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Heather Mac Donald
Radical Graffiti Chic « Back to Story

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I am doing a project on graffiti, and i want to know if you guys can put out more info on graffiti being an injustices.
Thank you, Heather Mac Donald, for yet another superb piece of reportage and social commentary. Yours is an important and influential voice, even if only, one sometimes fears, "for the record," in a world that ofttimes seems to be utterly mad and devoid of simple common sense. May God save us from our intellectual and aesthetic betters.
This is an incredible article and one that give shame to the LA Times for not attacking this show and its clown curator with as much force
Great article, but I doubt that those people advocating graffiti in the article would even see let alone read this article.
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This was a very interesting article, and I think you did a great job. The problem I have with it though, as a vandal myself, is that you are strictly discussing those 'graffiti writers' who have gone commercial with their art (or whatever you want to call it). Everyone mentioned with the exception of Sace and Earsnot are just what we call 'street artists'. I don't know what they believe politically or philosophically, nor do I care. Sace and Earsnot are just two guys who like to write their names on things. When the chance came to make money, of course they took it. You're right about Earsnot spewing anti-capitalistic nonsense, but that's just his image.

The point you've missed though, is that most graffiti vandals do not do this in political protest or any ridiculous new age B.S. like that. We do it because for one reason or another, we like painting our name on things. Be it for notoriety or plain enjoyment of painting. Is it morally wrong? Yes. Rightfully illegal? Yes. Unjustifiable? Yes. And most of us who don't have our heads up our a$$ recognize that. The reason we are still into graffiti though, is we just. don't. give. a fuck. Personally, I don't care if it's infringing on another man's rights because at the end of the day, I'm just another selfish arrogant criminal. There's no justification, I don't need to justify it. I do it because I feel like it, and because you can't stop me. No protesting, no politics- just a guy, some booze, and a few cans of paint.

The People you looked at in this article are not accurate representatives of this sub-culture. They are now all making profits and doing their 'art' for that purpose, rather than for fun. That's the difference.
Commenter Thomas is absolutely hilarious!! I imagined a Wicker Park or Williamsburg hipster having the foaming fantods over something he heard two grown-ups discussing on the same park bench. Unable to comprehend the discussion, the speakers, or the larger ideas informing the conversation, and apparently lacking any experience of life but working in "an art store" (???) and knowing where the caps lock key is, he proceeds to present himself as a perfect example of Ms. Mac Donald's thesis that graffiti aren't chic or art. They are the fume-based ejaculations of passive huffers high on petrochemical solvents and their own adolescence.
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Has anyone given consideration to the possibility that graffiti is sometimes used to manipulate real estate prices and pave the way (so to speak) for real estate speculation? I suspect a similar form of manufactured arbitrage is going on with the promotion of tattoos (where opportunities for exploitation are also created - albeit unwittingly - through the graphical debasement of human integument). As absurd as it seems, this struck me recently when I overheard an episode of ScoobyDoo my son was watching on YouTube. A hotel owner is flipping through a manual of dirty tricks and reads out the following "How to use monsters to depress the price of real estate". Ex ore infantium...

I'd like to add my comments thanking you for the article, in particular the bits that expose the utter nonsense of the avant garde art charlatans. How graffiti can be a statement against capitalism and yet sold to (and by) Nike at the same time is beyond me.

As to graffiti (or whatever you want to call it) itself, occasionally, there is a piece that shows true artistic talent. (See the recent "Surfing Madonna" mosaic as exhibit A. Illegal, yes, but beautiful as well. The product of talent and hard work.) Most graffiti is not like this though. Even among taggers, there is a clear distinction between those that have talent (the few), and those that do not (the many). Your average barely-legible scribble is clearly in the second category. Most graffiti is done for the thrill of vandalism, rather than out of any great artistic impulse.

And such low end vandalism does hurt communities. The fact that no one wants it on their house is indicative of that. But it does more. Ordinary people, not versed in the nuances of graffiti, tend to see it as the worst kind: gang graffiti, with all the danger that implies. And given that most tagger scribbles are illegible and pointless, and lacking in artistic merit, it's hard to blame them for this mistake. (No one would ever mistake "Surfing Madonna" for gang graffiti. Or one of Banksy's pieces either, for that matter.) So the run of the mill tagger scribblings don't enhance the area. They make it seem more dangerous. And when you're trying to get a company to invest in your struggling urban neighborhood, graffiti is not a selling point. It implies lawlessness, crime, and decay. And even if the neighborhood's problems aren't really that bad, the impression it leaves is. (And the people that come to possibly invest in urban areas are numbers people, not pretentious art types. They see it as risk. (Not that "down with capitalism" is going to win them over either.))

Here's what it really boils down to, in the end: one more reason not to go to MOCA. You can get all the graffiti you want free down the street, and it'll be even more authentic and ugly there. Because in the end, it's one more head-scratcher of an exhibition. The kind of thing that the official pretentious avant-garde art twits tell us we should love, and if we don't we're just too stupid/backward/reactionary/myopic/dense/whatever. Like exhibitions of toilets, used tampons, monochromatic squares, litter. All the things that took zero artistic talent to create, unless you count the bs explanation for why it's "art."

Which is sad, really. It's why modern art gets such a bad rap. You have some amazingly talented artists out there, but the museums are displaying graffiti, tampons, and having live performances of an orchestra not playing music for four minutes and however many seconds.

