Graffiti is a funny thing. It’s both a celebrated art form and public vandalism; both beautiful creation and an eyesore. And there’s a fine line separating the dichotomy.
It seems that for some time there’s been a tradition at North Reading High School: the senior class students paint their “tags” on the driveway leading past the Batchelder School and into the student parking lot. Some of the tags were very creative and well executed. They’d often be done in multiple colors – sometimes with a combination of spray paint and house paint and maybe some other paints. Many would be accompanied by an athlete’s uniform number or some other indication of pride in their high school accomplishments. Few, if any, tried to actually hide the identity of the perpetrator.
I found this sort of graffiti to fall on the “art” side of the spectrum. I imagined the students actually planning out how they might want their logo to look, scheming to obtain the proper paints – maybe even with help from their parents, and then sneaking out on an appointed night to execute their masterpieces, standing back to admire the subtleties as they fine-tuned their works. Sure it was lowly road drawing, but it had more value than that – there was pride involved. There was no vulgar language or references to inappropriate behavior and, perhaps because of this, the practice seemed to be “tolerated,” or at least allowed to remain in place, by the school and town authorities.
More recently, I’ve been over at the student parking lot waiting for my two sons to get out of fall soccer practices. They usually run late so I’ve had a bit of time to contemplate my navel and stroll the parking lot observing the “artwork” most recently applied there.
I found at least two aspects of this most recent work rather disturbing. First, it’s been applied in single line spray paint. No thought went into colors – mostly red and yellow rather than the obligatory Green and Gold. It leads me to believe that convenience outweighed artistic integrity and that the “artists” grabbed the first spray cans they could find rather than making any sort of intelligent selection. They red and yellow stripes look more like construction markings than any sort of true art.
The second aspect, that really gets me, is the content of the inscriptions. The self-implicating names and signs of achievement have been replaced by generic slogans and boasts like “Welcome to the 4-year party,” “The Punx,” ”Smoke Weed,” or “Welcome to the highlife in suburbia.” There’s no creativity here – just mindless rehashing of teenage catchphrases. At least one inscription, strategically located at the foot of the stairs, has been obscured with black paint to cover its presumably offensive message.
Back in World War II, the Kilroy Was Here inscription inspired legends and reassured the GIs. It was simple, drawn in basic lines, but it had some substance and a message. It was graffiti with a cause, executed for good, not evil. It came to mean enough that it’s inscribed on the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC.
And maybe there’s the rub. Maybe the real difference is the motivation. The artist hears their muse calling them to express their pride of individuality while the miscreant seeks only the valueless scratching of marks and the momentary thrill of eluding authority.
I’m sorry that what I’m sure is a small minority of vandals chose to deface the pavement of the student parking lot – the same pavement that has been honored in years past by countless student painters. I hope that whatever pigment is next splattered across the parking lot adorns a much more artistic endeavor!