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ARTIST vs. VANDAL: The Graffiti Argument

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2009 by erikball123

We are mere days away from opening the first High School production in Faith Lutheran’s new Chapel/Performing Arts Center! “CLUE,” based on the campy motion picture will certainly be one for the record books, and my wife (the director) will certainly consider this the hood ornament on her “drama career” Ferrari.  It’s been a long couple of weeks, and I look forward to a busy final rehearsal schedule and then an even busier follow-up rehearsal schedule as I swan dive into “Thoroughly Modern Millie” rehearsals. (I’ve been cast as Trevor Graydon.)

But, before I go on and on about how sore my feet are…or reveal the secret to magically removing dried paint from under your fingernails…allow me to relive the moment I first began spattering paint on the set last Friday and the look my the students gave me.

I had a hard time explaining to them that up close it looks like little splatters. But from a distance, and under the theatrical lights and magic of “pretend-land”…it looks amazing. Even after tutorials, some remain flat-out unbelievers.

“It just looks messy,” one said. “You ruined my wall!” another shouted! It was a wonderful uproar.

I had the opportunity to visit Home Depot several times this last week.  There is one conveniently located right around the corner of the school, and after my 17th trip to the macho-man mega-store, (casters were on sale), I noticed on the back of a neighboring Atlanta Bread Company restaurant, several graffiti-d “words”…scribbled with cheap spray paint on the exterior, trailing from one end of the store to the other.

Now, I truly believe graffiti, and graffiti artists for that matter, has its place in society. I’ve seen amazing graffiti displayed that I could easily categorize as breath-taking. Even the lettering of some simple offerings are completed with poise, flare and prestige. I think whoever invests time in something…anything…that is original, artistic and theirs (in other words, something they are passionate about)….then it should be considered art.

Art is such a subjective thing. Like theatrical arts, the visual arts world revolves around visionaries and skeptics. I recall, years ago, an commotion upon the displaying of a painting of the Virgin Mary. The artists’ medium was cow manure. The entire painting, which some deemed beautiful, was made entirely from dung. Some called it art…some called it crap. I thought they were both right.

Mayor Oscar Goodman, the martini-drinking mayor of Las Vegas, whose flare for the dramatics is as well-known as his reputation for extending himself beyond any conservatives city limits, made a public statement saying that any vandal caught spray-painting city property will have their thumbs chopped off.

I think graffiti artists have a voice and something to say. And I think they should have a place to display their artwork. With that said, I think it’s a ROTTEN SHAME that vandals scroll unreadable…rushed… “tags” all over the walls of Atlanta Bread Company.

If you’re an artist, if you have something to say (or rather, a message to send) then at least say it in words others can read. At least display it in places where you aren’t cowering in the shadows at midnight, waiting for that one car to speed by. If you want to protest…PROTEST! But at least show your face. If you want to defame, call-out or destroy something…if you feel strong enough, at least have the courage to do it where you can be seen. Anyone who scribbles with spray paint on the BACKS of anything…unreadable nonsense or “gang signs”….and then leaves it….they are nothing but a destructive vandal and a coward. Arguement

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Graffiti is misunderstood. Artists in general are misunderstood in some ways. But as someone who is trying to find their “something” that sets them apart…that “something” that makes them special…or, that “something” that needs to be said, don’t allow yourself to be lumped into the same category as thieves, gangsters and criminals. Instead find an outlet, a channel, or a means by which to express yourself in a way that supports your vision or art. I can’t help but think, even IF those vandals did accomplish their goal in successfully tagging that store…what now? Nobody can read it…nobody understands it….nobody cares. And unless your purpose for doing that is to upset people…you’re not achieving anything. And if your goal is to upset people…you’re doing it in a simple-minded way and you will never be perceived as artistic…only destructive.

Maybe that cow-dung artist had something to say with that particular offering. You know it’s said that artists aren’t truly famous until they are dead and the legacy of their art has lived on after they have. Perhaps this young hopeful was looking for a break and found it through a risky piece of art and a little exposure. Perhaps he knew that good or bad press regarding the event would at least garnish him some press. Either way, he was willing to sign his name to the piece.

We all have something special about us. Something that we do well, or are good at. Something that separates us from everyone else. Look around…some of us are very outspoken about our talents. Others, not so much, and I can’t help but think that these people are ones that simply haven’t found the right outlet yet. I always tell my students, if you want to be a doctor or lawyer…go for it! But if you like video games, or skateboarding, or graffiti art….go for it! But it’s HOW you “go for it” that will define you. If you invest everything you have (including hard work at school, a determined spirit, and a don’t-give-up attitude) you can accomplish anything you want, and before you know it, you’ll be designing video games, or copyrighting your own brand of skateboard, or displaying your art to critical acclaim.

The tiny specs of paint on that CLUE set up close look very messy and divided. But from a distance, you can see that thy run together and generate the preferred ambiance.

