Artists and Vandals in East Vancouver

This weekend, art enthusiasts will flock to the streets of East Vancouver to admire, appreciate and analyze the best that our community has to offer. The East Vancouver Culture Crawl gives local artists the opportunity to strut their stuff and show the world their art, their passion, their talent. The mediums are as diverse as the perspectives, ranging from painters to jewelers to sculptors to furniture makers; from printmakers to weavers to potters to glassblowers. Being allowed into the inner sanctuary of an artist’s studio – often their home – can’t help but create a sense of intimacy with the artist. This is where the emotional and intellectual threads were weaved into the tangible fabrics we see before us.

The myriad forms and mediums of art beg the question – what defines art? If it is not produced by an established ‘artist’ in an established studio space with an established medium, is it art?  The nature of art has been described by Richard Wollheim as “one of the most elusive of the traditional problems of human culture”. Different viewpoints have been proposed to tackle this difficult question – realists will say art is not art unless it has aesthetic quality that has value independent of subjective opinion, while relativists will say there is no absolute value to art, and it depends on and varies with the human experience by different humans.

Graffiti in Tehran, Iran

Graffiti in Tehran, Iran: Artistic Expression or Vandalism?

There is no better example to illustrate this divide than graffiti (fun fact: did you know that the singular form of graffiti is graffito?). Graffiti has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. The earliest forms date back to 30,000 BCE in the form of prehistoric cave paintings using tools such as animal bones and pigments. The ancient Romans carved graffiti on walls and monuments. More recent forms of graffiti have been used to convey political or social commentary – in 1970s, the hostility of American youth culture was conveyed through popular graffiti stating “Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You”. The Israeli West Bank barrier has become a site for graffiti, as was the Berlin wall decades before. In Vancouver, graffiti has been used to beautify aesthetically unappealing concrete buildings through the East Vancouver Mural Project.

If the point of art is to express oneself, and the value of “art” is subjectively defined, who are we to say whether these expressions are considered art? One reason, which you’ve probably all thought of my now, is if this ‘art’ was done on property without the owner’s consent – this, my friends, is what you’d call vandalism.

Equitable opportunities for artists?

Equitable opportunities for artists?

Now. One could stop there and renounce vandalism as a criminal act and call it a day. And certainly, situations like this do exist – take the group of teenagers I saw defacing the building across the street from my apartment the other day, who had no other purpose but to destroy property. But what about those artists out there who do not have the luxury of a studio, a canvas, or a camera? Who resort to doing their art on city walls and streets because they have an artists’ compulsion to express oneself but not the means?

 In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a project entitled ‘Out of the Rain’ attempts to provide these means. Out of the Rain supports artists who face challenges to maintaining regular art practice. Artists are provided with art supplies and a street level art studio to make their work.  Many cities also provided designated space for graffiti art. If art is to be considered an equitable endeavor, subjectively defined and open to all who wish to express themselves, then space and opportunity needs to be given to all artists within our community.

One thought on “Artists and Vandals in East Vancouver

  1. I’m not always sure about art, but I know what I like. And I like this. Your comment about cave-wall graffiti made me think of Wade Davis. Did you know that, for 20,000 years, the art scrawled upon cave walls from present day West Africa to Southern Europe to the Middle East did not change in any dramatic way. That’s five times the amount of time from the pyramids until today. Why did this happen for so long? And why does our contemporary culture explore art in so many different ways?

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