Archive for April, 2008

Artistic License

April 25, 2008

Since the recent uproar surrounding the Grant Street Transportation Center’s offering towards a fresher, prettier Pittsburgh has been found to be (along with a couple other ‘offerings’) unlicensed, this brings up what should have been licensed.

Early this year, an artist by the name of Daniel Montano was in the local news and in angry posts all over the internets for his own brand of offerings.

To clarify my position: I’m a huge proponent and advocate as graffiti (the kids who are with it just call it ‘graf’, dig) and artists like Banksy really sing to me.

Paraphrasing from his manifesto or vision, outlined on his site (because I can’t seem to find it), the goal of Banksy is to get people involved in their environment- be careful where you lean or sit down, it may be a fresh work of art.

I will readily admit a lot of tags are ugly, and a lot of them aren’t really artistic expressions. But there is a fine line.

If you don’t think that’s beauty, you should have your eyes checked. That’s MFONE, who by most accounts is a petty vandal.

Call it what you will, but it has more class and technique than say, well, anyone with a spraycan.

Anybody who would dispute the dedication of people who are willing to climb bridges (remember Mook, Pittsburgh? No? just look at the pinnacle of just about every bridge in town), risk arrest, bodily harm, all for art is frankly wrong.

Perhaps a better example of this dedication would be one of the best art galleries I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting, Cleveland’s RTA light rail Red Line. Everytime I visit my folks, I make sure to take the train, just to see some of the best contemporary art around.

I will take this over the Mona Lisa any day of the week.

Yes, it is vandalism. Fine. Agreed. But along with making the news, Mr. Montano got a lot of snarky, angry letters to the editor questioning his credibility as an artist. It’s important to remember that his arrest came on the heels of his exhibition at the Mattress Factory.

In a society where artists have stopped bothering to starve and routinely shill for advertising (seriously, commercials have become funny, entertaining and kinda cool is not for the face they’re commercials) or just quit the dream, it’s no small wonder you’ve got a few wild ones who won’t stop living the dream, even if it ends in the back of a police cruiser.

Here in Pittsburgh we laud ourselves for being culturally aware, we squawk about the artists in Lawrenceville and the monthly gallery crawl in downtown (which is tonight, actually), but folk are pretty quick to jump on graf artists. Lock them up, make them pay.

This brings me to where I started. Given a choice between a flat and soulless brick wall, a flashy (but equally soulless) LED not-a-billboard or a mural designed by a convicted vandal, what would you like to see on the side of the Transportation Center?

I agree that vandals ought to pay. Sure- buy the ticket, take the ride as Dr. H.S. Thompson would say. But let’s use our heads; make them pay the entire community back and give these voices in the wild a chance to be recognized and appreciated for the artists they are.

Plenty of cities do this sort of thing already with weed and seed programs, and the graf community is definitely capable of improving the community without being forced to make restitution, like this story from Seattle, and improving the aesthetics of daily life doesn’t always come from a spraycan.

The result is a vibrant, living city.


I offer this piece of tranquility from the Eliza Furnace Trail, taken by Dullroar.

This town could use a little more wet paint.

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