In Defence of Graffiti and my thoughts on Melbourne’s Hosier Lane
Last week I read an article in the Herald Sun about Hosier Lane; Melbourne’s popular street art pocket, which attracts tourists from around the world and also cops its fair share of criticism.
The article reported that this section of the CBD has lost its way, according to Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, anyway. The article claimed that top graffiti artists were no longer displaying their work here, moving onto other pockets across Melbourne because less talented street artists were moving in.
“The artwork is substandard,” Doyle told Herald Sun. “They’ve painted over some of the most iconic artwork and what they’ve put in its place is nowhere near as good as what was there,” he said.
Now, I’m fairly new to Melbourne (I’ve been here six months), so I can’t comment on the history of Hosier Lane and the artwork that’s been produced there over the last decade, but I’ve been there on two separate occasions since my arrival down here, and I that think the graffiti artists are doing an amazing job. I’ve been impressed both times and have even taken visiting relatives to check it out and take photos.
The Mayor’s comments about Hosier Lane raises an interesting question, though. And that is; who is anyone to claim that one piece of graffiti is better than another?
And of course, I’m getting my back up about this topic, because the comments section of the article was flooded with negative feedback about graffiti, street art, and the stereotypes and connotations that get attached to those who produce the work.
“Why don’t these so called “artists” deface their own walls and buildings?,” said commenter Carl. “Oh wait, you have to have a job and work and save to buy something like that”.
As someone who loves, adores and appreciates what graffiti artists do – and the positive impact it has on a community – it bothers me that assumptions are made about those who take the time to extend their talent beyond canvas and share it in a public space.
To assume that street artists don’t have jobs or don’t own homes is pretty horrible, and I think the entire concept of graffiti is often incorrectly attributed to people to take part in or are affected by crime, unemployment and violence.
Art has always been subjective. Be it in a gallery or a laneway in Melbourne, you have every right to find it amazing, ugly, irrelevant or fascinating. You also have a right to hate it. I don’t think bashing the people who produce it is doing anything to help the conversation, though.
It also feels quite elitist and classist to look down on street art and suggest that people who produce it are beneath you, or that it’s a dirty artform that needs to be eradicated (which is what I’ve heard a lot of people suggest). I also find that it’s those same people that, should the work be at a gallery opening on a piece of canvas, (where you get to drink champagne while you view it), the work suddenly becomes more palatable.
I think a world without graffiti and street art would be pretty bland. When I loved in Sydney, I had a giant laneway across from my building that was clad in street art and every few days when I’d walk to the post office to collect mail, I’d marvel at the new work that had gone up; taking in what I was loving and trying to distinguish what I didn’t like about certain pieces was a great part of my week.
To imagine that entire laneway bare brick is actually kind of depressing. In fact, Newtown – which was a stone’s throw away from where I lived – was arguably the most graffiti-clad suburb in Sydney and it made living and playing there a really amazing, artistic experience.
In my visits to Hosier Lane – both before I moved here and after – I’ve seen heaps of tourists there snapping away and it all looks like a positive experience from what I can see. But I am looking at it through graffiti-coloured glasses, so perhaps I have an obvious inability to see it any other way.
>>> What are your thoughts on graffiti? Do you see it as important for the community or as an eyesore? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.