November 27, 2005

The “Glories” of Graffiti, or Artaud and Arrest

Well, The New York Times is at it again. It seems as if the solidly upper-middle class Arts section editors simply can’t get their fill of encouraging antisocial behavior among the disadvantaged. As they toil away in their bourgeois offices, they pine to foment troubles for underprivileged youth.

The latest case in point: “Be Sure to Read the Handwriting on the Wall: Graffiti Artists Move Off the Street and to the Front of a Classroom,” an article in the November 24th number of the Gray Lady, penned by one Randy Kennedy. It’s not the first paean to illegal graffiti artists in the Paper of Record, but it’s deeply offensive nonetheless.

In the piece, the enraptured Mr. Kennedy describes the latest “educational effort” of Urban Academy, a “specialized high school” in Manhattan. Thanks to the selfless largess of art dealer Hugo Martinez, the Urban Academy has seen fit to bring graffiti specialists into its classrooms, allowing the students to get some primo lessons in defacing property. To this end, the kiddies were treated to the aesthetic musings of one Tracy 168, whose own career at this selfsame high school is described as “a brief pit stop on the road to full-time delinquency.”

So, thought Mr. Martinez, what would be better for the “sometimes troubled students” at Urban Academy than some tips on defacing public property? Clearly, Mr. Martinez believes that the answer to this query is: Tips on defacing public property and fatuous cliché-ridden art school justifications of such activity as glorious artistic expression.

In fact, Mr. Martinez’s take on this nonsense is perfectly predictable. The goal, this chi-chi dimwit opines, is to “challenge even further the seemingly sacred character ascribed to art and to education.”

Oh, well, we get it now: It’s another tired retread of the “What Is Art” question. That would be really interesting, if artists hadn’t begun asking that since Marcel Duchamp did so in 1911. When is this query going to become tiresome? We get it, we get it: Anything can be art. But that doesn’t mean anything is good art.

Mr. Martinez continues: “[M]uch of the great art of the 20th century has flirted with illegality, with attacking authority.” Now, let’s assume that Mr. Martinez’s rather sweeping claim holds true. Can’t it also be said that much of the lousy art of the 20th century has flirted with illegality, with attacking authority?

And this leads us to a more substantive point. Isn’t it a bit foolish to champion assaults on authority figures among “sometimes troubled students”? Aren’t such pupils more than likely to have exacerbated their difficulties by means of their own less-than-reverential response to authority? Why don’t we force Mr. Martinez to teach a class full of these delightful “troubled students”? Perhaps he’ll enjoy being pistol-whipped whilst he tries to call the roll. After all, isn’t that the kind of behavior befitting great artists?

Naturally, dear reader, the Times offers a glowing review of such “daring” educational activities. As Herb Mack, Urban Academy’s moronic principal, bellowed regarding the program: “It’s enriching for the kids to be able to see legitimate artists at work and to critique it.”

Ah, yes: Inspiring artists such as CoCo 144, another member of this wondrous class project. Perhaps Mr. Mack has seen CoCo’s oeuvre on buildings around the neighborhood. Perhaps CoCo could do Mr. Mack a favor and spray-paint his house for him. This would allow Mr. Mack to “critique” this “legitimate artist’s” work everyday. And this would also allow Mr. Mack to boast that he has used his post to encourage dastardly behavior both at home and at school.

Way to keep the disadvantaged down, Messrs. Martinez and Mack! Perhaps these students will soon repay you with their lifelong membership in the underclass.

Posted at November 27, 2005 12:01 AM | TrackBack