider coming to the conference! We’re really proud that it’s free, open to the public, and contains a wide range of views on topics we’re all just beginning to explore. Come see and discuss what artists do on the street — come hear them explain what they love, what they’re thinking, and why they do what they do. And come hear some really, really smart people explain what they find so fascinating about it.

Philosophy of Street Art: Art in and of the Street takes place March 5–7 at Pratt Institute (200 Willoughby Ave, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn) and New York University (5 Washington Place, 1st floor auditorium, Greenwich Village, Manhattan).

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

10 replies on “A Conference Considers the Philosophy of Street Art”

  1. All art, by definition, is consensual; It is a voluntary coming together of an artist through his or her work and the viewer.

    Virtually no graffiti or “Street Art” is consensual. Both are examples of vandalism, regardless of any artistic or non-artistic intentions. Ask any architect how he or she feels about their work being defaced. Ask any city dweller if a neighborhood is better, cleaner, or safer with clean building exteriors or covered in either “street art” or graffiti.

    I have a neighbor who likes to come out of my apartment building and stand in front of my window at 5:00 in the morning to start yelling across the street. If he calls that his “street art,” do I celebrate it, despite the fact that his will imposes upon, and diminishes, my freedom to have a reasonably good night’s sleep? Is his “work” symposia-worthy, or simply narcissism, an assault upon his neighbors; essentially an act of bullying?

    Vandalism – a form of assault – infringes on all citizens’ freedom (including even that of property owners). It is inherently coercive. Any art that does so, as opposed to increasing everyone’s freedom – and acknowledging art’s implicitly consensual nature – should be condemned.

    Symposia dedicated to and celebrating visual coercion – which vandalism is – is a prime example of the ethical confusion that has beset art education via the fuzzy logic of Post-Modernism, and philosophers and cultural commentators interested more in making their own careers than furthering genuine art discourse. It is not only disgraceful, but very sad.

    Perhaps the next symposium can be held on the topic of the aesthetic values of looting.

    1. “Virtually no graffiti or ‘Street Art’ is consensual. Both are examples of vandalism, regardless of any artistic or non-artistic intentions. Ask any architect how he or she feels about their work being defaced. Ask any city dweller if a neighborhood is better, cleaner, or safer with clean building exteriors or covered in either ‘street art’ or graffiti.”

      I’m having some trouble figuring out what precisely your argument is here.

      The question of consent (which I’m assuming you’d define as having legal permission) is separate from whether or not an architect feels their work is being defaced or whether the city dweller feels safe in their neighborhood.

      For example, an architect can still feel like their work is being defaced when the building owner (who is not the architect, and who is able to grant legal permission for additions/changes to the property) decides to rent wall space to advertisers who place tacky, obnoxious advertisements on the building.

      Or, for example, the city can grant legal permission for the construction of a viaduct that makes city dwellers feel unsafe when they travel by foot through their neighborhood.

      However, I’d bet that the general public consensus on the above examples would be that, while maybe annoying, there is nothing inherently wrong or malicious about such legal acts that are detrimental to buildings/neighborhood safety.

      Given the above, I’d be curious why you feel the illegality of street art (by calling it vandalism) is what invalidates it.

      1. Legality is not what I am addressing, but ethics. I simply do not wish to be assaulted, emotionally, aurally or visually. Most people don’t. Assaulting one’s fellow human beings is unethical. As both a citizen and an artist, I am delighted that New York has cleaned up the horror of what used to be the subway system, a filthy, tagged, street-arted cesspool of unwanted, IMPOSED personal expression. I can only wonder if you experienced the horror that was those subway cars and platforms in the ’70’s and ’80’s, Natalie.

        Also as an artist, my own freedom of thought and being was hard won, and is precious to me. As such, I refuse to impose MY will upon my neighbors and fellow human beings. I am astounded that some artists think it is OK to do so, and offended that academics hold symposia at art schools celebrating such coercion.

        It appears to me that so-called philosophers have entirely “forgotten” Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Could it be that their desire to make a name for themselves overrides their sense of ethics? Could it be that academic’s fashionable desire to celebrate anarchism has completely missed the point that anarchism is based on the greatest strictures imposed by one’s conscience?

        If someone wishes to engage with my art, they are free to do so, and if they are not willing, they are free to not attend an exhibition of my work. I am free to express myself, and the viewer is free to take it or leave it or bypass it altogether. There is no such agreement in street art. In both graffiti and street art, there is a complete lack of respect for the free will of the viewer. Marking one’s territory, whether for the purpose of gang activity, ideology, or aesthetics, is still purely narcissistic, and assaultive.