Here's the plus side: on the internet, anyone can have a gallery. And there's some amazing stuff out there. In thousands of different styles. And people that would never get a museum to look at their portfolio for more than five seconds can put up an entire gallery of their own. No vandalism required. Now there's some art democracy for you.
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Heather, your article is a poor attempt to belittle something you have little to no understanding of. Your LACK OF KNOWLEDGE has resulted in you writing this ERRONEOUS AND BIAS ARTICLE.
Without even refuting the claims you made regarding the lifestyle and character of those who partake in this art form, I can list multiple fallacies in your article. 1) You mention Montana Spray paint, stating they ONLY DO MAIL ORDER because the majority of graffiti artists steal their supplies. Montana is retailed in thousands of stores all around the world. In addition to that in most locations it is locked up in a cage or kept behind the counter by STATE LAW (so people CAN'T STEAL it. Having worked in an art store, Im well aware that many people purchase Montana's products and don't use it for graffiti. Older women like yourself come in all the time to get a can or two to paint their rocking chair or easter basket.
FALLACY 2) You quoted earsnot in the Infamy documentary saying "You need to be (expletive) David Copperfield" when in fact he says "You don't need to be (expletive) David Copperfield". For a woman with such a great resume, I find it laughable that you managed to screw up a simple quote from a documentary. This alone discredits you and displays how close you really looked into things. In addition to that, your attempt to belittle the artists involved in graffiti by saying it is usually male adolescence wishful ideas depicting drugs,aliens etc. is a failure. Were you aware there are many female graffiti artists and males alike who have painted thousands of realistic murals depicting portraits, landscapes, automobiles, etc.? It seems your whole rant is one sided and once again BIAS, to say the least. Your message is being seen digitally on a website you have to look for. While this is the case, graffiti artists messages are being SEEN and HEARD by MILLIONS on LARGE WALLS, with FULL COLOR all AROUND THE WORLD. Yes, on tangible objects that exist in the physical world, not in the cyber world. Think long and hard about why you wrote this article. You sound bitter and ill-informed. While you spend your time trying to degrade the fastest growing art form EVER. Graffiti artists will continue to PAINT and be recognized for their talents in museums and galleries all around the world. Your dealing with a powerful movement that you cannot put a damper on. This is much bigger than you. Instead of attempting to bash something you have no idea about. Do some more research. Use your education to make a change in the world, not whine on the web. By speaking what you know about, you will be taken more seriously. Screenshots of your entire article have been taken, so if even if you attempt to correct the multiple fallacies in your article ( I only chose to address 2 out of MANY). The proof is in the pudding. With the exception of your extensive vocabulary, your article exhibits the form of something consistent with a highschool paper. (MOST DEFINITELY NOT ONE WHO IS TRAINED IN JOURNALISM). What did you put in you nut graph? ALOT OF YOUR CLAIMS ARE FALSE while others are STRICTLY OPINION. You are a bitter CLOWN with a degree from Yale, in this case the youth and lower class of this nation PREVAIL with intricate, beautiful art. While you sit around complaining about something you know little to nothing about.
Kilroy was in Davao June 30, 2011 at 2:34 PM
You are proof that people fear what they do not understand. Maybe it's time you opened your mind and educate yourself instead of being an ignorant elitist who seems to lack some much needed professional ethics for an unbiased article. OK? Take care! I love you!
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Abraham Ritchie June 28, 2011 at 4:40 PM
Wow, this article is so openly biased from the start that it's hard to finish the piece, let alone take the author's comments seriously. A screed indeed.
Notice in the subway photo that everything *but* the advertisements are tagged. The argument that advertisements confer a right to commit vandalism is a non-sequitur.

Several years ago, the city where I live enacted an ordinance that graffiti had to be cleaned up within 24 hours. Adjoining cities adopted similar ordinances. Since then, I've seen the amount of graffiti around here drop dramatically.

Is grafitti childish? Absolutely. Most grownups have to get up and work in the morning and don't want to have to clean up after someone else's children.
My iPad auto"corrected" the second line. It should read:

Its = belonging to or of "it".
@D. Norwood and his fellow semiliterates among the commenters:

It's = "it is"
It's = belonging to or of "it".
This must have been the most narrow minded article I have ever read.
If you could even call it an 'article', sounds more like a rant to me.
As a life long graffiti thug I agree with a good portion of this article. The faux anarchists thing has been obvious since the early days of Deitch Projects and Alleged. But it is still very disappointing to see how quickly and completely these hoes fell in bed with the enemy. I have no expectations of any absolute credibility from this culture but for those in Jefferey's camp to pretend to be rebels and freedom fighters is highly insulting.
So go ahead and cash your checks cause "you gotta pay the bills" but don't forgot to also calculate in the steep costs of not deserving respect. Successful prostitutes can often lead very lavish lifestyles but are fools to think anyone very them as anything but whores. Also beware of JD's pimp hand.

Writers and Street Artists - If you can check your ego and open your mind then there is much to be learned from this article. Ignore the authors ridiculous opinions about property and graffiti in general. But the critiques of this cultures hypocrisy and greed are spot on. Bonus points for pointing out that NO ONE (that we know of, it has never been mentioned) defended or commented on the buffing of BLU.
Heather, did you write this article because of my essay Graffitas? Leave me alone!
Seriously Heather? and they say the world had changed, not when there are people like you out there... bigot!
What unites these people isn't just self-indulgence, it's hypocrisy - and money, of course, there's always a money angle.

The people who support this show are living caricatures - it is hard to believe that such fools have ever been successful at anything.
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Bravo!
Congratulations Ms Mac Donald

Dirtying city environment, especially items of historical and cultural value and tradition, is no art, it is vandalism.

Elias from Greece
TLDR. I like the fact that the article seeems to highlight hypocrisy of the elevation of street art amidst it's continued status as being illegal, but I just couldn't read all of the article because it is so incredibly biased against public art. Yes, art BY as well as for, the public. "Street art" is not the same as graffiti. Among other things, street art is art in the public space and can be performative and legal (like mine). Graffiti is painting on other people's property. And still ART. If cities are for people then our expression in, around and on the city should be welcomed as signs of a vibrant and engaged society.
I live in Greenwich, South East London, and I see plenty of gang graffitti around my area. Most of the tags are the area's post code in green (SE10)and people who do it, which makes the area run down , as opposed to vibrant (even though the area's a tourist hotspot). It's a shame that people are let down by the London Borough of Greenwich's unwillingness to clean it, even though the Olympics is coming to my borough and council tax, Uniform business rates are going up.

