by Derek Morrison
They see no beauty in your stone
Only a surface on which to scrawl
Proclaiming angrily that they exist
But need dark silent nights to crawl.
They see no beauty in your wood
Just new targets for their spoor
And like feral dogs peeing points
More such shadows does this lure.
They see no beauty in your wall
Just a large platform to offend
Taking pride in the fear and hurt
Within warped message that they send.
They see no beauty in your brick
Just another medium to infect
So spreading the visual viruses
Creating new symbols of neglect.
They see no beauty in your bridge
Defacing such structures of the State
For in their minds they are warriors
Proclaiming ‘whatever’ cause is great.
They see no beauty in your graffito
Demonstrating the message can be Art
So they ‘tag’ such murals and stencils
Showing their chaos erases ‘smart’.
They see no beauty in your art
Resenting prowess and such skill
So in their erasing or defacing
It’s that beauty they seek to kill.
They see no beauty in your message
When their thinking does not align
Using obliteration or disfigurement
Rejecting differences by this sign.
They see no beauty in the world
For they feel they don’t belong
So target their rage at its artefacts
And “destroy” becomes their song.
They see no beauty in themselves
So they spray their visual screams
Craving attention and recognition
Sharing nightmares; not their dreams.
[To listen to this verse select below]
I am lucky enough to live in a World Heritage City full of Georgian architecture with the odd nod to the Romans. And yet, like most urban environments graffiti is everywhere. Most of it is of the talentless brand and like guided-missiles it seeks out the pristine, the new and sometimes the ancient surface to send whatever message is intended – or not. Mostly, it appears imitative juvenile nihilistic, obliterative, or ‘gangsta’ style tagging carried out by those either lacking or with, as yet, undeveloped spiritual (not necessarily religious) values, who want to make a publicly visible statement about something; or anything. The message (whatever it is – for it is usually unintelligible) may well not be intended for the eyes of those whom are most offended by it, but for the members of the subculture (real or imagined) who it is assumed can interpret it. Even the odd more creative example of Banksy-style graffiti are soon infected by the more pathological graffiti virus creators and disseminators. It is as though anything that is viewed as coherent must be reduced to the state of chaos, ugliness, anger, or unhappiness which so afflicts them.
But why does graffiti exist at all?
There are many reasons but, arguably, all of them can distil down into two main purposes, i.e. sending a message or obliterating a message; using some sort of publicly-visible platform to do so. The platform can be utilised either with or without permission of the platform owner; who may or may not be pleased to host the message. Some such messages may demonstrate a high level of thought and implemented using an equally high level of art and design talent whereas others are simply intended or unintended disfigurements of the host platform. In the latter case it may well be that it is the disfigurement that is itself the message.
So instead of asking “what is graffiti?” we perhaps ought to ask, what is the purpose of the graffiti? For in answering that question we are more likely to establish whether the intent was: cultural enhancement through challenging art; defacement; anger; vandalism; political statement; displacement; attention; recognition; competition; gaming; harassment; bullying; commemoration and recording; declaration; experimentation; communication; tagging territory; exhibiting; advertising; offending; or commercialisation. In other words, the reasons graffiti exists can represent the full gamut of human psychology with its multifaceted complex motivations and emotions.
Banksy ‘EU star’ mural vandalised (BBC News, 9 May 2017)
Banksy’s GCHQ artwork vandalised in Cheltenham (Guardian, 30 July 2014)