        It is the IMPOSITION I object to. It is the lack of MY CONSENT to be visually assaulted wherever I go that I object to. I include “tacky” advertisements in that category. Whether done for personal or commercial reasons, an imposition is still an imposition. Legality only comes into play when signage laws, passed by people who are elected representatives of the people, permits or doesn’t permit such impositions. Theoretically, at least, elected officials – individuals chosen by the people to represent their interests – determine that such assaults are OK can be removed from office or retained, or signage laws changed. In either case, general public consent is (again – theoretically) taken into account when allowing or disallowing billboards, ads, etc, to be put up in public spaces. No such vetting occurs with street art. No consent is given by the public on any level, not even a theoretically political one.

        (And those elected officials can be removed from office at the next election, and your fear-inducing viaduct torn down. By the way, Kudos to those officials who, in various parts of the country and in Europe, have banned billboards along roads and highways, allowing travelers to experience the landscape without being assaulted by visual advertising, which is, almost by definition, coercion.)

        The streets are public spaces. As such there is a responsibility to maintain, not deface them without at least first asking a neighborhood’s residents if it’s OK to do so.

        As to building owners defacing an architect’s work, I agree: it happens far too often. But would you hold a symposium celebrating the “art” of landlords, or should symposia be held to promote the integrity of architecture, protecting it from being violated?

        Finally, I don’t accept the false choice argument implied in your response. Whether commercially, ideologically, or aesthetically motivated, the result of un-agreed-to visual assault is the same: an assault on the sensibilities and coercion of the viewer. None of it deserves an academic stamp of approval. Elected officials, landlords and artists alike have a social responsibility to keep the streets free of coercion and assault. We know that the greed of politicians and landlords motivates them to violate this basic social contract. But for artists to also do so is even more offensive to me: I hold art to a morally higher standard than I do a Donald Trump.

        1. I have a different take on this that you most likely will not agree with but indulge me on this highly subjective issue. Forgive me if you are aware of the points I am about to make as you seem fairly savy, but I include some summary for clarity.
          While you are correct that there is no consent in graffiti and that you recognize the same problem with media and advertising, there is such an imbalance in volume between the two systems of production that a direct comparison is false equivalency IMHO. A vast sea of money and lawyers are behind media coercion. They lobby politicians and have endless reserves of resources in which to assault the hapless consuming public. The escalation is astounding in the ways it penetrates almost every aspect of life. From jingles, to google searches that come back as personalized shopping, to subway posters, to the trains themselves we are at their mercy. It’s aggravated assault. It’s great that you want to respect your viewing public but that respect will often relegate you to oblivion as your work can only be seen, or even known about, by those in the tiny art bubble of collectors, dealers and institutions that have also been co opted by our economic system, though in different ways. Fine art now communicates only status and commodity. That is the audience for agreeable work. If that suit you, great but there is the idea of art as opposition and an alternative to what is deemed acceptable. For those that recognize this, graffiti can be looked at as a sort of civil disobedience and political attempt to redraw aesthetic maps. Modernism did this for a while until it’s goals were absorbed and it’s impact relegated to history. Those looking for meaning, communication, and true insight generally need to do so outside what has been mapped out and established. The mindless, abusive graffiti is removed so that’s not what I’m defending. The good tends to stay up in public spaces and the cultural landscape for a reason, it’s valid.

          1. I agree with much of you observe, Violet, but I strongly disagree with your “remedy”. More aggravated assault, albeit done with artistic motivations as opposed to monetary ones is just that: more of the same. I used to spent many hours getting rid of invasive weeds in my garden. I didn’t do so by introducing other invasive weeds, and hold symposia celebrating the new weed’s equally destructive force.

            Instead of efforts being made to legitimize it, let alone celebrate more assaultive behavior, efforts need to be made to minimize ALL assaults and attempts at coercion, corporate or otherwise, upon us all. Symposia should be about how to organize FOR civil society, not adding to its disintegration.

            As the old saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.

            As to your assertion that art “now communicates only status and commodity” I reject that entirely. Communicates it to whom? To be sure, it does so for many collectors and speculators, but the art loving public is not so effected. There is still a good deal of art being made that is challenging, inspiring, enraging, etc. that is indeed shown in galleries and art institutions. And it is done so with respect for the viewer, the person, the citizen, all without attempts to co-opt, coerce or assault. Art is by invitation, not by force. People like Hans Haacke – one of my old teachers – are not sell-outs because they show their work in galleries and museums instead of keeping their dirty hands off of my neighborhood.

