Friday, July 30, 2010

Criminal Art

I contrast "criminal" vs "rebel" art. examples in graffiti, punk and hip hop

“Read” piece in Gowanus Broklyn – 1 block from my
studio – by graffiti artist Read, aka The booker, aka Bookman


Read’s socially conscious art
slowly being overwhelmed by “criminal” art, as I call it

I’ve always related to crime more than rebellion – in the art and iconography sense. This is not
really uncommon – like the Jesse James or Sopranos fetish. I also came from a 1980-ish high art concept, that relevant art had to be taboo. It had to be illegal in a sense – illegal in terms of civic law, like the street graffiti that I wrote, or morally illegal like the Richard Kern or Nick Zedd Cinema
of Transgression
I did say “high art”. “Illegal” art as I’m calling it, can be, or better still can become high art. But my premise here is that movements start low, not just artistically, but morally and even politically. I’m tossing “political” into the moral pot, because no matter how violent or seemingly taboo, when it’s political, it’s justifiable to a higher purpose - just how at many extreme and violent demonstrations, the moral purpose becomes
a powerful vehicle for the base violent instinct. It would be hard to imagine the same scale of destruction at the 1999 WTO demonstrations in Seattle, if the same action were conceived as crime for it’s own self-satisfying sake. But honestly, it’s indifferentiated anti-social confrontation, and only that,
that ever got me out of bed as a young self-described anarchist.

My 1st-hand experiences in budding artistic/social movements are graffiti, Punk Rock and Hip Hop. I was somewhat “about town” in New York City in the late 70′s and early 80′s.
I know that aside from purely political graffiti, the first throws of graffiti were “base”: self aggrandizement – “getting up”, with no possible defense of  “social consciousness”. Graffiti was as if
the signature, normally at the bottom of piece of art, is all that really mattered – blown up to a gigantic size – glorified in color and executed with skill and with the risk of arrest. Showing off basically. But progressively
this took on merit. And It could be justified. It was no longer fucking up public property for it’s own sake. Late 70′s graffiti rarely included any ostensibly important message.
Above is a photo of a recent street piece by Read (aka The Booker, aka Bookman) in Gowanus Brooklyn. This is an example of what graffiti has evolved into, not just for art galleries, but art that includes a social message. This is not the original context of hip graffiti. Bookman also does massive Open Your Eyes
pieces on the sides of buildings. [I enjoy the 2nd photo where Read's rebel art is slowly encroached upon by more "lowly" criminal art]

How about Punk Rock, or even just Rock, and Hip Hop ?
Many anthropologists have said that the taboo speech found in all cultures, finds it’s only socially  acceptable
venue in poetry or music – at least somewhat. Basically, if you want to fuck someone’s brains out, you better put it in rhyme. So that brings us to Punk Rock, and Hip Hop. That’s where they started.
THEN came the social consciousness – The Clash, Public Enemy.
Somehow early punks and rappers did seem a bit more dangerous. And they suddenly seem more responsible when they appear to care about humanity, when they take the “high” road in culture or politics
My final tangent: for those who support public funding for the arts – does that include the expression of the lowliest of the all-important primal expression about nothing more than fucking or breaking into cars?

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