Wednesday, March 31, 2010

But Is It Art?

Recently, two comments on two different blogs got me to thinking about this odd thing (I think it's odd, anyway) that's going on in New Orleans since The Storm.

First, there was the comment from sussah on Kyklops, in which she said,
I even think that the Cafe Brasil is pretty. ... A friend of mine calls this the romanticizing of urban decay, but I'm seeing beauty everywhere. ... [In] a strictly visual sense, New Orleans is constantly changing, especially these days as its being rebuilt.
Then Claudia from Brazil remarked on a photograph of a colored tin sculpture:
Man, you people are so creative! The very idea of doing art with Katrina's Junk is awesome!
This odd, "awesome" thing I'm thinking about today is the explosion of colors and shapes that have appeared on the facades and sides of buildings, in the streets and on the sidewalks, on telephone poles and window panes. The outlaws of the city have laid out a feast for the voracious visual gourmet. It is as if a great number of people who will never have a name remembered by history are proclaiming, "I was here. See what I have left as I passed by."

In the early days following the storm, people began to waken to Banksy murals appearing on the sides of buildings in their neighborhoods. Only a few of these paintings remain today, the rest having been obliterated under the bland primer wielded by our Gray Ghost. Although initially protected by the NOPD, the Ghost met his match in Michael Dingler, aka, NOLA Rex, who ultimately beat the rampaging, self-deluded savior of the city in the New Orleans courts.

Since then, it seems the sun has shone brighter than it did before the summer of 2005.

Oh, there was the initial movement to draw advantages from the storm  in order to rebuild the city in the image of other Southern urban centers (Can you spell A-T-L-A-N-T-A? Would you want to?). This provoked such outrage from the citizens who were busy rebuilding their homes and neighborhoods with little or no assistance or subsistence from the three tiers of government that the idea dried up and died on the proverbial vine. This soulless urbanization concept had no chance of survival in the face of such protest since its proponents had no vested interest in its outcome other than profit.

No, New Orleans initially sprouted out of the muddy marsh, and it would do so again. The nameless people would leave their marks, others coming upon these marks would take inspiration from them, and something new would grow. Something colorful and chaotic, built on the hopes of a people with little to lose in the way of possessions or rights, but a people filled to overflowing with outlandish dreams and fruitless hopes beyond reason.


  1. Glenn,
    Reading this post was like a journey. The links and the googling took me almost an afternoon.

    A wonderful afternoon, where I learned so many things about NO, arts, people, words, culture.

    Thank you so much for being so inspiring. The things you write and photograph are the windows to the fascinating world of your beautiful and highly sensitive soul. And since New Orleans is deeply intertwined in your soul, it is also a window to the city itself.

    At this point I must say you made me fall in love with NO. I can't imagine dying without paying a visit to this very special corner of the Earth.

  2. I need to write this:

    I do not find inspiration from the "nameless people" who have "left their mark" on this city. I don't find it inspiring that, just as we've rebuilt this place, just as we've scraped the national guard's grafitti off our front doors and repainted over the water line, we now have to paint over someone's name written on our fences, homes, storefronts, and fuse boxes. I don't find it inspiring that I returned home, took pride in rebuilding my house, and someone comes along and finds it within his or her rights to put their name on it. Every light pole, every sign, every newspaper stand and increasingly now storefronts, homes, fences, signs, and businesses are being tagged. It's not inspiring. It's a kick in the face.

    My friend lost everything at his home in the lower nine and is still living in a trailer in the back of his auto shop while he saves all the money he can to rebuild his house. The other day, some asshole with the idiotic tag of 7Hc puts a 5 foot high tag on the side of his shop. So my friend has to spend a couple hours scraping and repainting, and now the shop wall looks shitty--half orange and half tangerine since the sun has faded that wall and a new coat of paint on a portion of it is a different color. And to think he has to suffer that indignity after fighting so hard to come home and put his business back together.

    This 7Hc idiot is not making art--he's spray painting three letters, not even stylized, onto someone's property, and that disrespect really hurts people who have fought hard to rebuild. Why have we rebuilt only to have our own neighbors undo our work and the things we are proud about?

    I love grafitti art, and I think we should locate spaces for it. But you write that we in New Orleans "have nothing to lose in the way of possessions or rights" and I can't understand what you are talking about. Are you saying that, because a dozen hipsters are writing their names all over everything that we are approaching a shared space that transcends ownership? I highly doubt that those of us who are from here, who have worked hard to bring ourselves and our families back, would appreciate this sentiment. Maybe we've lost a lot, but even more reason to respect the city and its people by keeping your handwriting practice to yourself. Write your name on your own house and call it art.

    I don't want to see your stupid name and know you were here. Make your mark on this city in a productive way by building things, not by tearing down what others have built.


  3. Dear Julie, I hope I didn't give the impression in this post that I supported indiscriminate "tagging". Believe me, I do not.

    The main building of the apartment complex in which I live on lower Decatur Street was damaged by fire a little more than a year ago. While waiting for the renovation to begin - and during the renovation itself - our facade was layered with spray-painted trash talk and grade-school caliber illustrations. None of this was attractive, much less art, and none of it was requested by the few remaining tenants nor appreciated by any of us.

    None of it was eye-pleasing. None of it could have been mistaken for a mural that might have been commissioned by a property owner from a bona fide street artist. (The Bywater is filling up with these.)

    What I was attempting to do was to draw attention to a style of folk art that I saw rising out of the mud and muck of our collective reconstruction.

    I would never intentionally condone outright vandalism. Thank you for affording me the opportunity to clarify this point.

  4. Thanks, Glen, for your thoughtful reply.

    You can probably tell that I am pretty worked up over this. :)
    Thanks for being a forum for me to work it out!

  5. @Julie: Anytime. You ever want to get anything off your shoulders, you let me know. In the meantime, welcome to my little world.


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