Miss MacDonald's right about the intricacy of many graffitti works and the work that goes into many of them,not to mention the technical ability, but also about the misery it can contribute to in making a place look threatening. People leave and dersert the place in droves, as in Detroit. In Sinagpore, loansharks use graffitti tags to intimidate debtors and the gangs of Greenwich's sink estates are doing the same with theirs when marking out territory. When walking North of the river towards Brick Lane, I saw a rather racist and threatening tag that read: "Asians run these roads." A good example of making decent people feel unwelcome by graffitti. Yes, it's hypocritical for these wealthy people to condone a crime (by patronage) inflicted on the poorest in society and say it's art. More specifically, the art of the people and voice of the slums.

Yes, Banksy is a hypocrite for "acting ghetto" then making money out of it, as is broadcaster Tim Westwood for the same. By championing the former, do we condone the people who say "Asians run these roads"? I guess we do.
Great article. The hostility toward graffiti-as-art was a bit overweening, but the latter part of this essay which highlights the obscene hypocrisy of wealthy art establishments more than makes up for it.
Heather Mac Donald is also in the Tea Party, if her rustic attitudes towards minorities are any clue. Get a grip, tagging is street culture.
The best opinion piece I have read - no, the best article I have read in a very long time. Thank you.
As others have said. you blanket all of public art as "Graffiti". There are plenty of public sculptures in which the artists had full permission and were paid to install in a public space. As is the same with Murals. I am from Cincinnati Ohio where there is a small but powerful graffiti scene. Along side this graffiti scene is big non profit companies who take kids with nothing to do during the summer and give them part time paid jobs painting murals with well established artists. In fact one artist you mention is Steven Powers, he worked along side inner city teenagers of Cincinnati to create art.

Graffiti inspired street art.

Street art is simply public art, and yes it coexists with vandalism and violence, but there is an abundance of forward thinking in the world of street art.

I'm 20 years old. i live in an urban artistic community, and visited communities of similar demographics. Such as Kansas City MO, Buffalo NY, NYC and few others and of the "graffiti" vandals you claim to be ruining property values, doing hard drugs, and stealing, is simply in my experience incorrect. I know Jerks. I know people who don't care at all for the law or the functioning society. Most of those kids aren't the street artists i know. The street artists i know are full time college students in all of those cities well respected kind hearted people.

I agree with you in many ways. I feel that it can lead to the deterioration of a city, it can lead to letting in jerks and vandals. I believe that graffiti's origins with gangs and violence is too blatant to ignore.

However, this show at the MOCA, undoubtedly a perfect painting of what has been going on artistically in this country for decades. Whether you agree with it or not, whether you think its art or not. It is in the purest form artistic history. Precisely what should be held in a museum.

I don't have much money or many means of travel, but i can say that Art In The Streets at the MOCA is enough reason for me to save up and take my first trip to L.A. with the sole intent of seeing this show.
To view all street art as graffiti vandalism is a simpleton view, as narrow minded or overly generalized as stating that all photography is pornography. It's condemning all by the failings of the few.

My neighborhood, the art district, is bejeweled by street art. Stunning works of beauty. Some stretching across whole buildings, with the building owners happy to have their dreary industrial facade brought to life by artists' imaginations. And yes, there is vandalism and gang tags. Luckily, most past the third grade can tell the difference. Ms. Macdonald, not so much.

It's also always amusing to read how the older, stuffier generation of self-styled art critics looked down their noses at the next generation of art. What held true through out history certainly hasn't escaped the confines of the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. (oooooooooo... big title. Impressive!)

That said, MOCA actions are hypocritical.
Brilliant article! I can't decide who is a lower form of life: scumbag taggers or the rich hypocrites that support them? The only fair solution is a chainsaw cage match. Now that would be entertainment I would pay to watch.
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For starters, here are 61 reasons you need to rethink using a broad-brush approach to executing a buff job on street art. I suppose you are preaching to your choir. For the rest of us, evidence that street art can be much more than "infantile solipsism" is overwhelming.
Do a search on Google for Retna, Swoon, and Faile. I am thinking writers of your caliber and experience might strive for some balance and recognize that reality is often more nuanced than your report would indicate. Meanwhile, enjoy your vision of a taupe-colored world where color and message can only go public when purchased by fair exchange of Benjamins.
-- Eno Laget
An intellectual tour-de-force. The "anti" responses mostly missing the point or unable to understand it(drugs will do that to what formerly was a mind.) Eduardo, you were one of the few exceptions here. Though I can't say I agree, you make a somewhat rational argument. This was almost a singular achievement amongst the nay-sayers.
This is an article on many, many levels, and it is interesting to see the "reasoning" and muddy thinking that attempts to discredit it. It took years of being clean to learn to think again. I'd suggest some of the posters try it. You might recognize a brilliant essay should you encounter it. The inadequacy and utter lameness of your response (s) would not embarrass you in retrospect.
Who is Good Will? May 08, 2011 at 9:45 AM
I was wondering if the aiders and abettors of the vandals are subject to a civil RICO action?
Brilliant. Loved the line, "frisson of proximity to the underclass..."
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Heather, this is nothing new, sorry to say. I remember a book of color plates of "subway art" in NY being sold in 1983--almost thirty years ago!
Benjamin L Pick May 02, 2011 at 9:26 AM
Thank you Heather MacDonald for the courage to write cogently and honestly about the destructive Moca presentation of "graffitti as art". Your article is comprehensive and detailed and under normal circumstances would "shame" the Moca Board and Director and Curator to close this show down and acknowldege their bad taste. Thank you on behalve of citizens who value others, property and the law.
Sorry, meant for Dr Horwood
Also, to the good Dr. Thomas, I know anecdotal evidence is simply that, allow me to share the little that I have.

You seem to evince this notion that graffiti is a way for the repressed artist to express themselves. I'm sure many of them view themselves that way. A more accurate picture would be that they're shoplifting, weapon-toting, drug-dealing thugs mixed with the effete rich-boy rebels without a cause that want to "tag" various conspicuous and impressive areas for their own self-satisfaction. How do I know this? Because I'm a 25-year-old man who knows these people. Personally. I know their names and their tags. I know where their tags are. I've heard their stories. In my more immature days I reveled in these stories and hoped to one day mimic it in my own rebellious way. Like most of these people I knew, I ended up in a gutter.

