Saturday, April 21, 2007

Teaching graffiti/tagging vandalism in city schools?

In last week's SF Bay Guardian there was a story (Crime-free creativity) about an "after-school program" that teaches "the art of graffiti," even though the city spends millions of dollars a year fighting graffiti/tagging. (Graffiti is S.F.'s $30M-a-year Problem, Bonnie Eslinger, SF Examiner, July 14, 2006):

A couple dozen of San Francisco's best young graffiti artists, many dressed in black hooded sweatshirts and baseball hats, huddle around long tables littered with markers, blank books, pens, and stickers. The artists crowded around the white paper–draped tables do a little talking and joking, but mainly they're drawing and writing, some at a fever pitch. Bright colors and stylish lettering abound. There is a sense of concentrated creativity in this large studio space — something rare in classrooms these days. But this not your run-of-the-mill art class. This is Streetstyles, a free course that focuses on the misunderstood medium of graffiti and street art. Its aim is multifaceted, concentrating on the production and repercussions of urban art.

You thought graffiti/tagging was vandalism? Think again, square! It's actually "urban art" or "street art," according to the teachers at the Root Division in the Streetstyles class, a course in "the misunderstood medium of graffiti and street art."

According to the Guardian, "The number one rule in [teacher]Warnke's class is respect. Respect for the art. Respect for one another. And respect for oneself." But evidently not respect for either public or private property---or the city's taxpayers either, for that matter. Turns out teacher Dave Warnke has "been an active street artist for more than 10 years." The other teacher in the course is Carlos Castillo, "first-generation West Coast graffiti artist who started writing on the streets of San Francisco around 1983."

Warnke is aware of the criminal aspect of his passion and understands how some, particularly opponents of street art at large, might think his work empowers vandalism. There are students in his class who have been arrested, suspended from school, and even jumped for their love of graffiti. Many are doing community service for vandalism...
Warnke's response:

"I'm not a cop, and no, I'm not going to snitch. I understand [these kids'] passion, and when you compare writing graffiti to what's going on in the schools these days and in the streets with the violence and drugs, I just want to give them even more markers...And yeah, I let them get up. For four hours a week, they are not getting in trouble, getting in fights, doing drugs, or whatever. While they are in my class, they will be safe, creative and respectful."

Right. At least they aren't out on the streets shooting or getting shot. Of course when they are on the streets they are probably engaging in vandalism, but dude, Warnke is no snitch. He's a teacher!

When asked if he's still a tagger, Warnke is coy: "I'm semiretired," he says, smiling shyly."
It's not clear exactly what relationship Root Division has with the city's public schools, but evidently there is a relationship, since their website quotes a Chronicle story: "The arts non-profit Root Division is part artist's collective, part educational organization. Its basic premise is to supply subsidized studio space to artists in exchange for the artists' working with children in arts programs in the public schools..." 

And the Guardian article describes the Streetstyles course as an "after school program."

San Francisco, the City That Knows How: On the one hand, we spend $30 million a year trying to deal with graffiti/tagging vandalism, while on the other, we teach kids how to "create" this form of vandalism.

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At 4:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, there's no accounting for taste.

At 8:46 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Maybe, but there should be an accounting when public schools and public money are involved.

At 4:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fair point. How would you feel about a referendum?

At 9:51 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

A referendum on whether the schools should teach graffiti/tagging vandalism? Even here in Progressive Land that would probably lose.

At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Suisun Salman said...

Well, there *is* such a thing as graffiti art, and in appropriate places it's fine and probably helps ghetto kids find something other than drugs and crime to get involved with.

The problem is that *most* graffiti is a low grade pissing contest with zero artistic merit or appropriate locale.

The former could and should be encouraged - with the permission of the property owner. The later should be punished and discouraged as usual. I truly hope the distinction is being discussed in class.

At 1:49 AM, Anonymous subcorpus said...

graffiti is supposed to be ephemeral …
And disfigurement of private property is a punishable crime …
read my take on this on my blog ...

At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Ti Chen said...

I like the idea of "baiting" taggers.

Create a likely target, hide with a group of people and wait.

When the punkies come along to tag, the group jumps out and beats them a few times with sticks, then ties them up and spray-paints all over their clothes and bodies. Again and again until they stop!

I'd also like to do the same thing with Bike theives.

At 6:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do people care so much about graffiti, I think the government has alot of other things on their hands to do like the war in Iraq instead of throwing people in jair for doing graffiti. I do think graffiti is an art form. It shouldn't be done on peoples property and churches but on the walls behind subways stations is creative. I actually enjoy watching the art as I am on the subway. It gives me something interesting to look at.

At 5:37 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Graffiti on private property infringes on an individuals rights to liberty, but at the same time graffiti in public space is a valid art form which can contribute to the development of public life and youth culture. Perhaps the middle ground is government sanctioned and funded graffiti sharing spaces?
As for the comment on "Theres no accounting for taste" - the same can be said of the early Eoropean expressionists work. And indeed can be said for a lot of art forms in our liberal society. We are lucky to have them as choice. Pitty we can not choose the advertising we want to be exposed to hey?


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