Tags on historic buildings are often quite shocking. The effort that is takes to rid some of it is expensive or even damaging to the surface, especially when lunatic fringe vigilantes take it upon themselves to spray industrial strength paint across the tag, often larger or messier than the original work. Of course, the difference between tags and graffiti should be understood, although I understand to some it is one and the same. Tagging does seem to be an issue once again in the French Quarter, and since I have been so successful lately in getting good quotes from the Grand Duchess of the Vieux Carre, I called on her again, with felt pen in hand this time.
Here are her surprising thoughts:
What is your take on the war against graffiti in the village?
We are against war.
Do you mean you AGREE with graffiti?
We do not agree with any idea every time.
Do you like graffiti?
We appreciate artistic expression, activist tendencies and personal responsibility.
Hmmm. (I pretended I understood, but realized this was a never-ending tangle. I decided to take another tack):
Have you seen “informal artistic activity” that you appreciated?
We will assume you are referring to the practice of painting an expression on a building that one does not currently hold title. We have.
Have you seen informal artistic activity that you disliked?
Do you have any decrees that would answer this quandary?
We believe that half of available advertising space (excluding our village’s stores and their signage) should be designated instead for informal expression. The Staff may ask that it is limited to what does not incite violence or frighten children beyond a reasonable amount expected in this harsh world. We would suggest they ask artists to do their best to illuminate the public conversation, and not demean it.
Any artist who is then caught using a non-designated area to express their view should expect to be treated as outcasts by the village’s citizens and be asked to provide a number of hours for non-artistic community service to clean up after these offenders.
Duchess, may I say this is a surprising and probably polarizing view-point. May I ask how you arrived at this viewpoint?
We explain thusly:We have many friends in many different careers. Some are archaeologists, some are historians, some are tradesmen. The tradesman we use for stonework recently explained to us that work on the Giza Plateau in far off Egypt recently uncovered the graffiti of the original work gangs scrawled across the upper most chambers, (chambers that were never meant to be entered, which may have only been included to relieve the tremendous weight upon the main chamber). This graffiti has been able to answer some of the most important questions our modern world has of its predecessors in the desert. These work gangs’ tags allowed the world to understand the craftsmen who were not slaves at all (contrary to many years of history lessons) and instead were paid workers. Yes, questions remain of the graffiti’s veracity, but we are refreshed by the notion of workmen spelling out their pride. We also understand that many steelworkers and painters and other skilled workers do this, and think is an excellent way to sign one’s work. Additionally, activity that tells of impending clashes can be understood earlier; artists can illuminate an issue in this manner.
Knowing we had reached the end of the interview, I stood, quietly capped my pen and thanked her for her time. As I opened the door, the Duchess handed me a lovely old book, murmuring that it was for me. When I made it to the street light at her corner, I saw it was a lengthy translation of graffiti found in ancient Pompeii.