            And the cultural landscape, especially, should not be violated by those who claim to be warriors for liberation. I don’t want anyone’s liberation shoved down my throat, or my eyes or ears. To be truly liberating, any expressive act claiming moral superiority (to the commercializing and commodifying of life) MUST be engaged in by consent. Otherwise, it is the opposite of morally superior. Instead, it is disgraceful. No one’s will has a right to impose itself upon anyone else’s without such consent. Doing otherwise is shamefacedly hypocritical, employing nothing other than a double standard. If the assault upon the people by forces of capitalism is wrong, so is the same assault by those who would “save” us from it.

            I have no objection to meaning, communication, and true insight; far from it. Nor do I have any problem with going outside of what has been “mapped out and established”. Indeed, that’s what art since the beginning of Renaissance has been all about, culminating in late Modernism. But to hold visual and civic coercion up as such an example is wrongheaded. I don’t like bullies, and I especially hate those who bully me while claiming it is for my own good.

            As for good work staying up in public spaces because it’s good: nonsense. It is subject to precisely the same forces of capitalism as work shown in galleries. The landlord can remove it at any time. It is HIS taste that determines the work’s longevity. Only work that is acceptable to the moneyed few is afforded any measure of protection. Street art is as commodified as any other form.

            All that said, there is some street art that I respect a great deal. I remember one piece in particular by an artist (whose name I sadly don’t remember) who plastered dozens of enormous photographs of the inhabitants of a part of the favela above Rio on their shacks. It was moving and liberating. It transformed the neighborhood from one of anonymous poverty into one of personal and shared dignity. It was a radical denunciation of the prevailing local politics via a loving act. And, critically, it was done with the consent and support – and involvement – of the entire neighborhood, in partnership with those who lived there.

        2. Thanks for clarifying your position. I may not necessarily agree with you, but the specific ethical concern you brought up of the question of the consent of the viewer of art is a really interesting one. (As a writer, “consent” has never occurred to me since anyone choosing to read a work is implicitly giving consent.)

          The first thing I want to address is the assumption that the conference will be merely dedicated to celebrating street art. Street art exists as a phenomena whether you approve of it or not, and its existence necessarily raises questions, such as your own ethical concern regarding consent. That view is one I’d be interested to hear about at such a conference. I haven’t looked at the conference program as I will not have a chance to attend, but it’s possible that there will be a diversity of opinions represented.

          There’s a lot I could address, but I’ll focus on the ethical. I think this becomes a particularly interesting line of questioning when you take certain sociopolitical factors into account. Specifically, in an increasingly privatized world, where actual public space is rapidly disappearing, people who have been historically marginalized from both national politics and the art world often do not have access to a legitimate space to show their work. Since their right to create art that can actually be seen in legitimated spaces has been taken away, perhaps we can see street art as a reclaiming of that right. And in that case, I wonder how we weigh the rights of the artist dispossessed of all spaces and against the rights of the viewer, whose ability to consent to what they view in visual/public spaces is arguably already much eroded due to the proliferation of advertisements they are subjected to from much more culturally and politically powerful forces than street artists.

          Personally, I’d much rather live in a world full of graffiti and street art than endless and pointless advertisements. Not only because I find that more aesthetically pleasing, but also because the phenomena of street art raises such interesting questions about how we use public space, and casts light on the violations of public space we’ve already taken for granted.

          1. Natalie:

            I hope you’re right about the symposia, but I have my doubts, if the interview above is any indication. ( To wit: “Our conference is a step in the right direction. I’d be really happy if it helped street art and graffiti find a more secure place in academia.”…… What self-important horse shit!)

            I don’t believe that artists rights can possibly be viewed in terms of being against those of the viewer. The communication that art implies requires a partnership, an active engagement between the artwork and the participating, interpreting viewer.

            I agree that public space is disappearing. But instead of filling it up with more imposed narcissism, it seems to me that the major effort should be in preserving these diminishing spaces. I also think that the increasing encroachment of development upon the remaining wild natural places in the world is not best addressed by engaging in any alternative kinds of development, but a cessation of ALL development activity.

            But I do agree that there needs to be more, and more varied, venues for exhibiting art. That said, painting on buildings is not a legitimate one, specifically for ethical reasons. Given the supposed creativity of artists who arguably “deserve” a space in which to show their work, one would think that solutions can be found that do not IMPOSE themselves on the already diminished private and public spaces people inhabit. Spaces can be rented, can’t they? (As an aside, at what point did it become a “right” for artists to exhibit their work?)

