Welcome to the thunderdome: In defense of graffiti

[Columns, letters or cartoons published are the work of the attributed author and do not necessarily represent the official views or opinions of “The Highland Echo.”]

What do the Clayton Center, the mechanical-thing to the side of Gamble, and the pillar near
the First Tennessee Bank on the corner of Cusick and Church have in common?

They’ve all been sprayed, quite literally, by one or more local graffiti artists.

Or maybe they’re vandals. After all, the piece near the physical plant has been covered up
for a long time now, as has the piece near First Tennessee.

The last one in particular was a favorite of mine — I hopped out of my girlfriend’s car when
we first drove by it, telling her that I HAD to have a picture of it.
If you look closely at the picture included, you should see that it is an intricately made skull
made up entirely (I think) of different states. It’s gorgeous. It’s fantastic, and, no, I didn’t have
any hand in making it, as anyone who has ever seen me draw should know.

And now it’s gone. And that makes me sad. Like, really sad.
I get why it was removed — First Tennessee doesn’t want it representing its brand, the
property owner doesn’t want to be seen as harboring unsolicited graffiti, etc. Likewise, the
graffiti on the Clayton Center will be gone like the piece that was beside Gamble.
It’s part of the game, as anyone who has seen the fantastic documentary “Exit Through the
Gift Shop” knows.
Although, those who have seen that documentary also know that graffiti has become an
inexorable part of the art world. Pieces sold at auction by people like Banksy and Mr. Brainwash
have fetched prices that are staggering to even the artists themselves. Mr. Brainwash did album artwork for Madonna CD, for Pete’s sake!

Point being that this is important stuff.
The skull itself might not be an original — a quick Google search of it reveals a design online
that’s eerily similar to this one — but it added a little local flair to Maryville that spiced up my
commute a little. That’s pretty cool.
I’ve seen a lot of bumper stickers imploring other drivers to “Keep Portland Weird” or “Keep
Austin Weird,” but never one that says “Keep Maryville Weird.”
I’m not one for slogans that you put on the back of a car, but I do share the sentiment about
our little city.
We’ve got a fair amount of culture for such a small town, between the food, the history, the
nature, our college stuff and now, apparently, some law-breaking artists. Googling “Maryville
graffiti” even reveals a blog, apparently now defunct, that was tracking some of the local street
I’m not saying that good art coming out of Maryville is something new, but the medium is.
I love walking through the Clayton Center and seeing the wonderful art that’s on the walls
there, but it’s nice seeing something aesthetically pleasing among the McDonald’s and Wendy’s
signs that litter the roadways.
I don’t know how to encourage it, though.
I would definitely like to see more of it, but there are myriad reasons why I would prefer
a “safe” place for it, too: a) it’s still illegal, and people probably shouldn’t break the law, b) it
gets removed too fast, so no one can see it, and c) it takes a well-trained eye to see where it’s
appropriate and where it isn’t.
The one on the Clayton Center doesn’t fit that description.

I’d like to see a “safe” place for local artists to display street art on campus, but “street art”
and “safe” are pretty anathema to each other. It’s just never been part of the culture, except if
you pay them a lot of money at an auction.
Still though, why not put up a few blank concrete slabs on campus? I bet they’d get tagged in
a heartbeat, and it would certainly add some color to the campus.

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