Wednesday, May 03, 2006

On the Merit of Ideas, or Lack Thereof

This post, read out of the context of the previous two, will be utterly devoid of meaning.


A girl in my history class wrote her term paper on "Graffiti: Art or Vandalism?". She's a pretty smart girl, so I felt bad that she would be wasting her time and brainpower trying to answer such a meaningless question.

I will give you, gentle reader, the benefit of the doubt, and assume that you are well versed in the koan of Master McCloud, namely his (not entirely original) idea that if one defines "art" as "something not directly furthering human goals of survival and reproduction", there is at least a little bit of art in everything we do, and at least a little bit of the survival/reproduction drive in even the "purest" art.

Thus, the problem is one of categorization. For most people, graffiti doesn't get to be art because art is supposed to be beautiful and graffiti can be ugly, or because you can only do art on things that you own. Saying that graffiti is vandalism is saying that it is just as destructive to property as breaking windows or starting small fires. Slightly smarter people tend to try to classify graffiti somewhere between the two by attempting to define the elusive quality of "artistic merit", which is something I'm not even going to touch.

This problem of classification is one I consider a lot, especially in school. In our English class, we are reading "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close", a fictional story in which the collapse of the twin towers is an integral element. Some insisted that it was still too soon to write a fictional account of such an event, and we quickly became bogged down in a debate about under what circumstances it was acceptable to make fiction of such things.

"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" is, in my opinion, a good book; I enjoy reading it and thinking about what it says. It could not have been written without using the collapse of the twin towers as a plot element. I don't care if it's "too soon" or not, if we get a good book out of it. If my entire family died tomorrow and somebody wrote a fictional account of it the next day, I would be happy if it were a good book. If it wasn't a good book, I would only be upset because they had wasted my time.

In the same sense, the tags of "art" and "vandalism" for graffiti are fundamentally irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether or not the graffiti is an improvement over what had been there previously.

To bring this down from the fluffy realm of idealism to the spiky land of spiky reality, where everything has spikes, occasionally poisonous, I propose an idea. That I am posting this idea here rather than posting it in a well-thought-out letter to the Goveror speaks volumes to its validity and practicality.

What if the Department of Graffiti Removal were to change its classification of graffiti from "everything" to "anything that garners more complaints than praise"? Set up a graffiti hotline. If you see something you like, you phone in and say so, likewise if you see something you don't like. Every week or so, the tallies for each tag are added up. If it's positive, the piece stays. If it's negative, scrub scrub. Not only will this discourage pointless, ugly graffiti (it'll just be removed) but it will promote creation of graffiti good enough to draw praise from passers-by.

Thus are the problems of graffiti, world hunger, religious strife, and the common cold simultaneously solved. Tomorrow, I discuss the validity of the Third Amendment itself.



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