Critical Thinking as Productive Questions

1. Do these artists have no responsibility to ask: Has the community given us permission to use this canvas?

2. Is support for graffiti artists solely a left-wing phenomenon?

3. What is the difference between a Diego Rivera mural and graffiti art?

First, I am assuming graffiti artists receive great respect. While I am eager to be corrected, I think there is ample evidence for widespread respect.  Personally, I enjoy looking at it. But that some people enjoy it does not seem to capture its significance for better or worse. Its rebelliousness provides rich,privileged data for sociological analyses of crime.  But the willingness of its supporters to grinningly refer to it as "crime" hints at what bothers me ethically about support for graffiti art.

Am I some naive capitalist ninny bothered by property rights who accepts the legitimacy of those rights simply because they are registered legally at the local title company? I hope not.  And yet, it does bother me that this tree has been "beautified" (and I do want one for our yard), unless the community that will have no choice but to consume the art has weighed in about the decision to decorate the tree. Now I have moved all the way to the communitarian attitudes that best represent my annoyance about graffiti art.

The arrogance associated with "my canvas is whatever I choose it to be" distinguishes graffiti art from Diego Rivera's murals. (He, of course, had his own more personal brand of arrogance if we can believe the Frieda Kahlo sympathizers.) I feel affronted by the audacity of graffiti artists.  Using any ethical standard I can draw upon, I find their behavior more than just unfortunate.  What am I missing?

Is there an implicit argument here that because this art is lower class art and it voices arguments that we may sympathize with, that the other implications of the medium can be shunted aside as epiphenomenal?

1. Should our attitude be different if the artist owned the property?

2. Should our attitude be different if the property was owned and in an out of the way space?

3. Do non-glib understandings of free speech law suggest that graffiti art is advancing civic dialogue? This last question has huge significance, but is, I think, an overly-relied on effort to justify doing what "I damn well wish to do, period."

AuthorM Neil Browne