It's people like you that enable their delinquency. Worse yet, you encourage their utterly useless talents so that some day they'll grow up to be on welfare. Even worse yet, you pervert real art and real talent. More people need to be told their not talented, to not have useless things encouraged. Everything isn't for everybody. I may love basketball more than anything in the world, but that doesn't mean I deserve to be in the NBA.

It's time to grow up.
On the bright side, there are few surefire things to make things less edgy than to be formally accepted by the establishment. I can't exactly see Banksy becoming a professor of modern art at NYU.
Ever noticed how almost every argument in favour of a clampdown on graffiti relies on the notion that graffiti leads to other more serious crime...

Here's a novel idea; if you think graffiti is a problem because it increases the likelihood of, for example, shoplifting, why not simply spend the money wasted on graffiti prevention on anti-shoplifting programs? I mean, isn’t that the REAL reason for your anti-graffiti stance in the first place? Just cut out the middleman...

I have a question for Heather MacDonald; have you ever been to Rome or Paris?

See, in these cities (both of which attract more visitors than L.A.) graffiti isn't seen as a massive problem, in fact it's everywhere. And, quelle surprise, it doesn't seem to have the massive knock-on effect some U.S. academics claim.

The real issue with graffiti is this; it's a crime you can see, which makes it an easy target for police forces and politicians who like to appear pro-active.

Politicians promise; 'more police on the streets, instead of stuck in offices' despite the fact that experts know this sort of patrol is the least effective strategy when it comes to reducing crime. Yet, do the politicians care? Not a jot.

Why? Because, regardless of what actually works, police walking around the streets can be seen by the public, which makes them think something is being done about crime. While it may be more effective to spend that money on actually investigating serious crime, politicians would rather spend money in the most visible way possible.

Graffiti is the same. Drug dealing could be going through the roof, but since 99% of people don't actually see that happen, combating this more low-profile crime isn't the best way to win voters. Contrast that with the fact that EVERYONE can see whether or not graffiti is being cleaned, andyou can understand how the less damaging crime makes it higher onto the list of priorities.

But how do you sell costly anti-graffiti programs to the public? I mean, most people would probably rather graffiti was cleaned off, but very few people actually care about it. They'd much rather that 'real' crime was prioritised.

'That tag across the road, sure it's unsightly, but as long as nobody's stealing my car or murdering me, I'm not too worried.'

'Ah, dear voter, what you fail to understand is; that tag across the street WILL steal your car, and it WILL murder you. See, it's expensive, and often difficult for the public to perceive, when we combat serious crime, but if we tell you that cleaning tags (something you will see) amounts to the same thing as protecting you from serious crime, you'll think we're doing our job.'

It's the big lie, and it's sold to the public time and again. 'Broken Window Theory' is highly dubious, but it's been jumped on by politicians across the land because it allows them to equate the superficial with the meaningful.
Well researched, but annoyingly critical...almost to the point of destroying the author's credibility. Clearly this was an emotional issue for her.
If the comments here are the best that defenders of graffiti vandalism can do, that is truly pathetic.

Among all the hurt feelings and theatrical outrage, I don't see a single coherent argument from those who object to Mac Donald's article.

We still haven't found a single person who, on waking up one morning to find their home covered in tags, would be thrilled and call the art historical authorities to preserve the piece for posterity.

If you think such a person exists, please leave their name and address here so we can test the theory. [NOTE: IRONY HERE]
If you're just spray painting your name, be it a tag or a stylized "bomb", you're a baby with poop in his diaper. If you create an image that isn't all about your precious frickin' ego, then maybe we can talk. Until then, stop spreading your shit all over our walls.
"Jeffrey Deitch and his trustees can toy with the “outlaw vibe” (as Aaron Rose euphemistically puts it) of graffiti, knowing full well that their own carefully ordered lives will be untouched."

That says it all about the cynical Deitch and his trustees.
Excellent article.
I would submit that it's funny when artists comment on society or when policy wonks comment on art. Artists have such disdain for politicans as vapid, nakedly ambitious and having no moral compass. And politicians and policy wonks shun the notion that society and the gov't somehow failed the artists or there expectations of what a free society should provide to its citizens. MacDonald may have read about the origin of graffiti, or interviewed beat cops from 1970s NYC, but really.... that doesn't give her license to tie the fate of the poor on the backs of aerosol cans. (if aerosol cans are circular then how can they have a back??? meh, you get me anyway)
Hmmm.... "but it will only increase the struggles of Los Angeles’s poor communities to enjoy a modicum of the security and order that the wealthy take for granted." A show about graffitti art/street art, won't drive the functions of any middle or lower-mid class person's lifestyle or day-to-day issues. Art and your world operate completely separately with us - the lower to middle class that work day in and day out. But we grew up with Graffiti as art - pure and simple.

But a separate point: Gangs used graffitti, and they used guns. Now, let me compare that with Nazis. They used blaring horns, the printpress and the second industrial revolution to conduct genocide. That doesn't mean that every circus act that includes horns, print press and travels on rail or on highway is trying to kill Jews and Gays. Seems obvious enough, but I point that out b/c graffitti was used in a lot of ways b/c your institutional structures (a gov't that provides a baseline adequacy in public health safety and welfare) quit working for the People much faster than the people quit believing in those institutions. Just b/c a select few taggers still live in middle to low income communities doesn't mean that MOMA is exploiting them.
Oh Heather! Thank you! Thank you!

