Saturday, September 13, 2014

Better than Europe

I have been to a few cities in Europe, mostly the fancy, famous ones, so there's that advantage in its favor. Going to the European equivalent of Dubuque might have given me a different, harsher sense of Europe. Also I was on vacation, something that makes a person temporarily richer and happier and more magnanimous in viewpoint. But even handicapping for all that, these European cities seemed, well, markedly better than our American cities. They had consistently better food, better art, better coffee, better architecture, less crime, less chains, better transit, and even a better sport, one that normal sized people could play competitively. Indeed it would have been a complete washout for the American Cities side of things but for our one, overwhelming superiority.


The vast majority of graffiti I have seen in Europe is exactly of the nature one is supposed to think of in relation to graffiti, vast swaths of ugly vandalism, artless, full of easy hatred and pointless youth. People, with spray paint and a peculiar immunity to their own greatness, for some mysterious reason, have gone and written pointless things in artless ways all over, say, Rome, for instance. It is precisely this kind of graffiti that has caused cities and states across the world to develop draconian laws against it.

Indeed, this is such a powerful image of graffiti, an image of malicious pointlessness, that it can be hard to see what is happening in many American cities, particularly my own. 

We live in a graffiti paradise.

There, under the Franklin Avenue bridge that I cross on bike three times a week, are two new accomplished graffiti pieces. I don't know what they say, but, like the great preponderance of graffiti I run into, their expertise is utterly unmistakable. Full of 3D effects and complicated color and compositional invention, here is a sophistication of design and execution of complete reliability. No human on earth could begin to do such a thing without practice and vision and dedication. Even the second rate of these graffiti productions are a delight to me.

The Minnesota State Fair has a large and very competitive art show every year. I saw it. Sometimes this show is pretty good. This year it suffered from really horrible judges and was not very good. But either way, there are all these paintings and sculptures and drawings on the walls, and there are tens of thousands of viewers pouring through, judging, respectful, looking at all the art. Everyone in the show seems so earnestly professional, charging $1200 for their digital photographs and $2,000 for their watercolors, dreaming some famous artist dream. And, okay, good luck to them. But outside, in train yards, high on walls, hanging over the Mississippi bluffs, are complex confections of letter art and visual design, done at speed and without a hope of remuneration. People painting fine things without permission or sanction, all out of cans, all as if to say "Fuck you. I will show you something wonderful and complicated and full of skill and danger and you will think it's vandalism. You will arrest me if you can catch me. You will arrest me for art."

I just wanted to say I like that. Wild art in America. Apparently, sometimes, we do that pretty good around here.


  1. here in my town there's a group that sews pretty patterns of wool thread around stop sign posts and other posts. It's fun to see. I imagine they must first sew and then stealthily on a new moon night wrap and attach the patterns.

    1. Oh my god! Yes, I was even thinking of posting about this. The cultural term for this that you describe in your town is Yarn Bombing. Your town is being yarn bombed! Guess what? My library has been yarn bombed too. So polite, they got permission before they did it. At first I wasn't super impressed because I was just seeing a bit of it as I'm only on one side of the entrance and one side of the building when I'm outside, but yesterday I had cause to walk by the whole thing and thought it was wonderful, lots of wrapped trees and posts, whimsically colorful, a great counterpoint to our silver spaceship constructivist library.

  2. What a fine blog post today! Again! I'd like to post it up on FB without permission but am not sure how. Any advice?

    1. Um, not sure if you are kidding. You can post it on FB by putting a link, you know, like, copy the url for the post and paste it into your FB post, then FB will know it's a link and do all kinds of things in your posting whether you want it to or not.

      The funny thing about you liking this post is that in thinking about it I was thinking about telling my own stories of graffiti, which I may do later, and about the Sonoma State barcode thing we did, (and how much I regretted going out of bounds on that. You got rather justly mad. So, I'm sorry).

      That was a pretty good one though.Yeah, I think I'll tell that story sometime here.

  3. I got angry with you for going out of bounds on a graffiti bombing raid? Gawd kid, then i was some prissy thing and must apologize.
    Yes, I will figure out how 2 appropriate this post. Thanx!


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