We together with our separate talents and likes really don’t do much of anything, if we cannot collaborate. And artist is not an artist unless someone is there to look and reflect on their painting. An actor is not an actor without an audience. A graffiti artist is not an artist at all…unless they can define who their audience is. There should be places where graffiti can be displayed. The painter has a museum. The actor, the stage. But I refuse to believe that the side of a dumpster or the back of an Atlanta Bread Company is the graffiti artist’s place.

I took several steps back to observe my finished, painted  set this weekend. I can only hope it’s pleasing to the audience and in God’s eye. Perhaps taking several steps back and reevaluating what your passion is, and how you can better direct it, and questioning if it too is pleasing in God’s eye,  is something that could help reveal that outlet for you.

Sure seems a better alternative to chopping off appendages.

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MY CHRISTMAS HOPE

Posted in FAITH, FAMILY and FUN with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2008 by erikball123

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I’m the first to admit when I’m wrong. There’s something to be said for SUVs. I’m the first to toss off-colored banter around whenever a Junior rolls by in a new Hummer. When one of my favorite senior students proclaimed the arrival of his brand new Escalade (he even jingled his keys at me, like announcing the arrival of Santa Clause or something), sure, I scoffed. But, during my long drive to Michigan from the great state of Nevada…I learned to respect the SUV.

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We rented a Ford Explorer. We didn’t really have much of a choice, but then again I don’t necessarily research exotic fruits before venturing into Albertson’s and test drive a Kiwi either. It was roomey, had a new car smell and a big back area for the dogs. I was surprised and happy. So, we loaded up the front-wheel drive sleigh and took off early Friday morning.

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My wife and I drove in shifts. She’d take 6 hours…I’d sleep in the back. I’d drive 6 hours…she’d sleep. I haven’t told her yet…but those books on tape DID in fact keep me up a bit. (But in a good way.) You see, you can drive a bulldozer through the bedroom and NOT wake me up I’m such a heavy sleeper…but getting there….that’s another thing. We stopped twice at Rest Areas and tucked some blankets up into the windows and hunkered down for a few hours before raiding the coffee machines and heading off again. (Indiana has the best coffee machines.)

I can’t say that I was looking forward to the drive. Okay…I totally didn’t want to drive. (I feel better now that I’ve come clean.) But looking back…it wasn’t such a bad drive. I expected to be annoyed by the hulking SUV. It wasn’t so hulking. I expected to tire of the lengthy road trip. It was very engaging and not so tiring. I expected the trip to take FOREVER! We pulled into Jackson, MI after 2 1/2 days of driving. Not bad!

Here are a few things I found interesting during our little trip:

  • Stephen King tends to favor certain names in his short stories. Names like Gage, Vince and Garaby.
  • Never stop at anything called FIESTA MART. Isn’t a fiesta a party? We need to work on redefining some of these gas stations, I’m thinking.
  • Kentucky is brutally honest with their landmark names. Let’s just say the DIRTY RIVER….yeah. Pretty dirty.
  • I found that you cannot truly appreciate cuisines from foreign lands until you’ve actually consumed the stuff. Foods like “CAKESTERS”….(I think they’re French)….yeah, not so good. “BETTER CHEDDARS”….not so bad. “MOONPIES”…..pretty stinkin’ disgusting. And the McRIB SANDWICH. Yeah….that was interesting. First and foremost, I’m STILL finding bar-b-que sauce in the car. (How it got on the ceiling, I’ll never know.) Second…I didn’t know meat could be bouncy. I suppose I should just keep quiet. This is all being brought to you from the guy who has heightened the CHICK-O-STICK to its own food group. Still, all things considered, I’m adding “Colon Flush” on next year’s Santa list.
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Are you jealous of the McRib...or my killer Ear Flap Fleece? Both you can't have.

  • I’ve noticed that public restrooms and restroom etiquette varies greatly from state to state. New Mexico has a LOW cleanliness standard. I suppose the Land of Enchantment wants to keeps things adventerous and mysterious. Arizona is fine. Texas is fine, if you’re wearing a cowboy hat, otherwise you get “looks.” Oklahoma is the “Sooner State” which I didn’t understand right away…but after 7 hours crossing that state….PHEW! I was wishing I had reached that rest area sooner rather than later. My wife felt the brunt of Tennessee when she had to hold the stall door shut for an elderly lady so that she may use the facilities…and then the elderly lady did the same for her. You make fast friends that way…and that’s why Tennessee is the Volunteer State. (This is totally true. I can’t MAKE stuff up like this.)
  • There is a HUGE chain of waffle houses across the southern states. That’s no big deal, I suppose…but what’s funny is that they’re all just called “WAFFLE HOUSE.” That’s like naming a store that sold furniture “FURNITURE STORE.” In hindsight, I suppose this was funnier at 1:00am when I first thought about it!
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So, as Emily and I took turns snuggling down, fully extended in the back of the SUV with our Great Pyrenees, Pug and Chihuahua / Terrier mix, we were able to enjoy many things let alone each others company, which in this VERY busy world, seems to be something we take for granted often. I forgot how much I enjoyed my wife’s company and I’m ashamed I am to have to admit that.