            It is not for want of venues to exhibit that street art exists. The reasons for street art have to do with the street itself, and far too few street “artists” consider that their impact on the streets might not be welcome by the inhabitants living in those streets. As such, most street art, (not all, as I mentioned in my previous comment) as attested to by the images in the article we are responding to, acts as nothing more than public ejaculation. I reserve the right to choose my partners when it come to ejaculates.

            As it is, having a clean space is now reserved for the wealthy who can afford to live in gated communities and on large swaths of land. It is ironic that in the fight against unfettered capitalism, only the wealthy can be free of visual protests against it. Why should only the poor be left with no such choice?

            Regarding your last paragraph, you are presenting a false choice argument, a logical fallacy. Why should one have to choose to live with either ubiquitous advertising or graffiti? I would prefer instead to have a world largely devoid of both coercive advertising AND assaultive, and equally coercive graffiti.

          2. With all due respect, I disagree with much you state. Good Graffiti is not coercion because it is not trying to get an economic transaction from its viewer. When it does, it becomes marketing and ceases to be art. It’s sometimes about self proclamation which you call narcissism, fair enough but for those that are disenfranchised that is the response. To many of those that write it’s a form of resistance. The artist in rio you cite, JR often does always not get permission or navigate institutions, his early work would offend you and if he did not spend time developing outside the institution, his work would not be what it is. I agree it’s great that the cummunity is involved and most public art can benefit from this tactic, but most often permission is slow where ideas need to be fast. Many graffiti folks use nondestructive materials that are not in your face, this is the opposite of narrsicism in my eye. all of this work is not the same. Let’s say that graffiti disappears tommorrow and you get your way, all art is sanctioned and goes through proper channels. Committees, curators, and trustees decide everything trying to please the higher ups and you have the complete death of aesthetic development. You have artists reduced craftspeople that navigate the rules that only serve those in charge. In exchange, most allow for a quiet life that serves only the tiny few allowed to succeed, koons, murakami, murutu, walker and a few others. They change nothing, only further polarizing us culturally and accelerating the death of art as a society changing force. Hans Haacke did some great institutional critique back in the day. It’s not that he sold out, but was absorbed, the house always wins these wars. The rest of us are happy to be art handlers and studio assistants making 13$ and hour. Tenured professors are a dying breed and real talent is consumed by the “creative” industries that are devoid of art by way of submission to the consumer market. welcome to our polite cooperate totalitarian world(that’s only if you are a winner or a servant to the winners). We are almost there and conservative points of view will speed the process. I respect your opinion, which is prevalent, but the relevant artists today practice in direct opposition to what you say. Most, if not all the valid art done today looks for a higher morality than the one the state has decided, and make no mistake, that’s what museums and cultural institutions have become. Good luck to you.

          3. With all due respect, while I don’t question your clear passion in advocating for the rights of artists, and artistic “progress” (whatever that is) I think you are looking through a particularly cynical and ultimately hopeless lens, and are operating upon a host of unsupportable assumptions and double standards.

            Let’s take this one at a time.

            Coercion is not only economic. Coercion simply means that force is used, whether overt or subtle, to change someone’s mind and get him/her to act differently or think differently. The coercions that street are represents are multiple. First, it exists primarily in poorer neighborhoods, in places where people have few choices about where they live and how they live. It adds oppressiveness to ONLY those places, not the homes and businesses of the .01%. Second, it “preaches” to the choir, but it does so without asking the choir if they wish to be preached to, like the zealots on the subway who shout to a CAPTIVE audience that they must find Jesus or face everlasting hellfire. That audience is being assaulted and they are the target of attempted coercion. Third, it is largely nothing more than marking territory, pissing everywhere to leave one’s mark. Sorry, I don’t like the smell, and MOST people don’t. As such, it is utterly ineffective. One doesn’t listen to those who show us nothing but contempt, and hold their “rights” to piss (express) above ours to live in a place of calm.

            I have a feeling that you were never subjected to the horror of having to ride the NYC subways in the 1970s and ‘80s. One was surrounded completely by the visual equivalent to unrelenting rage and ego. And, again, that ridership was the working class, not the ones who control the money. The latter were entirely insulated from whatever was being “expressed” below ground, and didn’t need to concern themselves with it. The rest of us just had to get to work or visit with friends, and were assaulted every single time we needed to get somewhere. How noble of those “artists” and disenfranchised gangs!

            Street art, particularly graffiti, is nothing other than visual terrorism. Frankly, I don’t care how disenfranchised an artist feels, if I catch him trying to tag my home, he will be met with a baseball bat, as he has now given me the right to express MYself any way I want.

