This article is going to talk about Banksy and tagging but it’s not about either of those things. It’s about the root motives that nourish the tree of my values whose fruit attracts the birds of opinion into its branches. It’s not about changing the world, it’s about allowing a shift in my world view. That changes the little bit of the world occupied by me.
A Wooden Analogy
Let me spend a moment on the tree metaphor so you don’t dismiss me out of hand as a demented hippy.
There is a relationship between my motives and the opinions I form. If I find my own motives difficult to discern at times (and I do), then they will be just as hard to detect by others. They are far reaching as well as hidden, just like the roots of a tree.
My values are easier to divine much like a tree because I live them out or at the very least talk about them. However I’ve discovered that I will sometimes dress up a poor motive with reasonable-sounding values, consciously or otherwise. My values may be the application of my motives but reverse engineering them isn’t so straightforward.
My motives do reach out through my values though, just like the roots feed the fruit. Our world is full of ideas and the ones I like tend to match my motives like birds coming to rest in a tree attracted by what grows there. Those ideas form opinions in conjunction with my values.
One way I can discern the motive behind a value is to reverse engineer my opinions. In this way it is possible to discern the source of a value and it isn’t always good. The artist Banksy has been key in helping me figure all this out. I’m not going to say I relate to all of his work but my reactions to his art fell into a cycle of behaviour. After two or three times around the block (ok, four or five times, I’m a doofus) I realised something important: sometimes the motives which feed the opinions I form really suck.
The pattern of events was this: Banksy would produce a new idea and for a time I would be in complete awe of his creative genius. I’m not using the word in a watered down sense, he is a genius. Subsequent pieces of work would be on a similar level though and I would gradually reach a point where I felt he had nothing new to offer and my attention would roam elsewhere.
I dressed up my attitude with value statements like ‘it’s important to keep looking for input that challenges and stimulates’ which is impossible to critique from a value perspective but the opinions I formed were superior and arrogant. I wasn’t just moving on because my interests had changed innocently; the popular notions I gravitated to (children of that old familiar accusation ‘sell out’) revealed to me my motives. My desire was to understand in order to dismiss him, to no longer feel dwarfed by the brilliance of his ideas, to rid myself of insecure feelings when faced with another man’s unique quality. To rubbish someone else in order to blot out the disquieting feelings of inadequacy. My motive was to deny another man’s value because I was afraid I had none of my own. Man did I suck.
Of course I was confident, eloquent and convincing in how I expressed my values so without deeper examination I probably looked clever and genuine enough to casual observers. The tree looked pretty good but the roots feed the fruit and the opinions I assumed were akin to that bitter fruit.
Mercifully Banksy would often come back with an idea so astonishing to me in it’s simplicity and clarity that I would be jerked back to that place of awe and after a few revolutions I could no longer ignore my shabby attitudes. He said one or two things that helped ease the pain too:
“Every time I think I’ve painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek Le Rat has done it as well, only twenty years earlier.” – Banksy
(Blek Le Rat – seminal French graf writer/artist).
A little more about those birds.
Why have I used birds as a metaphor for opinions as if they have a life of their own? The answer is in the question. Some opinions are like jokes, not because they’re funny (far from it sometimes) but because their origin is unknown and they simply get repeated by everyone, passed around because they sound good. There might be a little embellishment here and there but the original thought may often go unchallenged.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this; we all do it to cope with the onslaught of stimuli in modern life. No one is capable of responding to everything around them with real consideration and on a vast range of subjects this is of no consequence.
However I know from experience that I don’t always clock when it’s important to work out my own conclusions rather than simply accept someone else’s and I’m quite sure this isn’t a problem that’s unique to me. Let me give an example that has recently come to my notice.
Ever since the discovery arising from my Banksy experience I have started to systematically seek out useless or marginalised things. I look and I look until I am able to see through my accumulated opinions and start to form my own conception of what is in front of me.
Sometimes they are trivial like weeds (called thugs by gardeners with very fertile imaginations) or discarded wood which I use in my own art practice but sometimes they have had a little more import. I spend a lot of time walking around London’s Westway, photographing to help me develop this way of seeing the world, and I found that tagging started to feature in the images I gather.
Many times as I have reviewed the resulting images different people have looked over my shoulder and recited almost identical words:
“I like graffiti if it’s artistic but I don’t see the point in tagging”
Consider this to be an expression of value if you will – I value this, I don’t value that. Impossible to draw any suspect conclusions but some people add the following phrase, again identical each time:
“I bet you wouldn’t like it if they came round and did it to your house”
There’s more than just a value here, it’s an accusation and an unjust one. It has been assumed that because I took the photograph I’m in favour of tagging.
Further more I’m accused of hypocrisy because my attitude would change in a second if my own home was vandalised. I’m happy for it to happen elsewhere but in reality I’m a NIMBY.
Let’s not forget that there’s a section of society being thrown away here too: tagger scum. A destructive criminal fraternity with which I’m accused of having a naïve sympathy.
Would you say all those who took footage of the 9/11 atrocity are in favour of terrorism? Clearly the above saying is learned rather than a thoughtful conclusion. One more conclusive piece of evidence: the last person to say this to me happens to be a work colleague and friend who wasn’t intending to accuse or offend me. Ironic considering the statement clearly is both accusatory and offensive.
So apart from encouraging myself and others to pay a little more attention to what’s nesting in our branches I would like to take the opportunity to gently challenge this learned saying that’s being passed around like flu on the London underground at Christmas, to make an example of it.
It’s in the admission of our common humanity that society’s problems will be healed; taggers are not uniformly scum and if some of them are they’re just signing their names. Their real names? No but who has a problem with Mark Twain, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe or Engelbert Humperdinck? OK so Engelbert Humperdinck is a bad example but you do get my point. Taggers assume pseudonyms for the same vain reasons and their signatures display the same flourishes and flair as yours or mine.
You have to be afraid to begin with before a simple signature can scare you. How much of what we think is our own opinion actually started on some grubby page of that fear-monger the Daily Mail?
These days there are a different set of birds attracted to the fruit of my motives, and in consequence a better time is being had by all. My enjoyment of creativity is increased considerably as is the effectiveness of my encouragement to others. You may even have been on the receiving end of such encouragement so you may know very well what I mean. How did that happen? How did I come to recognise and believe in my own unique value? Simple I looked to the one who made me, his reasons for doing so, how he has demonstrated his regard for me. I listen for those things in the words people say to me. Not only do I suck considerably less, so does my life.
Forget for a minute that these signatures are on a wall instead of a birthday card or a cheque and take a look at the slide show >here<
Images used by kind permission