It’s Marginalia Monday and many, many, many marginalia posts overdue for a glancing look at graffiti.
“It would seem that for nearly as long as people have been writing things down, other people have been writing in their margins. (Book Blog)
Ditto, graffiti. Evidence your nearest public restroom. Or the Lascaux caves. After all, cave paintings are graffiti by prehistoric yob, and the saucy rhyme next to your favorite American Standard is too! Both are simply reminders that we humans can’t resist those clean white margins. We must share our wiles or wile away time.
I have mixed feelings about graffiti and marginalia. I suspect most people do.
I remember studying Don Quixote for the first time in high school. I was cross referencing several versions of the text including a crumbly old edition from the school library. I was frustrated with the marginalia. It was a library book after all! I was almost angry to think that a previous reader had felt obliged to foul the pristine pages. Almost, but not quite. I was also fascinated. I flipped through the book reading the notes.
I have a similar reaction to graffiti, annoyed when it feels like vandalism, fascinated when it feels like a subversive art form. During my freshman or sophomore year I discovered Jasper Johns, and for the all the world his work felt to me like an extension of the graffiti I saw in New York city. Layers of visual storytelling. For a while I was fascinated with Jasper Johns and especially obsessed with Seasons. I imitated his complex collages of images and words and letters and numbers and symbols.
It took me years to realize (and then admit) that I loved marginalia. I stopped hiding the fact that I hunted through used books for the best marginalia, flipped through a book hunting for interesting asides before ever wading through the text itself. Likewise with graffiti, whether it’s a prehistoric pictograph in the New Mexico desert or a visual riff dripping down the side of a dumpster.
Now don’t take this as blanket praise for graffiti. Or marginalia. If you spray paint my car or contribute your clever flipbook animation to my vintage collection of Casanova’s memoirs, I’ll hunt you down and tattoo my least successful poems across your forehead. You’ve been warned. But, if the world is your text and you can’t resist the temptation to illuminate the text with clever, beautiful or otherwise irresistible marginalia/graffiti I’ll probably stop to appreciate your work…
- Medieval manuscript marginalia show rabbits executing a hound (boingboing.net)
- Graffiti Artist Rescues The Magic of Christmas (tabloidtruths.com)
- Graffiti artist takes on vandal who wrote ‘Santa isn’t real’ by spraying jolly Father Christmas (swns.com)
- Is Street Graffiti Art or Vandalism? (machinemakers.typepad.com)