Graffiti art legitimate

Story by Thom Fountain

About a week ago, UW-Stout sophomore Megan Wieczorek dedicated herself to a pretty intensive art project: she, with help from some friends, painted 300 red footprints all over the Menomonie campus to show that everyone makes an impact on their surroundings.

She was promptly fined $2000 by the university police for vandalism.

It seems that universities, particularly ones with such strong art departments like Stout, laud over their students’ talents and creativity. As soon as something starts to creep out of the gallery and out of the bureaucracy, it begins to be something more than art – it becomes crime.

I understand that there were probably some ways for Wieczorek to ask permission and fill out some forms and make a case to some board of suits and ties and then, in roughly 47 months, be able to legally paint on the sidewalks of her campus; but that’s not how art works.

The argument against graffiti is often that it can be unsightly and express opinions that the university, or any other institution it’s applied to, don’t necessarily agree with.

The idea that it’s unsightly is laughable at best, I feel. I don’t care how much fellatio and profanity I have to stare at; frankly, I feel it’s still going to be more interesting than the off-grey tone of your average sidewalk. The lucky thing is, most graffiti isn’t fellatio and profanity. In fact, it can produce some of the smartest, most forward thinking art of our generation.

This still leaves us with the complaint that it can go against the beliefs of an organization. This certainly can be true, but in the spirit of the First Amendment I think that’s just plain grand. Preachers stand on campus malls across America everyday (Brother Jed, anyone?) and say some things that would make ol’ Chancy Brian Leven-Stankevich blush. They’re protected, just like street art and graffiti should be. And truthfully, I find someone yelling at me a bit more offensive than something scrawled on a brick wall.

Graffiti art is such an intense form of expression that stifling it seems even more wrong. Not everyone can get a show in the Foster Gallery. Hell, not everyone can get a drawing hung up in those glass boxes in the library. But everyone can carve out a stencil, grab a can of spray paint and make their mark.

The best part about it? If you don’t like it, you can directly do something about it. You can grab your can of paint or paint-thinner and take care of business. Spray paint is only as permanent as your opposition wants it to be.

I understand that this column – and truthfully any kind of protests ­- are not going to abolish graffiti and vandalism laws from college campuses. What I hope, though, is that schools and communities realize the legitimacy of street art. When Wieczorek painted those footprints, she did it for a reason, and truthfully, she might have taught people something they wouldn’t have gotten in four years of classes.

When art projects extend to the streets and sidewalks they should be allowed to stand, and in my opinion even applauded.

The thing is, art is already all around us. So why fine people who just want to keep up that trend?