mercoledì, giugno 30, 2004

Graffiti - art or vandalism?

A terrible thing has just happened in Venice. An idiot, presumably either trying to make a name for himself in the league of the brainless, or in desperate need of urgent medical care, attacked a couple of the sculptures on the facade of the Redentore church in the very heart of Venice with a hammer. A hammer, for goodness sake. This idiot broke off the hands of St Francis, shattering them into hundreds of pieces, going on then to smash one of the hands from the statue of St Mark the Evangelist. But, that wasn't the end of it. The moronic vandal then moved on to the Doge's Palace in Piazza San Marco, attacking the capital to the right of the Porta della Carta, opposite the statues of the tetrarchs of Constantinople. God is no longer giving Moses the Tables of the Law, which have been smashed into 17 separate pieces by a vandal's hammer.

It isn't the first act of violence against a work of art - and, unfortunately, it surely won't be the last either. Nothing is safe from these kind of attacks as was shown back in 1992 when the frustrated painter, Piero Cannata, took a hammer to the foot of Michelangelo's David in Florence, causing damage which has only recently been fully repaired. Interestingly, Piero Cannata is now out of prison and acting as a tourist guide in Florence. Showing visiting 'culture vultures' the best of the city's works of art - including David!

Why is there so much vandalism to art and other property though? Here in Milano there is so much graffiti that one hardly notices any of it after a while - not the effect that any budding graffiti artist is seeking, surely? Or should we be classing graffiti as the same thing as vandalism any way? Perhaps it really is just an expression of one's artistic inner-self seeking release?

Certainly, graffiti has been with us for a very long time. I remember being interested in the graffiti on some of the Egyptian temples around Aswan that had been left by the occupying Roman soldiers some 2000 years ago (as well as examples from almost every occupying force since that time). I wasn't particulary upset by it, although surprised by its existence and it was actually presented by the guidebook as a social comment of the time. Amazingly, the graffiti itself was pretty indistinguishable from that we see now - a variation on the "Kilroy was here" type of thing - or, more accurately, "the head of the guard is a tosspot"!

Of course, we have to consider what graffiti actually is though, surely? Does it have any artistic merit - or is it just simply vandalism that should be prevented. The problem is that graffiti as we now know it is not a social comment at all - it is simply a cry for attention by the 'artist' - a proof of arrogance and bravery, perhaps. Most of the graffiti one sees here in Milano is barely more than an ugly daub of paint on the wall of a 14th century palace - a smear of black or silver paint on a beautiful renaissance building. Is this really graffiti at all? Wouldn't it be better to consider it as simple defacement of property? There are a large number of websites proclaiming the 'cool' nature of graffiti - with groups of graffiti painters calling themselves "crews" - after their American idols. But, the actual graffiti that is on every available piece of wall here in Milano is not a statement of ideal - not a cry of artistic passion - not the voice of thwarted political dreams. It is simply an ignorant squirt of paint that has no more purpose than to deface and destroy. To try to draw a parallel with any form of artistic expression is giving it credit for being created with a thought behind it other than simply that of defacement of one's own society, one's own 'family'.