Since When Were Toys Taken So Seriously?

August 26, 2005

Guest blog by Alex Nishikawa

As I venture through the city I notice an increasing amount of stencil work upon the walls and sidewalks. I've had the chance to talk to some of the people who align themselves with this fad and asked them what they term their activity. Some of them call it graffiti, while others call it art. Some straddle the line and consider it both. Rare are those who are honest about it and call it what it is; stenciling. So I post this question to the dedicated readers of this blog forum...

What do you consider it?

I think by calling it graffiti art, they discredit and insult both the graffiti subculture as well as those who consider themselves artists. Are they artists, really, or merely glorified tracers who "cleverly" speak in bumper sticker catch-phrases in an attempt to make some sort of witty social commentary? I think they need to stop fooling themselves. If we call stencilers artists, in my opinion, we might as well start considering someone who uses a copy machine to be Michelangelo incarnate.

However, I must admit there are some exceptions to this. There are some innovators, such as Robert Banks, who effectively use stencils to enhance their art and to communicate messages to the populace. Unfortunately individuals such as he are just that; exceptions. The bulk seem to be imitators or...duplicators? *Gasp*

I suppose it was merely a matter of time before the cut and paste mentality that is imbued in many art and design courses permeated society at large. Maybe what they do is art after all...just really bad art...



Most stenciling is garbage. Kids need to respect tru graffiti and at least create something real and unique. Not copy and pasting cookie cutter junk. Its not edgy - most of it is lame. Howvere there is some realness out there.
I think the stencil movement in San Francisco -- and around the world -- is an amazing form of public art and public media. I find interesting and often beautiful stencil tags around the city all the time. In the last few years I have done some traveling in South and Central America and found the stencil art there to be incendiary and engaging as well – my favorite was a multi-colored circle of airplanessurrounding the words “Attack New York” – not so much for it’s violent message, but for the cleverness and the primary colors used so it was just an eye-catching symbol I walked past for days before I comprehended what it said.I am no expert on graffiti or street art, just an observant girl who walks around and notices what is scrawled on the walls and sidewalks of my world. But why should stenciling be looked down upon? Most of the stencil tags I have seen have more than just words, they have some kind of design element and their message is usually more than just something clever. And what is wrong with cleverness anyway? Is a clever stencil calling my attention to some issue better orworse than Neck Face?I am a huge fan of Chicago stencil artist Josh MacPhee and JustSeeds. I believe the work they do as activists and artists is revolutionary in the world of public art and he inspires me to create a stencil of my own. And I believe the use of text and duplication (i.e. use of copy machines) in art dates back at least 50 some years – and was certainly incorporated into the works of artists like Basquiat, Warhol and Lichtenstein.