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.