graffiti

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Cities have been with us since the start of history. And as a city boy, I have always had an interest in checking them out, seeing what they could provide; studying their personalities, and comparing the different cities I have known. I’ve also been very interested in the changes in city life because of technology. And the attitudes of people to cities. It was fascinating for me to read of the so called ‘best’ cities of the world, especially since my own city wasn’t even on the list, and most of the best were cities that I’d never gotten to know. Though I did spend some time in Zurich, which was rated no. 2. London, by the way was in 53rd place. I think that what made them ‘best’ was that they were the most comfortable to live in.

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It’s obvious to me, that subjective opinions aren’t worth much, so I won’t bother comparing my beloved home town to other cities. But I will say that while traveling around the world a bit, I did encounter some cities I especially liked, and two that made a very strong impression on me, and neither of those cities were mentioned in the top ten either. But then, looking into the matter I found one list of the most ‘liveable cities’ and another of the cities with the highest ‘quality of living’. So that was a reminder that different people look for different things. Not to speak of the difference between list makers. And if what you like most is listening to open air jazz concerts… or smoking in a bar… your choice of the most liveable city might be different from what is on the Mercer list.

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Often, I fantasize about what my perfect city would be like. And my fantasies were given a push this week, when I heard that according to a recent census, for the first time in the history of the world, there are more people living in cities than in the country. Well, I have a lot of affection and love for the country too… but that is another story. I thought it wouldn’t take long now, till the majority of mankind was living in cities. We keep multiplying, and city living is more efficient than other methods of providing dwelling places for large numbers of people. On the other hand, there’s not much of the feeling of community when you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway.

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So what are we looking for in a city? Let’s try to be rational and objective. There are cities that make it next to impossible for the poor to live there, because they think the poor are an eyesore. And there are cities that are so concerned about the energy crisis, that they force people to cut down tall and beautiful trees because those trees cast shadows on solar panels which convert sunlight to electricity. Actually I get a kick out of hearing such stories, so if my readers know more, I would love to hear them. But aside from the humor, it seems about time that we put a lot of thinking and energy into planning cities that are truly integral with human needs. Many years ago, my son in law was studying architecture. And during his interview, before being accepted, a professor at the school told him, You know, if a doctor makes a mistake, and the patient dies… everyone is sorry. But they put the poor patient in the ground, and go on with living life. But if an architect designs a building with some serious mistakes, people might suffer for a hundred or more years; both those living in the building, and those who see it every day.

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a modest mermaid in Jerusalem

One of the many subjects we encounter, when thinking about what a city should be like, is that of graffiti. There are many cities that see it as a nuisance, and either forbid it, or try to confine it. I can understand why some people dislike it. Unlike the museums, a budding young artist doesn’t have to be approved by a committee before he can show his work. And some louts enjoy painting vulgarities on the sides of buildings… and sometimes even on the works of others. But I enjoy it. I find the pictures and the words more stimulating and thought provoking than the aesthetic regularity of continuous walls. And I think there is a sense of community in seeing what everyone (who cares) wishes to put on the city street. Sometimes it’s an adornment, and sometimes it’s a challenge. But I, for one, will vote for free graffiti.

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17 responses to “graffiti

  1. I also vote for free graffiti.

  2. The graffiti artist Banksy said: “The people who run our cities don’t understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit.”

    • Since writing this post I have received some mails that have caused me to rethink the whole issue. If the graffiti is really an imposition on the aesthetic sensibilities of some of the citizens, then it is not such a simple question. Maybe there should be parks that are dedicated to such free communication. I understand that in some places there are such ‘special’ places. Thanks for your comment Chris.

  3. Shimon – I do love street art. Not, as you put it, the loutish tagging and obscenities. But I do sit on the fence on it. Some beautiful cities such as Prague have been so overwhelmed by a constant wall of garbage that it really alters the mood of the city.

    • As I am getting reactions to my post (not all of them published comments), I realize how much it bothers some people. But it also reminds me of an interchange I had with my mother, some 50 years ago. I was looking for a perfect apple for her, without any holes in it… and she said, “I wouldn’t want an apple that a worm or a bird wouldn’t want”. I guess we have to find the balance between design aesthetics, and being overly sterile.

  4. I also like graffiti. I live on the high desert and often come across petroglyphs hundreds of years old carved onto the rocks. I tend to think that this is just an example of ancient graffiti–leaving our mark has always been part of the human condition. I suppose I can see how it might offend some people’s aesthetic sensibilities, but I think graffiti is a great reflection of popular culture.

