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LETTERS TO THE TIMES

Graffiti Isn't Beautiful

August 30, 2003

Re "Graffiti Gets Philosophical," Commentary, Aug. 25: Crispin Sartwell misses one very important point in his commentary on graffiti. The distinction between advertising and graffiti may indeed be money, but graffiti is vandalism because it exists without the consent of the owner. The advertiser pays the owner to rent the billboard. If Sartwell owns a billboard or a building or even a fence, he is welcome to allow or solicit graffiti. But if they deface a building where I live or work, I don't care what the philosophy is, I don't care how appealing Sartwell may find it, if it is done without the permission of the owner it is a crime.

As for graffiti being "content," I might remind Sartwell that, on TV, we tune in to a show and get the ads as the price of the content. I do not drive around the neighborhood to see the graffiti. Graffiti is a symptom of decaying neighborhoods and societies in decline. Sartwell needn't be trying to make us think it is beautiful.

Neil Barembaum

Burbank

*

I don't much like advertising. Or, necessarily, the large entities that pay for it. It is increasingly manipulative, deceptive and distasteful even as it is legal, bought and paid for. However, the reason graffiti is illegal is not because it is "the public expression of people who are more or less broke." It is because it is expression on private property without permission.

Sartwell says that "we ought to feel free to deface these messages, critique them and replace them with our own." I agree, to a point: Feel free but take responsibility for your actions. Graffitist Ron English has faced arrest. Good. Does he also pay for cleanup and restoration?

And, who's to say that any graffiti is not as offensive as the advertising it mocks or defaces? Certainly, don't buy the product or service advertised if you want to send a message. Write a letter, start a boycott campaign. But if you want to broadcast your message on the back of some capitalist, be prepared to pay the price. Even if done in broad daylight, I suggest that graffitists be so kind as to sign their names and addresses so we know who's expressing him/herself.

Dan Brumer

Encino

*

By what tortured logic does Sartwell conclude that it's OK to deface billboards because they're "occupying public space"? Does he mean that any surface visible from public space is fair game for graffiti? The outside of a home? A church? The back of your shirt? By this logic, some enterprising artist could exercise his right to free expression by painting a giant dunce cap on Sartwell's car -- something I oppose, no matter how fitting it might be.

Ross Brown

Westlake Village

*

Boy, has Sartwell got the nuts and bolts in the wrong place. He should take a drive down the streets of East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights if he thinks graffiti is art. Then he can hire away all the graffiti artists who deface property here in California -- which cost the state millions to remove. This so-called art defaces freeway sound walls, freeway signs, railroad boxcars, personal property, even bobtail trucks, you name it.

You still think it's art, Mr. Sartwell? You can have it all. Hire them and then you wouldn't need to work so hard at teaching philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art. You could kick back and count your millions -- that you saved the state of California from having to cover up.

Victoria Bailer Torres

Los Angeles

*

In spite of my liberal leanings, I found Sartwell's commentary to be idiotic. He praises graffiti to be "art as vandalism" and "a pure mode of self-expression," while he condemns commercial advertising. The tagging that I see is not art, it is advertising. The advertisement goes like this: "My gang runs this street. We sell our drugs here, and anyone encroaching on our territory is going to be killed." Taggers and shooters enable and enforce the drug trade and gang violence. I don't consider it to be art.

Richard Gillock

Costa Mesa

*

Sartwell and his taggers are here to save us from the corrupting influence of the advertisers. Graffiti, according to Sartwell, helps us think and see things properly. Among my modest accomplishments are two advanced degrees. I don't have any trouble thinking, critically or otherwise. And if I did, I'd consult the psychology department, not the departments of philosophy or art.

J.A. Nylander

Claremont

*

Maybe I could buy it that graffiti on advertisements was "a pure mode of self-expression" if it existed only on those surfaces. But it doesn't. Graffiti is on houses, fences and, most embarrassingly, on the murals meant to improve this city. Billboards may be eyesores, but graffiti in all its forms is nothing more than an infringement on the self-expression of others.

Kevin Batton

Los Angeles

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