Graffiti Art and Repentance

Greener Trees Reads was born when a few friends, after attending Hutchmoot 2011, wanted to dig deeper into The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers. We found that reading together helped us: 1) Read more carefully 2) View the text from different perspectives (therefore seeing them more fully) 3) Get to know one another along the way (an accidental, but wonderful, byproduct). This fall, we’ll be reading, discussing, and writing in response to Breath for the Bones by Luci Shaw. You are cordially invited to join us. For those who won’t be reading along, the plan is to pluck one idea from each week’s reading to share with you. Please consider the question(s) posed and share your response – we have much to learn from each other.

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Week 1: Graffiti Art and Repentance

In celebration of our 20th anniversary, my husband and I took a trip to New York City. It had been far too long since I’d visited the Big Apple, and I couldn’t wait. At the top of my “to-do” list for the weekend were: two Broadway shows, an exhibit on Children’s literature at the NYC Public Library, and a long, unhurried stroll through the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For the months prior, I had binged on books (and an occasional movie) about the life of Vincent Van Gogh and was giddy about spending some time with his work. It did not disappoint.

One afternoon, we had a few unscheduled hours before dinner. Since my husband had graciously allowed me to direct the agenda for the majority of our trip, I suggested that he decide what to do in that small slice of free time. After considering multiple options, he landed on visiting The Museum of the City of New York. Sounded great to me. Museum = art = culture. Yet upon arrival, I discovered that museum = graffiti. I paused, weighed my options, and muttered (internally), “I will humor him and endure.” I am a lover of art. Graffiti is an imitation at best.

After entering the museum, I glanced at the first exhibit – and promptly dismissed the “art and artists” represented. Silently, I was pining away for the unfortunate loss of the next few valuable hours. Yet as we meandered through the exhibits, something inside me shifted. My pace slowed. I became more curious and less dismissive. As I read the stories of the featured graffiti artists, as I looked closely at the detailed renderings in their sketchbooks, and as I stood under the massive sections of their intricate work, what I had deemed chaotic I saw as beautiful. The surging symphony of color and line played a melody I’d never heard before. Each display sang the unique song of its artist’s life and experience. In dismissing the graffiti art as less than “real art”, I had been dismissing an entire culture (and its expression) as less valid than my own.

city_as_canvas2

Less than an hour later, I left the museum having grown – if even just a bit – in compassion. If I could so unwittingly devalue an entire culture, then how frequently do I make the same mistake with individual people? I make assumptions. I dismiss. I devalue. All in the blink of an eye. A crash course on the history of graffiti art in New York softened my heart.

Makoto Fujimura talks about being willing to “stand under art – not over it.” If we’re willing to be curious, to be expectant – to come as a little child – when approaching art, we are given the divine privilege of tasting another’s experience of life. In turn, our hearts are stretched to grow in understanding, compassion, or gratefulness. We become more human.

Poetry, and any art, says something in a way that nothing else can, and that something that art says is so qualitatively different that it demands a radically different expression. Where linear, logical thinking may produce prose with a specific function – information or historical record or critical analysis or instruction – art selects and reflects on a small slice of human experience and lays it out there, a gift to anyone who is willing to savor it and enter into the artist’s experience even in a minimal way. . . It is my soul crying out to your soul: This is what I see and how I feel. Can you see it? Can you feel it too? ( p.4)

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When has a work of art (poetry, painting, music, dance – or even graffiti) impacted you?

How were you changed as a result?

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If you’d like to read with us, you can order Breath for Bones at the Rabbit Room. The reading schedule is as follows (but may possibly and will most probably shift):

Sept 1: Intro, Chp 1-2
Sept 8: Chp 3-5
Sept 15: Chp 6-7
Sept 22: Chp 8-10
Sept 29: Chp 11-12



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12 thoughts on “Graffiti Art and Repentance

  1. This really ties well to Luci Shaw’s description of what art is and why it matters. Poetry, graffiti… all of it is one soul crying to another.

    Art has impacted me in too many ways to pick one, but I can kind of relate to your story, because that’s pretty much how I’ve felt about hip-hop music. 🙂 Once a smart friend who loves it suggested I give Kanye West’s “808s and Heartbreak” a chance.

    Okay, so it was more like “hip-hop lite,” but I was surprised by the depth and pain and even beauty in some of his songs. It’s still not my favorite genre, but I think, like you in the graffiti museum, I understand things a little bit better.

    Great post! 🙂

    • Jen – “Hip-hop lite” made me laugh. And was a bit convicting (again). It’s so much easier to dismiss than to “come like a little child”, isn’t it? But I want to be the little child. Thanks for your words.

      • Oh, I do too. Guess it’s hard to come “like a little child” when we’re already locked into what we know. I want to take chances like that more often.

  2. Yes, this reminded me of my thoughts on tattoos that were brought to mind: “The decoration of human dwellings, artifacts, and bodies…”. Personally, I’ve never cared for them….I prefer the human body as is, adorned with temporary garments and removable baubles, but naked without adornment. But on further reflection, if I sat down in a cafe and someone told me the story of their inked talisman or life-logo, I might come to find it almost as beautiful as the bearer of it. How much we may miss if we fail to open our hearts and minds to the different and unusual.

  3. Julie,

    I appreciate your willingness to be so transparent. I have long been an admirer of graffiti (though my husband is always trying to remind me of the owner of the property that’s being “defaced”), I love coming across a large mural or even the haphazard tag. Maybe you’d like to watch a documentary I enjoyed about street art? “Exit Through the Gift Shop” prompted much thought as well as appreciation for the genre which often includes graffiti.

    I read Breath for Bones a few years ago, maybe I’ll jump back in with you all now that I have a satellite internet connection out in my remote corner of farmland.

    Miss you,

    Emily

    • Emily – Thank you! You’ve made me feel less insecure about my “graffiti appreciation” 🙂

      I’d love to have your voice back in the discussion – glad to hear that improved access of technology may make that possible!

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  5. Great example, Julie. There was a time not too long ago that I had that view towards modern, abstract art in general — and I would have missed out on Makoto’s beautiful gift if I hadn’t changed my course.

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