Following the removal of the oceanic mural on Exeter’s Smythen Street, Aliyah Ismail discusses the legal confines of graffiti and art, which according to artists like Banksy, are inexistant.
As Banksy said: “If Graffiti changed anything- it would be illegal.”
Ever partook in the familiar experience of nosing around a gallery exhibit and pointing out an abstract piece of art, equalling a canvas with a solid block of colour on it? Sharing a cunning laugh with a friend, acknowledging the stupidity of the paying observers marvelling at a creation that either of you could have created, questions arise: what is art? and, how can it be measured?
Art is a subjective experience: it is particular to each observer. It can be argued that art should be respected for what it is, a mode of expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. The canvas that prompted a giggle between two friends presents something larger than the manifestation that is presented before the eyes. It is an abstract expression of the artist who stood or sat, tool in hand, with a clear intention to express, through this chosen mode of expression, what they were wanting to express. Expression is key here. Art is a form of expression and its interpretation belongs to the observer. However, should one be able to express whatever one wants wherever one wants? Or, should there be limitations placed on what one can express and more pertinently, where one can express it?
This week saw the removal of the oceanic mural that claims the walls housing Market Street and Smythen Street signalling the persisting nature of the debate: is it vandalism or is it art? The respect for street art is only increasing as artists like Banksy, who made their start using the streets of London as a canvas for their expression, become more and more popular. Whilst the universal messages behind their creations are housed in popular exhibits in cultural hotspots like Amsterdam. So, why is Exeter falling behind the trend? Why has this popular oceanic graffiti been removed and what next?
Removal would mark something stronger than the removal of colour from a wall. It would mark the inability to value the expressive value of this art form.
People view art very differently but what is important to acknowledge is that it is an artistic expression of emotions, sensations and a thought process that is deeply personal to its creator, which in turn, through observation and interpretation, has the powerful effect of becoming personal to the observer in a manner that illustrates the power of its creative category. Where one observer will view a Jackson Pollock as an aggressive splattering of paint in a haphazard manner, another will appreciate and marvel at the carefully considered composition that presents itself before them.
Exeter has many examples of hand painted strokes of colour that climb its walls. The graffiti that live on the walls of the tunnel that lead us on our merry path down to the quay is an essential, integral part of the characteristic structural identity of the route for many if not all students. Its removal would mark something stronger than the removal of colour from a wall. It would mark the inability to value the expressive value of this art form.
Is this vandalism or is it art? It seems to me that the answer is simple, it is art, street art. If art is to be taken as a mode of expression that captures the application of human creativity, then street art encapsulates this and deserves appreciation. Consider the streets an unpoliced, open-to-all, public exhibit. Graffiti is powerful, it is art. As Banksy said: “If Graffiti changed anything- it would be illegal.” Let us protect what is left of the graffiti in Exeter and in doing so, recognise its timeless value.