For the last couple of weeks, kids have been everywhere. The woodland I work on has been practically lousy with them. Easter holidays, you see. They have been released on mass from the penitentiary-esque confines of the educational system to clutter up the place and generally get under the feet of their elders and betters. Not that I’m against this kind of thing, me being a keen advocate of getting the youth of today out in the countryside and inflicting nature on them.
This has been coupled with a noticeable rise in the levels of graffiti on the reserves and greenspaces in my area. Now, I’d normally baulk at drawing such a direct line between correlation and causation, but in this case, given some of the dubious spelling involved and generally poor penmanship, I’ll make an exception. It was interesting then, to come across a well-argued if slightly lofty piece on the general harmlessness of graffiti in urban greenspace. Coming fresh off the back of a week spent splattered with brown paint from covering up large purple phalluses scrawled across veteran trees, I thought it necessary to offer a response from the coal-face.
There are many, many, many…many things I could better employ my time doing than removing graffiti from trees. So as I try to scrub the ‘Scorched Earth Brown’ from beneath my fingernails, it’s not surprising that I might muse ‘why not just leave it?’ I can see the point, too. Sometimes graffiti can be colourful, interesting and beautiful. Just ask Banksy:
“Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet.”
Except it wouldn’t be a utopia, Banksy. It wouldn’t be a colourful place full of imaginative works of art to captivate the eye. What it would be is a landscape full of six-foot high penises, tags, exhortations to ‘Fuck da Police’, or warnings that ‘Neil is a Pedo’. When we talk about graffiti, just because we append the suffix ‘artist’ in the description, doesn’t necessarily follow that you’re going to get works of art. To use a completely one-sided statistic, 100% of the graffiti I’ve dealt with this week has fallen into one of the above categories. And it’s been on trees.
Ah…but I’m being subjective, aren’t I? What’s offensive and ugly to me, might be attractive to others. Who am I to argue with penises?* Surely they are art, are they not? Certainly, the Greeks were very fond of them. If an ugly, gravelly wall is a suitable canvas to be brightened by a colourful and perhaps socially aware mural, then why can’t an old, gnarly tree be improved with a giant, purple penis? It’s all subjective, of course. And that’s the problem when you start making arguments about subjectivity. No one can say ‘no’.
The original argument in Tales of the City was about a colourful picture on an old concrete wall. But where colourful, unasked for artwork begins, giant purple phalluses often follow. If the interesting but unexpected artwork on the concrete wall is allowed, then how can we draw the line at the obscenity on the veteran Oak? some people don’t find old, gnarly trees that aesthetically pleasing, and the graffiti doesn’t particularly do any harm to the tree – so why not? I could bring out the old ‘broken window’ theory here, but I think you get the gist.
*Another one to add to the collection; ‘sentences I never thought I’d write.’