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On the blog: Tyler Read on cultural value of graffiti and public art

August 14, 2013
by Tyler Read, a.k.a. "SIAMESE," Graffiti Artist, and Co-Director of Arts Education for the Rapid City Arts Council at the Dahl Arts Center

As a graffiti artist who has practiced his craft for two decades, I've come across plenty of criticism of the art that I love. Although acceptance of it is gaining traction in the larger social conscience, there is still frequently a lack of understanding of the culture behind it, and what is trying to be achieved through its creation.

I was recently tasked with writing an explanation of graffiti as art for an exhibit I am part of at the Dahl Arts Center, Where The Wild Things Are. The exhibit features the work of seven local graffiti artists, and will be on display until September 28. The following text is what I provided for the exhibit:

Growing up, it was drilled into us that everything we needed, everything that we valued, everything that would complete us had a namebrand attached to it. Lego. Cap'n Crunch. G.I. Joe. Chef Boyardee. Nike. Sony. Heineken. Ralph Lauren. BMW. Rolex. Etc.
The marketing for these things were stamped into every square inch of our psyche. It was on the television, in our music, and on billboards down every street. Every nook and cranny was filled with an ad telling us what we needed- what would make us whole. "All things in moderation" had come to pass generations ago, and the human spirit that was our beacon of light became lost and faded away into a desperate attempt to emulate a Ray Ban commercial..
Then a name appeared scrawled across the wall. The name had no price tag attached. It simply said "I'm still here". Then another appeared next to it, and it was large and colorful and it said "I'm here too and there's something special about me."
More names appeared, and they became intricate and beautiful. They began to master the techniques of catching your attention even better than the ads that tried to drown them out. Ads of the people, celebrating their own existence and it was good.
Our art and our names are a celebration of life. We are here. Our spirits blazing, more relevant than any version of life that anyone could sell us.

It should come as no surprise that advertising has become a part of our artistic consciousness. It is the success of our greatest companies that convinced us that their products were the pinnacles of our desires through lavish ads that employed every method available to appeal to us. We now see these things as the highest form of art. That was a path set in course long before our generations started experimenting with typography and designing our own ads.

Trends in our culture occur when the greater social conscious tries to fill a need or desire that isn't being met. These needs change over time, just like the trends that become its temporary patch. Within the past week, I've come across two articles being passed around condemning these trends. One rallied against Pinterest, and the trend in DIY culture for devaluing expertise. The other complained about how arts museums are trading in the traditional art experience, and adapting themselves to include more hands-on interactive arts features. (Rapid City's own Dahl Arts Center is one of these places that recognize this cultural shift.)

Both articles condemn these trends in our culture, but refuse to recognize the state our culture is in. We have adapted to a consumer-based lifestyle that has no moderation left in it. We buy everything that we think will complete us and leave our inherent desire to experiment, build, and create sitting idle. These trends that are happening are attempts to recover from this. It is a cultural awakening.

Graffiti art and public art are the first line of defense against this dissociative effect that has left us feeling like we are non-creative people. Bring art back out to the people. Let them live in it, and be reminded of their humanity, and their curious and creative nature.

We are fortunate to have these very things so immersed in our downtown. Graffiti art is well expressed in all it's forms in Art Alley, and the public art sculptures being created by Masayuki Nagasi entitled "Passage of Wind and Water" at Main Street Square have become the beating heart, and epicenter of our downtown. Rapid City is alive with the arts. Our community can do nothing but grow stronger because of this.



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