Is art ever dangerous? There are plenty of examples throughout history, right up to the present, of those who tried to limit various forms of expression, but only things which threatened their own power. Is their ever a case when we could say a work of art, by itself, actually hurt someone? Well, if a large statue fell on you that could cause some damage. Generally, though, suppressing expression seems to do more harm than allowing it. As John Milton argued in his 1644 Plea for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing,
Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.
What got me thinking about that is seeing graffiti on the back of interstate signs. It’s surprising and raises all kinds of questions like, how did they get up there? When did they do it? What prompted the artists responsible to pick that particular spot where it’s often kind of hard to see? Chances are if you do see it at all you’ll see it from the other lane or maybe in your rearview mirror. Interestingly they often seem to use block letters. Is that a purely aesthetic choice or is there something restrictive about the signs that makes block letters easier?
Here’s also an example of a group that tagged the front of a sign:
The pictures I’ve taken weren’t easy to get, and I wish they were higher quality. They were all taken while my wife was driving–for obvious reasons I’m not taking my hands off the wheel to take a picture. At least I hope the reasons are obvious. There are also a lot of examples I missed just because I don’t have my phone out all the time even when I’m not driving, and at highway speeds some of them tended to surprise me.
And that got me thinking about whether this really is dangerous art. I’ve been to some risky places to get pictures of graffiti, but never any place really dangerous, and I’ve never put anyone else in harm’s way. In a car traveling at high speed, though, any little distraction can throw off a driver. I wonder if the artists who created these works were risking more than just their own lives. Freedom of expression is a wonderful thing but it’s also a powerful thing and power should be used responsibly. Don’t drop a sculpture on someone.
My taxes paid for those signs and I don’t appreciate some scumbag vandalizing them because they’re attention whores and refuse to do their art on a canvas or piece of paper like a normal person.
Now you know how I really feel 😉
I too have wondered how those people get up there. Do they park a big truck on the highway and put up a ladder or climb up the side and sidle along or what? And our roads stay busy enough that I don’t see how it happens without them being seen. As for the block lettering, I’d always assumed it was because of the corrugation on the back of the signs made that the easiest to use and to read.
I never thought about the distraction factor though. I’ll be pondering that for a bit.
Yeah, in addition to endangering themselves I think the people who put their graffiti on the back of highway signs are endangering others too. Of course that could also apply to billboards, and I’ve certainly seen some billboards that were distracting enough to cause accidents.
My ex would climb on roofs of buildings at night to do his graffiti. He would tell me it was legal. He also would put his stickers on street signs; always having to take pictures afterwards. I would usually stay far away when he did that.
Staying far away when he was doing his graffiti was a good idea, but at least he left some way to be identified.
How in the heck do they get up there?
That’s a question I’m still wondering about. I can’t imagine getting a ladder onto the highway at any time of day being safe, and from the look of some of that graffiti they must take some time.
I would have loved to be a fly on the wall, or should I say on that sign, in order to witness first hand what kind of skill it took to get that graffiti done. ?
I wonder the same thing as everyone else–how do they get up there? There’s a hilarious episode of Corner Gas where the gang tries to solve the mystery of who graffittied the water tower–here’s the link! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ubr3eu3JhXM
Now this is annoying: the Corner Gas episode is blocked where I am “on copyright grounds”. Darn it, I’ve never heard of Corner Gas before and now I want to see it because it sounds hilarious.
Oh it is! It takes place in Saskatchewan and it’s one of the best Canadian shows ever—we have all the seasons on DVD!
I don’t know how you do it, Chris, but keep creating these amazing posts. Life would be more dangerous without them.
We all do the best we can and I’m glad you think I’m making the world a less dangerous place. Really my goal is just to make the world a little weirder.