    • I agree with you Jordan. It seems to be part of the human personality, and I actually enjoy seeing most graffiti. It reminds me of all the variations that society includes. But after receiving some letters expressing negative reactions, I suppose, like a lot of other things… maybe it would be better if there were certain places reserved for this sort of self expression.

  5. Some graffiti is great art done with an awkward spraycan and I can’t even draw a stick man with a pen!

    • I think you’re too hard on yourself, GB. I can tell you with assurance, that if you ever get the urge… what you have to do is put some object in front of you, and just practice. Sometimes it takes a while. But it is a craft that most people can learn. And there is a lot of gratification as you start getting the hang of it. A friend of mine who started late in life said, “it’s like learning to write”. And it really is something you can learn and enjoy!

  6. Shimon – and another, this time one of mine from over a year ago: http://billanders.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/imagine/

  7. Hi Shimon,
    I, too, am a city person and love the street art that is found in cities, not that I enjoy the city I live in and the destructive graffiti that abounds here. I enjoyed seeing the street art of Israel in this category, but I can’t make out most of the Alef Bet for some reason! I think people confuse the term graffiti: seeing it as tagging and gang-related (like where I live), so I prefer the term street art as it seems to better represent the murals, yet I like the word graffiti better! It has a certain je ne sais quoi as the French say.

    I have a very close relative (ohhh, I have to keep everyone anonymous) who is a rather famous muralists and artist in L.A. This is commissioned work and I dare anyone to say this is not art! I’ve never shared any of this on WP, but felt it fit here and is safe on your blog. There are a few links on this site, so I chose this one. Long live street art…
    http://hifructose.com/2012/09/19/cyrcles-magic-is-real-mural-in-los-angeles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cyrcles-magic-is-real-mural-in-los-angeles
    Leah

    • Thank you very much for sharing with me this web site. I find the magazine interesting, and I liked the examples of graffiti. In all forms of art, there are better works, and lesser works, and what guides us usually is our taste, which can’t be a measure of judgment, but still it is taste that guides us. Again, I’m very sorry that you are attacked on your blog, but perhaps, as you get your ‘sea legs’, you’ll start feeling safer even on your blog. With best wishes, Leah, always…

  8. You’re welcome, Shimon. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say.

    I’ve always been leery of the internet and am only on WP as a result and you probably read how that happened on my About page. I started to feel okay on here and reached out to many people, but when I wrote a comical and very American post using a lot of common, Yiddish words, the cat was out of the bag. When I got attacked the 2nd time right after by someone else, that was it and I deleted my name from everything and moderate all comments now–it’s actually easier as I don’t get duplicates or spam comments now.

    As I’m sure you are aware, this country is split 50/50 and a large amount of the conservatives are evangelical-types and they still think we killed Christ, control the gov’t and corporations and on and on. It was an American in the Bible Belt who started this all on here, which doesn’t surprise me. Regardless, I still write from my own Jewish perspective in my posts, so they didn’t stop me, but it gave me pause. I dealt with anti-Semitism in school and hear comments on occasion and am quick to put people in their place, but it’s harder online where bigots can hide behind their gadgets as you know. I had to write that Yiddish-y post as I was always deleting something I had written prior to that–being Jewish, even if more culturally, is who I am! I wonder if it will ever end, but I stand proud regardless. My beloved grandfather grew up in Chicago, a tough city with restricted neighborhoods. He told me, “You know, if someone hates blacks, they hate Jews–remember that.” He was right and my friends were always fellow minorities as a result.

    I appreciate your thoughts as always and hope you aren’t too confused with the name here/initial at my place. Btw, you’ll probably know me more from my comments than my blog because I’m not much of a creative writer–more the boring, scholarly writer–and don’t reveal a lot about myself except in comments. We also have a huge problem with litigation in the US, and while everyone is anonymous, I have written some angry posts about the doctors who failed to diagnose me and caused me to lose so much vision, or misdiagnosed me for so long when I really had a genetic disease that caused all the problems and I am too sick and poor to end up in court with a doctor. I get mad at these people who don’t do their job–who don’t follow the Oath–and I hope people read my posts and learn from my mistakes, or my tips on how to get the healthcare they deserve. One woman found out she had my combo of diseases via my blog, and that is what makes it worthwhile… Helping others.
    Take good care,
    Leah (I’ll work on these long comments as you have such a busy blog!)

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