More Reflections


I am a Criminal
I noted previously that I had failed to capture what was once a vision, and that introducing what was meant to be a help, ended up being a distraction.

Isn’t that a perfect picture for so many things? Stop helping! No, that is obviously not the answer. But we can be more careful about helping, and make the necessary adjustment if the help has suddenly gone south.

Well, that’s not the point of this blog. This one is more of a confessional. I am a criminal. I’m not sure that it was a law that I broke or if it was just a policy with the force of a law. The point being is that I was aware that there was something on the books somewhere that stated that I was not to do what I did.

So, technically this was a case for civil disobedience. Now, as a concept I am generally for civil disobedience. There are times that bad laws constraint good behavior. There will be consequences but generally one must stand for truth and justice over process and law.

It gets a little murky when the issues are small and nearly inconsequential. Okay, what did I do? It was an act of creating unauthorized art on public property.

Let’s make it very simple, all public land is managed by some organized structure, either at the national, state or local agency. Anybody that uses public land must comply with the rules and regulations of the body that is entrusted to care for that land. The individual does not have ‘the right’ to reinterpret the rules to justify personal actions. And there is nothing more personal than the creation of art. So that should settle the issue, except that it doesn’t.

I taught art appreciation at the college level for several years, so this is not unfamiliar territory, and the argument continues today.

The first and most popular in the area of graffiti. Is it art or is it vandalism. It can be sad to be both. Certainly when done well, many people agree that it is art. Does that label then justify the vandalism that occurs when the paint is applied to public or private property? Some people will say that yes, as a cultural, we need to express our creativity, and the public needs to allow this expression. The fact that the deserted factory is a depressing eyesore does factor in. Wouldn’t someone rather have something pleasant to look at, instead of the rust and decay?

This is often the reason or rational that is used. There are others, but the most convincing is this one in my opinion.

It just doesn’t work for me. First, there is no process to certify the skill of any graffiti artist. I am far more offended by bad art than the rust and decay that it covers. And even if the art is good, there is the issue of time, place, length and content. I’m relucent to think about spray art that lasts fifty years with horrible content, and no recourse except to physically paint over. So why not invoke the rule of policy? I think we can lose something important.

Case in point, the famous bronze statue of the bull on Wall Street. That was an act of civil disobedience. There was no approval to install the bull on the public sidewalk. The public had the right of free passage, without bumping into an eighteen foot bronze statue of a stomping bull. What is even more to the point, no one ordered the piece of public art.

That’s right, everyone thought someone else had put in the order and it took awhile to find the actual artist who independently decided to install unauthorized art as an act of civil disobedience. Well, that may have not been the reason, but that’s what happened.

And now? It is almost always mobbed by tourists 24/7, waiting to have the bull in their photographs. No one mentions that it was just dropped off. And frankly I’m glad the artist did that. I like the bull very much.

Another example is Burning Man. This event is probably the most significant art gathering in modern times. It is on public land with the agency granting a permit so that it is legal. But it didn’t start out that way. The only Burning Man I’ve been to is No. 3 and No. 4 which was still held as an unauthorized gathering at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, and without the agreement of cleaning up afterwards (although some attempts were made even then). The point being that it took the civil disobedience to create the approved event.

One more example. Andy Goldsworthy is famous for creating lovely sculpture in nature, on public and private land. Many of his pieces are yet to be found. No one knows where they might be, and even Andy isn’t interested in remembering. You could be aimlessly wandering lost and then come upon a Goldsworthy piece. It might be a carefully arranged structure of leaves, it might be a selection of rocks arranged in a tight spiral. It will be clearly man made, but using natural objects. Does this make it okay? I know if I found a Goldsworthy site I would keep it known to my closest friends and we would make frequent visits.

Does fame and appreciation have a factor? Or do people have a more important right to expect nature while on a nature walk?

Hmm, if Picasso was still alive, and mounted a canvas on a local public trail, and the content of that canvas had the impact of Guernica? Hmm, I like it.

Basically I broke the rules. I left a piece of art unattended on a public trail. I’m not famous, the art is not world shaking. It’s not litter but it’s not the piece of civil disobedience that I want to die on. I left a card saying it was going to be up for twenty-four hours. It was up for three before I became convicted enough to go take it down. No one noticed, it was a non-event, but I learned something about myself in the process, so it was a good day.

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