During last night’s class on Historic Preservation, the topic of graffiti came up for a brief moment. There is apparently two sets of graffiti inside the Washington Monument in downtown Baltimore. Those written in the base of the monument, dating back, possibly to the mid-1800s and that written in the tower, which was most recently done. There is an attempt to figure out and preserve the graffiti in the base, but yet, the graffiti in the tower is vulgar, obscene and must be removed! I posed this question to the group; wouldn’t the tower graffiti be historic in 100 years? A couple people were adamant that this type of graffiti is not historic.
So that got me thinking – who determines this? Who is to say what is vulgar and what is historic? A quick Google search of Roman Graffiti shows many sites with graffiti quotes that the Romans plastered everywhere. Did this graffiti tell a story of the social lives of people? Was Pompeii a den of iniquity? What about cave drawings? Supposed it was found out that these were all sexual in nature? Would they be removed? And petroglyphs? Rock carvings, some of which may be considered animal cruelty. Or are they the tales of various cultures?
I do not condone graffiti. I was once (when I was 17) considering writing a book about it while hitch hiking cross country. I was amazed at the different graffiti scribbled on the bathroom stalls of gas stations. Short stories and quotes about toilet paper (or the lack thereof) and where to get the best sex in town! Did this graffiti describe nomadic living? I’ve seen much graffiti that defaces public spaces and right next to it will be graffiti, renamed as a commissioned art piece. Who determines which of the two are really works of art? I’ve seen a lot of graffiti that were truly works of art. Someone I know went under a bridge, saw graffiti and did a painting of it. It was really good and I tried to buy her original artwork at auction but was outbid by many others.