            When it becomes COERCION, it ceases to become art. And make no mistake, street art is as much marketing as anything one sees in a commercial gallery. But it is marketing faulty political ideas rather than money. As such, according to your own statement, it ceases to become art. (Though I would contest your underlying equation.)

            Next you assert: “….permission is slow where ideas need to be fast.” Really? Who says? What ideas, exactly, are you referring to? Ideas of art? It seems to me that most good ideas – in art and otherwise – are developed slowly over time.

            You say: “Many graffiti folks use nondestructive materials that are not in your face…” The overwhelming majority use paint, especially spray paint, that takes a crazy amount of effort to scrub off. I have yet to see one single piece of street “art” that was designed to disappear by itself within the hour. And I have never seen graffiti on raw bricks that didn’t require expensive and laborious repointing of the wall to eradicate it entirely, an expense, as I have said, that the wealthy need not incur, since they live elsewhere.

            You claim that “all of this work is not the same.” MOST is, and with extremely rare exceptions, 100% is assaultive in precisely the same way. What’s more, the overwhelming majority is based on precisely the same visual and symbolic language: cursive script and comics, essentially illustration. The latter, in turn, uses the exact same plastic means as the French Academy and really bad Social Realism. It is nothing new, and in aggregate, it all winds up looking exactly the same. Frankly, virtually all of it is incredibly boring.

            You accuse me of wanting all art to go through “proper channels,” resulting in predicable pablum. I have never implied any such thing. I have simply stated that graffiti and street art is attempted coercion and an assault on the people who live in the neighborhoods it occurs in. Indeed, if you read again what I have previously stated, I have called for creating alternative venues, and have issued a challenge to supposedly creative artists to create them without assaulting people in the process.

            Judging from the tone of your writing, here and in other posts, you seem to believe that art’s only authentic purpose is to foster political or economic change. That is an unsupportable position. Indeed, art that attempts to do so is called propaganda, another form of coercion. As such, it ceases to be art.

            Hans Haacke has hardly been “absorbed”. His work is essentially didactic; once the lesson is learned, we (and he) move on. Let’s see what he does next before declaring him co-opted, since the next issue he is dealing with hasn’t been presented to us yet.

            You wish to see “valid” art. Who determines what is valid and upon what criteria are such judgements made? To whom must it be valid? Which “relevant” artists are you referring to, and what makes them relevant? What “higher morality” exists in assault?

            I happen to think that ethical behavior is always relevant, and no higher morality can be achieved without it. A sustained assault on poor and working class neighborhoods is neither relevant, nor valid, nor embodies anything approaching a “higher morality”, regardless of the source or motivation. It is the very opposite. It is tyrannical and despotic.

            You claim that museums and cultural institutions have become the State. True enough. It has ALWAYS been thus, whether it be museums, the government, the Church, the Academy. Do they now, or have they ever effectively determined how art can or cannot change? How, then, do you account for all of the tremendous variety in art since the beginning of humanity? The state may exclude me from certain moneyed or prestigious venues, but it cannot “decide” what my art is.

            Finally, my fellow human beings deserve my respect. As an artist, I refuse to violate that basic social contract, that simple decency. And as an artist, I am sick to death of public pissing being touted as valid art and am offended that symposia are held to legitimize assault.

            I respect and admire your passion and advocacy. But I don’t agree with one syllable of your rationalization of street “art”, and am suspicious of the myriad implied assumptions upon which you seem to base your stances about art. You seem to have a political agenda, one I probably share. But that political agenda does not determine the nature, relevance, or validity of art, nor does it change the most basic obligation of one human being to another: to refrain from assaulting him.

          4. Daniel, I truly wish you had been able to attend the conference; I know I certainly would have enjoyed the lively exchanges we would’ve no doubt had. In fact, one of the primary issues that we discussed at length was Street Art’s purported illegality condition. Moreover, I think you’re correct in a sense that not enough attention has been paid to the potentially morally transgressive nature of street art and whether or not its artistic merit might be sufficient to trump what may well be an at least prima facie obligation to avoid doing it altogether. Had you attended, we might have been able to cover some interesting ground on that point.

            Instead, just as you predicted, we found ourselves celebrating with wild anarchic glee the destruction of all proprietary rights and how best to conduct our next brutally disruptive assault on an unsuspecting citizenry’s public eye-line. Or as our Conference T-shirts read:

            Philosophy of Street Art: Tag the World & Watch It Burn

            Christy Mag Uidhir
            Conference Co-Organizer

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