Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Wow. They say it and spray it.

I was right in the middle of this story about commercialism vs art in the graffiti world when I got distracted by a Neiman Marcus sale ad. Anyway. I think there's some controversy about a new Sony campaign: "Among artists who risk arrest to put up paintings and posters...the co-opting of street art by corporate America is a touchy issue. Patrick McNeil, a member of a three-person street-art collective called Faile, accused Sony of 'trying to cash in on an art movement where they and the product they are selling don't belong' and derided Sony's painters as 'an army of pimped-out artists.'"

Gosh. Did he say "pimped-out?" That's an allegation people in advertising never hear. That stings!

Then there's this: "For New York-based street artist Michael De Feo, the PSP campaign seems to elicit a shrug. 'Who are we to say they can't do it?'....the worse crime in Sony's PSP ad campaign is a lack of originality. 'People seem to get all bent out of shape with campaigns like this, when the fact remains that most of the public has the ability to tell good art from bad.'"

I'd also argue that the public can tell art from horseshit. Is all graffitti -- the non-ad graffiti -- good? Is it good just because it's underground? Does the fact that you paid for your own spray-can make you good? Or witty? Or able to see vital social truths hidden from the masses? Is it possible that graffiti purism is just played out? After all, graffiti is now guilty of every sin normally associated with advertising: it's disruptive and obnoxious but so ubiquitous that it can be easily ignored. (Well, unless you use it to taunt the police.)

But the one thing graffiti isn't is subversive. Not when its defenders betray a mindset that can only be called Establishmentarian and when its leading figures have painstakingly cultivated their own worldwide fame. Somehow, I don't think Sony is the only problem here.

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