“People respond to art with their minds, heart, and guts; you shouldn’t need a degree in art history to do that, and for true great art, that works,” explains Julian Freeman in the Introduction to his book, Art; A crash course. The box of “art” is constantly changing, expanding, and pushing boundaries of thought and social conscience. Art surrounds us, often subliminally, like the Brillo box immortalized by Andy Warhol. Art canvasses are, and always have been, far more than a piece of cloth or papyrus. Art began with mankind’s early scratchings and etchings in caves and on rocks.
The human body is a canvass for art; the clothing we drape ourselves with is and displays art; practically everything tangible we have ever purchased has some element of art built into it or attached to it. Large sums of money give birth to murals that transform mundane blank spaces on walls and buildings into art. So, why is it that so many of us shout and moan over graffiti?
We associate graffiti with the arrogance and destructiveness of untamed youth. And sometimes it is that. There is nothing more maddening that finding a piece of history or another beautiful work of art that has been destroyed by some thoughtless idiot with a pen knife or a spray can. But not all graffiti is destructive and much of it is quite beautiful and even more of it is laden with social commentary and genuine emotion. Graffiti is one way for disenfranchised people to shout out to the world: I am! I exist! I think! I feel! I hurt! I’m hungry! I’m angry!
Though he was not thinking in this context, photo journalist, Otto von Münchow points out:
Creativity is an act of defiance. You are challenging status quo. You are questioning accepted truth and principles. As a creator yourself, you are asking three universal questions that mock the conventional wisdom: «Why do I have to obey rules?» «Why can’t I be different?» «Why can’t I do it my way?» These are the impulses that guide all creative people whether they admit it or not. Every act of creation is also an act of destruction and abandonment. Something has to be cast aside to make way for the new.
What better canvass for creative expression than an abandoned factory? In 1916, the Acme Cement Plaster Company built a plant in Lime, Oregon. It went through several iterations until 1979 when Oregon Portland Cement Company moved operations up the road a few miles to a new plant. As the old plant slowly succumbs to weather and gravity, graffiti artists arrive from God knows where to spray their hearts out with impunity. Does anger, pain and defiance drive creativity? Or does creativity require defiance and destruction? As Julian Freeman says, “Art was made by real people.” And I would add, art is for real people—and oh my, maybe even real critters.