Unfortunately I was inspired to only skim your writing rather than truly indulge myself into the mind of what it is like to be you, seeing art and society the way you do, from your POV. I was with you for bits but clearly you should find another line of work to rake in your capitalism (as you so heavily pointed out in relation to the artist in MOCA).
What repression you influence you inspire in people... it's heart breaking really.
hehehe heather is definitely not a street art lover, i have to admit as a graffitistreet artist myself there are many sides to the graffiti story (tags,stickers,posters,spray paint, etc) and before writing an article based on pure criticism, she had to do a little bit more of research and try to figure out why did the graffiti movement started....this was something massive by the starting generation of "vandals" who started the movement...young kids who wanted to draw on trains instead of white black books! no matter the risk!!(getting arrest, killed on the tracks or what ever) in other words just like any another extreme sport such as skateboarding , but come on, mankind has left there mark since the beginning of time to communicate! come on prehistoric drawings, hieroglyphics (that we are still trying to figure out) !!! and what about US having a flag on the f#cking moon!.....that aint tagging??????!!!....as anything in life, there is a beginning and then things start to evolve, you can do bad or good.....graffiti and vandalism are two different things....vandalism is something that can be manage as a social problem and i totally agree its bad and should be punished...if caught in gaffiti case ehhee!, and this is what she should be critic about, but she cannot generalize on a whole art movement because this is what it is like it or not!!!! see Heather we are at MOCCA!!! yes we where the one's who used to tag your front door!!..hahaha

“The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It’s people who follow orders that drop bombs and massacre villages”
— Banksy
I think the relationship between the art world establishment and street artists is worth a critical look, but this essay is so drenched in condescension and sarcasm that it merely undermines the credibility of the author's argument as well as, frankly, the credibility of the publication itself. I really am a bit surprised at the sophomoric tone of this piece; it belongs in the blogosphere, not in a respected quarterly. Two things I'd like point out:

1) The prohibition of pens is actually fairly standard practice in the museum world. The reason for this is that they can potentially make permanent marks on the artwork, so it's not unusual to be offered a pencil by a museum guard if you make the mistake of bringing a pen as I have on more than one occasion.

2) Montana Colors sells their products direct for the same reasons many "boutique" suppliers do. As they state on their web site, the model affords them more control over the quality of their products and service. Regardless, shoplifting is primarily a problem for retailers, not suppliers.
Today, April 24 Sunday, the NY Daily News has a big lead editorial criticizing glorification of graffiti vandals as "artists".

But the Daily News has been doing the same thing in their news stories for decades.

Just Google...

|"graffiti artist" site:www.nydailynews.com|

...to see dozens of their news stories which matter-of-factly use the term "graffiti artist(s)".

Do others share my view the Daily News should by official policy always refer in their stories to "graffiti perps" or "...vandals" or "...criminals" or "...creeps" or "...thugs" – never "...artists"?

And if you do share such a view, will you express it in an email to voicers@nydailynews.com?

John B.
Manhattan
Someone had to say this. I'm an 18 year old and most others my age reel off the same excuses you cited for graffiti when asked whether writing on walls is "O.K.". Fortunately most agree after a short argument that there is no moral way around graffiti, and that the "fighting 'the man'" argument is a little silly. My beef with graffiti writers is the now-common idea among them that graffiti is somehow art. Deitcher's exhibition lends credit to that idea and forbodes a coarsening of the art world. "Radical Graffiti Chic" touches on that, but I'd like to see Heather MacDonald write more about it.
"Sex and the City would never have been conceived had New York not defeated subway graffiti."

And you're calling out Shepard Fairey for using non sequitur? What complete nonsense.
MOCA is not adventurous enough - would it not be much better to have a live contest between the street artists, instead of just canning them in the museum? Making it international sounds right, does it not, so what about trying Singapore as the venue, and calling the event, say, The Butane Boy Memorial to honor the spectacular achievements of Michael P. Fay?

Come to think of it, this could work out into a top TV show, beating Survivor hands down.

Another good place for streety-artisty exploits is obviously Russia:

http://englishrussia.com/index.php/2009/04/07/no-graffiti-today/

See you in Moscow, Shepard Fairey!
Heather Mac Donald April 22, 2011 at 11:49 AM
It would be most illuminating if the defenders and perpetrators of graffiti would explain what gives you the right to paint on someone else's property without permission. Who conferred on you the right to impose on someone else the expense and labor of removing your tag?
How hard is it to understand that the canvases that graffiti artists paint in the dark of night or out of the sight of the police doesn't belong to them?

It's not the art...it's the artist who defaces the property of others without consent!
Very one sided article if I may venture from this side of the pond. Get yourself to Stokes Croft in Bristol to see street art make a positive contribution to people's lives
Now dont get me wrong, I appreciate knowing the opinion and views of others on the topic of the graffiti world, but what I have a problem with is that your article contains glaring factual errors, crude unsubstantiated assumptions of individuals, much that is apocryphal, and reads very much like what it is - a heavily biased opinion piece whose every paragraph says the same thing..."I hate all forms of graffiti/street art and believe that they are the catalytic downfall of western civilization". Youve successfully oversimplified the graffiti world, youve painted every graffiti writer with the same brush that is convenient to your extremely biased "argument", youve got multiple key facts about our culture wrong (FYI- montana is NOT strictly mail-order, most grafitti writers ARE in fact white, etc...), based on a few outspoken quotes youve made the grand assumption that graffiti writers are anti-capitalist and anti-personal profit. In some cases youre simply wrong, and in most cases you are just myopic, but all too often in this piece your summations and supporting comments reveal the core prejudice that this article serves as a vehicle for. After reading the mission statement for what City Journal is all about I can very much see how an article like this could be printed, but in the hopes that CJ readers DO actually check the comments section, I just needed to give a "heads up".
Powerful essay. The only issue I have with it is that it doesn't really distinguish between traditional "graffiti" and more contemporary "street art." Here's a good article that looks at those differences.

http://tag-line.blogspot.com/2007/04/evaluations-debates-and-comparisons.html
TLDR

You don't get cities, you don't get art. That's about as far as I got. BORING
Tatiana Covington April 21, 2011 at 1:22 PM
Q: What's the difference between graffiti and archaeological evidence, such as petroglyphs and Lascaux?

