Tuesday, May 13, 2008

An Art Historian writes

I don't know if this blog is read by whoever is responsible for technical support at the Office of the Children's Commission but, if it is you, I implore you to stop reading right now and take immediate action: go to the Commissioner's office, take away her computer and install Symantec Anti-Bollocks before she can write any more submissions to Parliament like this.

Normally this blogeur is sympathetic to the work of Dr Cindy Kiro and her team but, clearly, something has gone wrong with the operating system. The Commissioner might simply have stated her opinion that the law "does not need to be amended to deal with the issue of tagging and graffiti," but instead she has to tell us about Art: "for some people, graffiti and tagging are seen as legitimate art forms." Oh. Really? The last time my front door was tagged, my reaction was not to think to myself "oh my, someone has gifted me an example of a legitimate art form." My first thought, ungrateful though it might seem, was "some bastard has vandalised my door." I think my reaction is not uncommon.

I also think such a reaction is not confined to one's own property. Take, for example, Rationalist House (64 Symonds Street, Auckland), a building where I used to live and work, and for which I was responsible. It is one of the last surviving buildings of its kind in Auckland and, some years ago, it was restored by the NZARH at great expense. When I was there we spent a fair amount more, having legitimate works of art removed from its exterior. Unfortunately, it now seems that the NZARH have given up the struggle and the walls are covered with such works of art. Perhaps Dr Kiro might like to stop by some time and appreciate these works. She might find she is the lone art lover: the aesthetic appreciation of tagging is still a minority taste.

Lest I seem too harsh on Dr Kiro, I do acknowledge that she acknowledges "that graffiti and tagging can have negative connotations and outcomes for some people." It is a fine and generous sentiment on her part, to acknowledge that the some people can experience negative outcomes. Obviously, in reaching this conclusion, Dr Kiro bears in mind the many people of whom she knows who experience positive outcomes when they see tagging, people for whom this legitimate art form has nothing but positive connotations.

For such people, the experience of walking the streets of Auckland must be like that of Ruskin when he first saw Venice. Such a person, wandering through Myers Park on a Sunday morning might there chance upon the copy of Michelangelo's Moses and notice that it had been freshly adorned with a tag. Doubtless such a person would stand in mute contemplation, thinking to him/herself "how sad that the great Michel Angelo knew not the joy of the spray can, that he might have garnered his own creation with these wondrous marks; but how happy are we, that some angelic child has been seized by the Muse and added to the Italian's marble forms some delicate strokes from his can, thereby bringing to perfection the art of five hundred years past."

Such a person, his/her soul filled with the joy of discovery, might then tarry longer, to consider the history and social commentary which lie behind those designs. S/he might discern the alienation from public spaces felt by the young artist. Being perhaps of a progressive cast of mind, the observer might relieve the frown which by now has marked his/her brow by thinking of solutions to appropriately balance the rights of property owners and the rights of children and young people. "If only," s/he might think, children and young people were to be included in decisions relating to the use of public spaces."

Would that it were. Instead, we live in a land where nobody appreciates the art work of alienated yoof and where many people think that the Children's Commissioner might better spend her time doing something to prevent far too many children experiencing the negative outcome of being bashed to death by their parents.

What Philistines are we. And here is Not the Nine O'clock News:


Psycho Milt said...

"for some people, graffiti and tagging are seen as legitimate art forms."

Well, sure. Just as, for some other people, darkies and foreigners are seen as inferior life forms. However, one doesn't expect to find government officials defending and encouraging such people, while being paid a fat salary at one's expense - or at least, I don't.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the problem boil down to a lumping in of tagging, bombing and graffiti? Bombing is clearly art, which is why hardly anyone does it -- here in Christchurch, there's a fantastic wall of it by the railway tracks. Tagging isn't art -- it's just a goober writing his name on your fence.

The really disappointing thing about all this is that the once-great art of graffiti gets reduced to that level. In fact, when was the last time you saw a clever, original, funny line of graffiti anywhere? Living in Wellington in the 1980s, it was still commonplace: political graffiti, anti-nuke graffiti, feminist graffiti, punk rock graffiti. I remember one about Ian Curtis, "RIP Laughing Boy", that was up for years in Wellington. I'd happily keep that one on my fence. Instead we get tags.