This week’s graffiti is a reader submission from Michelle whose blog Still Not A Journal is fantastic and hilarious and great for those of us who’ve never been to the Southern hemisphere but hope someday to see Australia in all its deadly* glory.
What’s fascinating about these graffiti examples, though, is that they wouldn’t be out of place in any major city in the United States. Or Canada, or probably Europe. They raise an interesting question. What is it that makes so much graffiti aesthetically similar? Part of it is probably pragmatism—taggers have to work fast, which makes the size and multiple colors in these works even more amazing. Another aspect, though, is that I think—and I’m going out on a very narrow limb here—there’s a great deal of influence from the “New York look”. For a variety of reasons graffiti exploded across New York and other urban centers in the 1970’s, and while many regarded it as a public nuisance it was also considered by some to be a new art form. It helped, I think, that New York became a major world art center—arguably even the world art center—in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
This could, in part, be traced back to The Great Depression. The Works Progress Administration, started in 1935, hired artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem De Kooning, who would go on to found the Abstract Expressionist movement, centered in New York, and while the Pop Art movement of the 1960’s had partial origins in London its biggest successes would come out of New York—specifically Warhol’s Factory. And while graffiti was an art movement that started on the streets some of its practitioners—such as Basquiat, who’d work with Warhol, and Keith Haring–would move into studios and galleries.
So there’s a thumbnail version of about half a century of art history with the point that a lot of graffiti conforms to a specific aesthetic that may have started in one part of the world but has spread all over. And a shared “look” is a way artists compliment—and complement—each other. Every work of art is an individual expression but it’s also a collection of influences. Art is never created in a vacuum and, if it’s placed in a public place it’s meant to be enjoyed by a wide audience, and speak to a wide audience.
There’s the old saying that all politics is local. Grammatically speaking that should probably be all politics are local, but that’s another story. All art is also local too—but, just like with politics, what catches on in one part of the world can have profound implications for the rest of the world.
*Great whites, jellyfish, spiders that scare even me, unrelenting desert, dingoes, Vegemite—Australia is a continent that takes Nietzsche’s principle of “That which does not kill me makes me stronger” and is determined to make the strongest people on the planet.
And, hey, seen any graffiti? Send your pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org.