A: One thousand years.
All curators are pretentious jerks --> some people who make graffiti/street art are jerks too --> some curators figured out how to make money from graffiti --> jerks respect some property (usually their own) and not other property --> property is a more consistent, simple, easy-to-like idea than jerks, art, and the nexus between them --> property is all that matters in society.

I see how you got there. I just think you may have missed a few things along the way.
Heather I'm only halfway through your article but already love you!
They only reason this is tolerated is because it is mostly done by minorities.
If it was done by a majority of whites it would have been stopped a long time ago.
This may be the first and last time I'll ever agree 100% with anything that was written in the City Journal, but every word in Ms. MacDonald's essay rings true. The appropriate response to the MOCA show might be to detonate a series of exploding paint cans in every room of this moronic exhibit, followed up with a series of paint-bombing raids above the houses of the museum's free-spirited trustees.
"Jeffrey Deitch and his trustees can toy with the “outlaw vibe” (as Aaron Rose euphemistically puts it) of graffiti, knowing full well that their own carefully ordered lives will be untouched."

That sentence alone would have sufficed as an adequate explanation for the museum's interest in the quaint lives of criminals...in fact, it serves as a template for just about anything the left embraces.
"Public spaces dedicated to graffiti art is an option"

Why can't people just paint on paper or canvas like everyone else? Not "cool" enough?

Banksy et al. are little more than clever, albeit fashionable, pranksters. Saying that they're better than your average magic marker scrawling isn't saying very much at all. Without the cult of "cool" associated with breaking the law (in certain pre-approved ways) they would be ignored.

Call her a "hater" all you want, it just shows you have no real argument to make besides implying that she's not part of the "cool kids club" and wishes that she were.

...and imagine his surprise when he awoke to discover that dinosaurs still walked the earth.
No wonder there is so much graffiti anger in the US, these haters have the common sense of brick walls. Boo Hoo heather, get over it.
hahahahaha ...
Graffiti is a unique form of artistic expression. Good graffiti undoubtedly enhances city landscapes. Bad graffiti deteriorates it. Who's to be the judge?

Perhaps before throwing out a blanket endorsement of musical education (I am Venezuelan and am well acquainted with El Sistema's potential) the author should have proposed avenues for graffiti to be embraced and allowed to flourish in a way that also addressed her concerns about it's 'outlaw vibe'. Public spaces dedicated to graffiti art is an option (one tried with some success in Venezuela I might add). A community based voting system that decided if a particular work should stay or go is a good way of democratizing the whole endeavor. Thinking that a kid that is visually oriented is going to be equally engaged with music is naive. Emphasis should be placed on creating alternatives for all kinds of interests

That corporations buy advertisement real estate in a 'fair market' is frankly laughable. Common people have no more say on what they are bombarded with on an advertisement level than on a graffiti level. Corporations buying advertisement space from other corporations resulting in visual pollution for the rest of us is hardly fair. Graffiti that only intends to vandalize is to my mind equally questionable. But there's a risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater here, some graffiti is thought provoking (Banksy is a good example of this) and/or aesthetically appealing (a walk through Hong Kong should be sufficient proof). Shouldn't this artistic potential be harnessed?

That Banksy's stencils sell on auction houses is fair enough in my opinion. He probably laughs at the ridiculous prices paid by rich people for something he 'publishes' for free. It would also fund his insane globetrotting. Also, i would assume that it would be difficult to find an owner that is unhappy with having a Space Invader (not Alien Invader...) piece on his/her property's wall.

Making a statement on the quality/pertinence of an artist's work based on his/her personality and character flaws is dangerous. Dali, Pollock, van Gogh, Picasso and Warhol were no role models themselves.

I found this piece unnecessarily one-sided: While the criticisms aimed at the art establishment are more than well founded the blanket demonizing of graffiti art is not.
Reading some of these comments, it would certainly seem that a nerve has been struck.

Leaving aside the legal arguments, clearing our minds for a moment, and approaching this from a purely æsthetic point of view, I think Ms. MacDonald is correct when she identifies it as "pure adolescent male wish-fulfillment." Are there many female graffiti "artists?" Is there a deeper message to writing your name that I'm missing?

In the past, art dealt with serious, "grown-up" themes like time, intimacy, and death. Artists did sign their names to their works, but there was usually "more to it" than simply a signature. Is there "more to" graffiti?

Joey's claim that Ms. MacDonald is "stuck in a time capsule" seems to confirm my belief that, no, there is nothing interesting in graffiti, that it is only a desperate, ultimately meaningless quest to become "cool."
note in general; when something 'arrives' at a museum, it is effectively 'over'.
ooph, that was a full load...

First, let's agree...

Deitch gets no cool points. A "street art" exhibit was a super easy play for a guy who's branded himself as a curator of pseudo-counter-culture. Everyone knew his celebrity, but taking that to a large scale public art arena like MOCA was an opportunity to stake a claim in something beyond street culture. He failed - went with the super obvious - game, set, match. Deitch is whatever.

Now, you're nutso.

Your philosophy on the whole graffiti thing is bizarre, Heather. You are stuck in a time capsule. All of your values and opinions are based on an ethos that the entire world (except you) ditched over the last decade. Is this your first "street art" story? Everyone hates malicious vandalism, it is a bi-product of criminal activity. There's a huge difference between disruptive artists who strategically place tags, stickers and pieces, and gang members claiming a neighborhood. Putting all of them in one bucket is played out. Do some homework.

Some of these huge blanket statements you've made are way out there and the unforgiving antagonistic disrespect for that whole culture is, well, that's just not a good idea.

I'm not a purist and I do have opinions on both sides of the fence, but you missed the mark.

