Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Ryan Gilbert

Just as a poor person cannot become president, senator, nor mayor, neither can she purchase the rights to display her message on a billboard, a public wall, or on a bus. She is forced, however, to look at the spaces purchased by the rich while in public.


Graffiti is often marginalized by the label of vandalism, which implies it is an act of malicious property destruction rather than a communication medium. Graffiti, however, is an important step in reestablishing a public communication forum for the disenfranchised.


Writing on public walls is a great way to open an otherwise closed system of public manipulation to citizen access. In Banksy’s “Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall” pamphlet, the public’s yearning for self-expression is demonstrated clearly. After stenciling an official-looking “This Wall Is A Designated Graffiti Area” seal on public walls, the walls become fully painted murals in a matter of days, reflecting talented citizens’ work. Unfortunately these circumstances are an anomaly. Because of the harsh penalties for painting public walls, the public’s visual environment is still dominated by those who can afford the right to advertise. Even though this privilege is only granted to those at the top of the corporate ladder, any ladder will get you onto a billboard with a backpack full of spraypaint.
Nobody will ever agree on what we would all like to look at when we walk down the sidewalk. Lots of people find this illegal art to be unattractive. Personal aesthetics hold no rational weight against graffiti, however. Do we have a choice to look at the ugly corporate advertisements? We will never reach a consensual status whereby all public visual displays are validated by each and every person, so let’s not pretend that advertising firms have greater aesthetic merit than Seattle’s graffiti writers! Instead we must each be empowered to proactively create the community we visualize around us, rather than spending our time stopping others from doing so. Many graffiti murals celebrate life, loss of loved ones, and community struggles, while many billboards promote purchasing SUV’s, incurring life-long credit debt, abusing alcohol, gambling, and sexist stereotypes.


United States culture is not going to shift from a consumer-focused and class-based hierarchy any time soon. In the mean time, public displays of art not only fulfill personal needs for expression, empowerment, and dialogue, but also disempower the elite hand of advertising agencies while inspiring the broader community to take control of its own mental landscape.

Pattern status: