|Graffiti makes its mark on campus and in community|
|Written by Tim Crisp, Daily Vidette Reporter|
|Wednesday, 18 February 2009 18:00|
Daily Vidette Reporter
The origins of graffiti date back to the Roman Empire. It has, for centuries, been seen as a form of public self-expression. It has also been seen as a blatant act of destruction worthy of punishment.
Not until fairly recently, however, has graffiti been viewed not just as an act of self-expression, but as a genuine form of artistic expression according to Barry Blinderman, the director of University Galleries.
"Literary attention started being paid to graffiti in the 1970's," Blinderman, ISU's resident graffiti expert, said.
The evolution of graffiti as art really took place in New York City in the 1970's and 1980's in what Blinderman called a "renaissance" for the art that coincided with the cultural rise of Andy Warhol, punk rock and hip-hop.
"The musicians and the poets and the painters and the dancers, it was like a renaissance and you always had a kinship," Blinderman said. "All of a sudden the street artists started hanging around with the art school people."
With this new kinship, graffiti artists such as Lee Quinones and Futura 2000 began collaborating with art-savvy figures like Keith Haring and Henry Chalfant. These efforts expanded the notion of graffiti as an accepted form of art.
"These guys were artists and people weren't letting them in the galleries, so they went out and did it themselves," Blinderman said. "Instead of you going to the museum, they were bringing the museum to you."
The newfound camaraderie between artists from the streets and the schools allowed for a development in graffiti's form. Cartoon graffiti developed as a mixture between elements of cartoon and Andy Warhol pop art.
Street murals and train graffiti became commonplace in urban areas while the New York City subway systems began to look more and more like a museum.
However, with the expansion of graffiti art in New York City came the natural reaction from the police force. Those caught doing graffiti were arrested and jailed, as they had always been, only this time the question now became whether or not graffiti should be accepted as a genuine form of artistic expression.
This debate is one that continues today even outside the urban setting in which it is more pertinent. While Normal may not be the cultural hotbed that New York City was in the '70's and '80's, graffiti is still an issue around the community according to Normal Police Department's Community Service Officer Brian Williams.
"Typically we see [graffiti] anywhere around campus," Williams said. "I think with the high density population of students, we see a lot more around campus."
"We also see some in areas around the northwest side of town, those are also areas with a higher density," Williams said.
The two areas of town represent two different sides to the graffiti debate: gangs and tagging.
"On the northwest side of town we do see some gang graffiti," Williams said. "Typically, around the college campus or in Uptown Normal what we see is more tagging where people are signing their nickname."
The subject of gang graffiti is one Blinderman, like most artists, will not support.
"I don't think gang graffiti is aesthetically oriented," Blinderman said. "I don't support it."
However with the subject of tagging, an act that takes more effort and puts more focus into aesthetics, comes the disparity between both spectrums of the graffiti argument.
"It looks a little more like art," Williams said. "Of course, we don't consider it art."
Despite his love for the art, Blinderman, like most who see graffiti as art, understands why it's seen as a public problem.
"It's vandalism, clear and simple, graffiti is vandalism," he said.
However, the two would also agree that the purpose behind graffiti is one that cannot be whitewashed.
"The impulse remains and it will continue to remain." Blinderman said. "I think all graffiti is about establishing that you are there, it's about establishing your position, it's about establishing your existence, it's about establishing your presence."
"Some will call it art, some won't, it's a matter of context," he added.