Deitch played himself out and you're argument is stale. Next please!
The excuses proffered for these criminals in the comments are amazing. It's not a case of "expression," it's a case of law and order. If MOMA wants to glorify lawlessness, the directors should be willing to suffer the consequences, being arrested for aiding and abetting crime.
If the movers and shakers of Los Angeles genuinely cared about the city, they wouldn't have hired Deitch, who's a charlatan at best and an opportunist more than anything.
Yes, art has been on a terrible downhill slide since 1863. What began with lunch on the grass has destroyed our society, rendered weak the moral fiber of our people, and saddled us with the pathetic bleatings of the lesser races. It is the art that does it--I blame the art for the collapse of the latifundia, the Taipeng rebellion, and the Sepoy mutiny. Today's poverty is surely caused by the horrors of street vandalism, certainly not by a regressive tax code, the collapse of public education, the extermination of private labor unions, and the war on "drugs". And by drugs, we mean black people.
Sorry, should be:
Can't they suffer without dragging others into visual refuse heap - in other words without bringing more ugliness into the world?
@D. Horwood

In case of advertisement least one person profits. In case of graffiti everybody suffers: the person whose property is destroyed and us, who have to watch somebody's pseudo-art.

OK, there certainly are poor people, deprived of education and prospect. And if I correctly understood what you have written graffiti is their way of showing their internal misery. Can't they suffer without dragging other of us into visual refuse heap - in other words without bringing more ugliness into the world?
I'm not sure I can deal with reading this article
I got as far as the sentance about a city that has given in to graffiti telegraphing to the world that social and parental control has broken down
I live in Berlin, a city too poor to clean up the graffiti, but a city intelligent enough to spend what little money it has on excellent facilities for children. One of the reasons I moved here is because of how relaxed people are with children - they are a part of the society here, not a problem like it seems they must be for you in America. Parental control here has not broken down. Children (it's mostly adults) do not write graffiti because their parents can't control them. they write graffiti to deal with their lives, their feelings, their emotions, their relationships, etc

Face it - America, in it's lustful chase for the easy good life, has fucked up it's kids. In it's hunger for money and easy living it has shoved aside millions and millions of people, who it now spits on because they put colour on the walls of where they live. You are part of that. Why don't YOU try and find ways to solve the problem, instead of wasting your time attacking an art show. Surely the fact graffiti is being presented as art will mean people stop to associate it with drugs and crime (things that should be associated with money, not graffiti) and thus not find it so frightening.

Advertisers buy rights to use private property to sell their wares, meaning one person benefits (the property owner) but EVERYONE who sees the advertising suffers it's degrading effects.

Ms. Mac Donald, you are clearly a wealthy person who has long since forgotten what it means to be young, and no doubt have never known how it feels to have a poor education, and you have written from your perch up high. It's quite painful to read such poison from someone who knows little but a life of priviledge. Had you done any research you would know that the general feeling in the street art/graffiti scene is that we couldn't give a monkeys about this MOCA show, it's been riddled with controversy ever since it was announced, and it's audience is predominantly middle class white people who get to feel "cool" around a scene/art that you are clearly disgusted by. Direct your hatred at the people paying to see this show, not the artists who are just doing the thing they love - creating.
This article shows that there is no logical defense of graffiti.

In my inner-city neighbourhood, it makes me so sad to see that the graffitists have no respect or even awareness of the skill that went into the beautiful old brickwork they daub. They are like naughty two-year-olds.

On my first visit to New York I was shocked at the menacing environment caused by the graffiti (and, as a young girl, probably some of my experiences there).
graffiti provides direction for inner city kids that is often better than the alternative.

moreover, what you call the new york renaissance epitomized by sex and the city, many of us call the downfall.

deitch's show points to the lack of joy and passion in our art scene, and graffit brings that (the law, nor property owners rights are not joy or passion that is sure).

maybe this show isn't pefect, but would u rather another warhol show? i bet so.
Patrick D.Hazard April 19, 2011 at 8:46 PM
The mindless glorification of street "art" is just another sign that the egaliraian ideals of Walt Whitman's America have been abandoned by the oilygarchs that are ruining America as they thrive in gated "communities." Casino Capitalism is a self-destructive option we must abandon or die. Weimar, Germany,after 30 years in Dezroit and fifty in Philadelphia. How sad a demeaning of our ideals.
Percival Sweetwater April 19, 2011 at 6:56 PM
I agree with much of the sentiment in this article. One correction however: Montana colors can be bought in art stores around the US - not just by mail order. I just returned from the National Art Materials Trade Association's annual convention and I can attest that Montana is making a lot of money on the new mainstream status of grafitti.
Wow, imagine being so far out of the relevance loop that you no longer understand the topics you are chiming in about. Hey Heather, I think you may have a few babies at home you might want to watch over.
This article looks only at a problem and does not bother to look at causes or give any solutions.

New York's demise in the 80's was due to subway graffiti? You give no consideration to bigger social problems, such as weak economy, the explosion of the crack cocaine market, an understaffed police force that was well known for corruption. While the crime stats in New York improved in the 90's, they did so in all major American cities at that time.

Stealing as glorified by graffiti artists pales in comparison to the global crisis caused by banking, energy and war industries in their legitimized pillaging. These same industries sell public space without consultation and consideration and you deem this to be a 'fair exchange'. And you wonder where the 'sense of entitlement' that graff artists have, comes from.

You label the documentation of the colorful 70's artistic hip-hop movement as propaganda. You would choose to censor documentation. Bury the past and sculpt the history books to suit your own narrow perspective. Well, I'm so happy we all survived Subway art and the 'spiral of decline' and lived to see the wonders four 30 something year olds entertain us into passivity. As long as we have Sex in the City we can forget the blight on our poor neighborhood, caused by everything from inflation to energy costs, alcohol and narcotics abuse to weak gun controls, class and racial indoctrination. But you only mention graffiti as the cause.

I could continue pointing out the generalizations that this article contains. I won't bother because there is a Sleaze in City re-run on in 5 minutes.

Regards
Sean, South Africa
"What unites the players in MOCA’s graffiti show, which will travel to the Brooklyn Museum in 2012, is self-indulgence." Thank you.
In my home town of Melbourne Australia, we also suffer from the street-art blight, and the idiocy of local government who thinks it makes our city 'cool', to the point where they feature it in our tourism publicity. They squealed like stuck pigs last year when a council cleaner washed away one of Melbourne's few original Banksy's.

