I Heart Street Art: Is It Art Or Is It Vandalism?

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So the minute I got this gig writing I Heart Street Art, the SFPD announced a major crackdown on graffiti, and suddenly everybody's asking me for the answer to the eternal question: How do you reconcile your appreciation for street art with the fact that it is vandalism?

In the back of my mind, I guess I've always thought it had something to do with level of creativity. If somebody goes to the trouble of inventing a cute character like Girafa, and depicting the character in a variety of clever incarnations, surely they're an artist. If somebody scrawls some haphazard junk on a door, it's vandalism.

I think that's mostly true, except when it's not. On Saturday I came across this PE tag on Mission Street. Normally I'd walk right past something like this, but it pulled me in. Its lines are confident, its composition is just right, its placement on the door is perfecto, and that the writer turned the E into a descender is quite compelling. I like it. I like it a lot.

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But it also sucks that some poor property owner is going to have to clean it up or face fines. And that part sucks whether it's PE or Girafa or an enchanting miniature installation. So what do I do? By spotlighting this stuff and calling it art, am I being irresponsible, contributing to the decline of society?  

Last night I attended Art in the Public Realm, a panel discussion presented by SPUR's Young Urbanists program. On the panel was a street artist named Roman who leads graffiti workshops at local gallery 1AM. At one point, an audience member broke in to lament that over the last year and a half, "$80 million" worth of "bronzes" and other city-sanctioned works of public art had been defaced by vandals here in San Francisco. Roman agreed that this was a shame, and swore he himself would never do such a thing, but added with a shrug, "Nothing lasts forever."

And he's right. Be it a million-dollar bronze, a labored-over mural, a door, a tag, a police crackdown, The San Francisco Chronicle, or I Heart Street Art, nothing lasts forever. So buckle up and enjoy the ride.  

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Photography by Lael K. Goodman.

Thanks to Megan Wade for hipping me to this event.

Thanks to David Cole for teaching me the word "descender."

Be sure to check out SPUR's next Young Urbanists panel, Blogging in the City, featuring representatives from three of my favorite local blogs, Mission Loc@l, Streetsblog, and WHATIMSEEING dot com.

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