The issue Ms. Armstrong raises in her most recent column is interesting [June 3]. Basically we’ve got an artist being paid to do an ad on the side of a building, a building owner being paid for the space, and an advertiser who’s advertising. Pretty standard. What gets tricky is that the ad is in the form of graffiti art, making it appear to be just some graffiti, rather than a standard ad or billboard. It’s a new disguise for advertising.
On one hand, legally, Ed was probably “wrong” to paint over the mural. Some thoughts on that are: private property, contract for space, free speech. And I’m not familiar enough with the whole clean-up-graffiti-in-the-neighborhood program to know how that would serve as a reasonable justification. It is true that one has to feel a bit bad for the guy hired to paint the mural/ad. In fact, I saw him out there again today repainting it in the 90-degree heat of the day. Ugh (he’s probably getting paid though). But is it “art”? Broadly defined, maybe. Art for hire.
I suppose that companies have used music and visual art (in various ways) to sell for a long, long time. But this seems like another step, a little trickier, shadier, cheaper. The fact that in this particular instance the art form is graffiti just adds to that. Graffiti artists and taggers, from what I’ve seen, are rarely working for the man. They probably aren’t shocked when other artists come along and tag over or paint over their graffiti either.
I hope that the “urban youth” market they seem to be targeting will see through all of this–I mean, when I first saw the ad/mural at Division and Hoyne I had that moment of “Hey, that’s new. What is that? That’s kinda cool (eyes scanning from right side of mural to left to bottom, left-hand corner). Oh, it’s a stupid advertisement for crappy cologne or some such thing, fake art. Ugh–of course.” But in general, lots of people/consumers are probably just stupid enough to fall for it. And there’s their target market. Another tiny step toward the commercialization of everything. Yet one more addition to the clutter that evidences big-business America’s never ending, capitalistic, moneygrubbing drive to sell, sell, sell.
So was it “right” for Ed to paint over the mural? I’m not sure about “right,” but I think it was a pretty cool, expressive, and provocative move. It was a statement. I think what Ed did with simple black paint was real art. After all, we’re all talking about it, aren’t we? And what does art do if not make us think?