The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
I'm a total hippy at heart; so was overjoyed to meet the talented, art graduate Dave Nevard a few weeks ago. According to his flickr profile, he wants his art 'to affirm and celebrate life, beauty, justice, truth, love, peace and humility' Right on, bro! I like people who actually believe that art really can change the world.
He was telling me his plans to create some street art on the side of the disused pub opposite the Selfridges building; which sounded amazing. But being the right-on good boy that he is, he wanted to clear it with the council/owners/whichever relevant authority before going about plastering his creation all over the walls.
His plans have not materialised yet. I can only assume that the powers that be forbade it; sadly. Which made me think about the moral/legal stance of street art. Now this isn't going to be a rant against the council/property developers/the law or blinkered approaches to 'urban art'. I realise that if everyone went around spraying whatever they wanted everywhere the whole place would look a mess. Unless, that is, we were all as talented as Dave. Which is kind of the problem - you can't just make 'good' graffiti legal and 'bad' graffiti illegal; not least because who exactly would get to decide what's 'good' and what's 'bad'?
The 'good'ness or 'bad'ness question is, as I discovered, even more complicated than just what the 'urban decoration' is (or what it looks like) but also encompasses all the other 'w's: why it's done, who's done it, and the where.
In Dave's case, the 'why' is a good cause. As a practising Christian, there's a strong humanitarian, ethical side to his work (see his work with the homeless, also in China & Amsterdam). This, to me, seems 'good'.
Another spiritual street artist is the award-winning Mohammed Ali; who incorporates Islamic script into his graffiti and has an ethos of peace and unity. Again - surely this is a 'good' message to spread?* Ali has also achieved a degree of recognition: The South Bank Show award has set upon him the seal of acceptability. Perhaps he would have been allowed to decorate the aforementioned pub frontage? This is purely speculative, but being accepted into the mainstream does lend a certain 'good'ness or credibility to your work.
Which brings me to the 'who' element.
Welsh artist Michael Bosanko has recently been causing an excited stir with his fantastic 'light graffiti'. Of course, there is no actual defacement here; it's all effects. In fact, it's not really graffiti. It's art. Why? Because Michael Bosanko is an artist, not a vandal. So is something 'good' because of the deliverer's status as a person?
The difficulty here is of course the fact that the lines are blurred between vandalism, graffiti and street art. When does something stop being vandalism and become 'art'? When it's really good? Does talent transcend the law?
Or is it to do with where it is, rather than what it is or who it's by? There are 'managed zones' for graffiti in Kings Heath and Selly Oak, for example. This makes sense; but a) have to be properly run (as Cllr Mullaney found out) and b) also slightly defeat the purpose of street art. Part of the joy of graffiti is the fact that it plays outside of the landscape rules. I kind of like the fact that some people look at a boring brick wall and think 'that's a canvas'. There's a colourful anarchy that I enjoy; unexpected things in unexpected places.
I simply like graffiti, actually. I think that our cities need a bit more of those elements inherent in street art/graffiti: colour, personality and humour. However, choosing who should do this, as well as what, why and where is far, far more complicated...
* Of course, not all ethical urban art is religiously based, see JR's amazing work, for example.