Occasionally one of these punks gets brought to court, and every time they do, they turn out to be from impeccably liberal middle-class backgrounds. Two notable recent cases involved, respectively, the son of one of our most famous opera singers, and the son of a conservation architect.
Wow. You are truly gifted writers, but I hate everything about this article. I disagree immensely.
What an absolutely magnificent commentary on the hypocrisy of the left and its "artistic" hangers-on.

The worst of the worst, in my estimation, is serial plagiarist Shepherd Fairey, who started his career by stealing the work of others and claiming it as his own. Pretense of talent and delusions of grandeur put him in the way of the Obama campaign, and the rest is history. A great read about Fairey's history of plagiarism can be found here:
http://www.art-for-a-change.com/Obey/index.htm

Thanks for a great article.
Heather, I greatly admire your writing in this article. You've done some hard work and it shows. Best regards!

Avery
Why are pseudointellectual limousine liberal poseurs entranced by graffiti? Nostalgie de la boue.
The best paint to use for covering graffiti is the blood of the tagger that did it. Just be sure to leave the empty can where others can see it.
My shop in TX got a message put on it on a Thursday, and my younger son and I painted it over that Sunday. People around us continued to get hit, but for some reason we were left alone after that.

The "broken window theory" works for me.

If you tolerate messes, you will live in one.
Los Angeles and its gliteratti are sliding into oblivion. It will take a long time, if ever, to repair what these wealthy "patrons" have done in the name of "art". Taggers killed or injured at least three people last year, people who interrupted their artistic fugues, and those are just the reports the media savants deigned to publish. How many more people were injured is a guess, but these three for sure are not all it. And with glitterati to make enemies of, the Lost Angeles Times surely would filter "bad things" carefully.
Again what we have is too many rich liberals with too much time and money on their hands. Why not let these street trash deface the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the White House, etc? Silly is as silly does when it comes to these shallow intellects who claim to know art.
I agree with the notion that tagging personal or public property is an offensive attack on the public's environment. The same is true, however, with advertisements in public places. If they want to upgrade our lives, get rid of graffiti in ALL it's forms.
Again, with these shallow artists, it always comes down to "let's shock the squares."

Yawn.
Some city should seize the money on the grounds you're not allowed to profit from crime and use it for graffitti abatement.
LA Zoo graduate students can paint, wow!
It's been going on since the Stone Age. Lighten up and perhaps direct your attention to the eyesores that are advertisements, billboards etc that litter cities. I'd much rather look at graffiti than look at ads.
It is too bad that Ms. MacDonald's doesn't understand the that street-art is *not* a euphemism for 'graffitti. To understand the difference, visit http://www.woostercollective.com/ and see some amazing street art that beautifies abandoned neighborhoods. It is not done for money or fame or exhibited in a tax-payer funded museum.
The best political comment was graffiti in a politicians home - yes inside the home in Pompeii.
And Julius wrote those immortal words on the great pyramid of Egypt.
The difference to the past is that like ads modern graffiti has to be the same monotonous duplication and not a simple observation.
Everyone competes for recognition everywhere.
The graffitist gets gratification by being someone observed everywhere!
To hell with the rest is what started in Wall St.
Nice article in that it exposes the hypocrisy of the left yet again. However I'd like to add another definition to the term "I rack"; my use of the term would be as in "I rack my .12 gauge shotgun anytime I see some street thug making eyes at my property that he thinks it's his right to deface". The unforgiving "clack-clack" sound of a .12 gauge pump being "racked" is surely a deterrent to wanna be street artists. Or am I being racist in wanting to defend my property?
Grad Student History April 17, 2011 at 5:02 PM
This article seems to be the same recycled "broken windows theory" of sociology in the streets. While I do agree on some of your points on the ego driven culture of commercial graffiti, not all graffiti artists profit from their vandalism or produce work for corporations or museums.

It is also kind of odd that while the trusties of MOCA praise lower-class art, they would never allow it in their neighborhoods. What I do not understand is how safety is associated with graffiti-- it seems to be more about middle and upper-class fears of people of color, lower-working class folks along with concerns, or rather fears of homeless people and prostitution. Also, most of the graffiti in the City of Los Angeles is done by outsiders, some of whom come from upper middle-class background and live in surrounding Los Angeles suburbs even O.C. Prime example is the artist SABER who is one of the most well known graffiti artist in LA, comes from a well off family whose parents are artists also. For too long graffiti (as well as gangs) has been unfairly associated with lower class folks and people of color.

You want to uphold a pristine image of "real honorable" working class folks who are being affected by graffiti vandalism without understanding what it is like to be force to live in "ghettos" because of being laid off work while living pay check to pay check, housing prices and racial discrimination not only in housing but also in the workforce because of racism, lack of education and legal status. Racist statements like the one in the comment section point to the implicit racism within understanding graffiti and its association with lower working class immigrant people while it is your teenagers who wear graffiti styled t-shirts, consume hip hop culture and buy this and that in order to try to "fit in."
LOS ANGELES PUTS OUT NEARLY $10 MILLION PER YEAR FOR MEXICAN GRAFFITI ABATEMENT.

ON TOP OF WHAT THE COUNTY OF LA PUTS ON WELFARE FOR ILLEGALS OF $600 MILLION PER YEAR.

THE TAX FREE MEX UNDERGROUND ECONOMY IS CALCULATED TO BE MORE THAN $2 BILLION PER YEAR IN THIS COUNTY.

95% OF THE MURDERS ARE BY ILLEGALS, MOSTLY GANG RELATED.

WANT TO LIVE IN L.A.?

OH, AND MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA IS A RABIDLY RACIST M.E.Ch.A MEMBER.

VIVA LA RAZA!

MEXICANOCCUPATION.blogspot.com
Beautiful, Ms. MacDonald. An elegant takedown of one of the most constant figures in human history---the power-hungry, self-righteous autocrat celebrating the trash of the proletariat as "heoric" and demanding more power to "free" them from their chains.
Thank you for this story. FYI - http://OutMilitary.com is providing a supportive place for gay servicemen and women to friend, share and network in a post DADT era.