I suppose you could say that we were lucky during the trip. The occasional cluster of dirtied snow on the side of the road outside of the car certainly didn’t compare to the flurry of white dog hair inside the car. My pug served as a surrogate hot-water-bottle sprawling across my lap. Her snoring provided much needed accompaniment to the late night silence. Sometimes I would wander over onto the shoulder’s rumble-stripes to try and fall into sync with her cadence.When we got to Michigan it started to snow hard, and we wound up with three more inches later that night. We just missed the next wave of weather. (That blustery offering turned into the most amazing packing snow in the history of the world. I don’t have my brother’s arm for pitching, but I’m still a dead-eye, it turns out!)

I found that gas prices went down as we got closer to Michigan, and I suppose I’ll trade the more expensive gasoline for three gained hours coming back. It’ll be a wash.

Another thing I found out was that when you are in close proximity with someone, be it your significant other, family or…well, Pug…you wind up complimenting them in some fashion. Not with an everyday verbal gesture, that’s not what I mean…I mean, in character. I think when we were all made, and came into this world…God purposely created us in a way to help others find Him better. Allow me to elaborate. My wife knew I wasn’t keen on the long trip…but she made sure certain aspects that were weighing heavy on my heart, were approached with care and consideration. Her burned CDs featured renditions from Harry Connick, Barry Manilow, Michael Buble and the Muppets. She indulged me to read chapters from “The Princess Bride,” our favorite book. She challenged me to think positively when the two giant Tupperware containers full of gifts in the back of our SUV, kept toppling over in back.  Instead of worrying about tying them up we’ll just “not take right turns anymore,” she said. (She also said that the “change oil” light is merely formality.) I thought she was the crooner and I was the comic!

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My amazing niece Rachel and her crazy Uncle Erik.

In the end, we coasted into the choppy Jackson side roads with a great sense of accomplishment. Our families greeted us and I currently sit across a fire sipping coffee having eaten a chuck of chocolate yule log after Christmas Eve dinner. It’s enough to finally excuse my family for not giving in to my curiosity in allowing me to make some traditional, British plum pudding. (Everyone says it’s nasty…but I HAVE to see for myself!)

You know…I find it super-duper easy sometimes to translate Bible stories and message to my life’s experiences. But occasionally I struggle with notion that we suffer the same types of burdens and feel the same emotions that those who lived long ago did. For example, I can’t imagine Mary and Joseph toiling over grungy breakfast food at a mom-n-pop diner like the HUDDLE HOUSE. I also can’t imagine it was a particularly warm welcome at the Inn that memorable night. I would have been very distraught if I got to my destination and found NO warm welcome. I have it too easy to relate it seems.

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The pastor at the church we went to for the Christmas Eve service talked about Hope. As I sat there in the same church I was married in ten years ago…remembering that day like it was yesterday…looking at the large hand-carved wooden sculptures on the alter (still thinking they look kinda like giant Jesus Jenga pieces waiting to be stacked on top of each other)…I thought to myself as we embarked on our lengthy journey, that the hope my wife and I shared as we looked forward to rolling into Jackson, MI could not compare to the hope Mary and Joseph desired that night. The hope they shared after the baby Jesus was born. I wonder if they were scared about dust storms like I was worried about snow drifts. I wonder if they were worried about Mary arriving to the Inn safely like I was worried about black ice and semi trucks rushing by. They clung to that hope and it helped Mary sleep at night, I’m sure. I’m not sure however that DURING their journey, in such close proximity and against such adversity, Joseph and Mary complimented each other. I don’t know…but I hope.

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How can I even think about that type of hope in Christ? I suppose attempting to connect in any way to the Holy Couple is not realistic. Instead, as I warmed myself in the glow of the candles during the rendition of “Silent Night” at the end of the service…as I look at the same alter that blessed my marriage….as I look at my two beautiful nieces, as I gaze into the bulging eyes of my hot-water-bottle Pug, and as I dote on my amazing wife… I can at least remember that with every mile I put on the SUVs ticker and every Moonpie I conquer …I’m getting closer in my personal journey across my own desert. Everyday…not just Christmas day…I’m growing in my love for the Lord. I’m not perfect. In fact, I’m a paranoid, anxious, ambitious dude who can’t help but hope for the best. It’s what helps me fall asleep in the back of our rented Ford Explorer at night. (It’s no donkey…but it’ll do.)

SUVs have there place in the world I suppose. I know they could use a few more Hummers saddled with snow plows in Jackson, MI! But I can tell you this, just like there is room in this world for the silliest, most impractical SUV you can find…I’m sure there is room in this world for a silly, impractical drama teacher with a hope in the salvation.

Jesus Christ cannot be found at the end of the lengthiest highway in the world…but I bet, that when it is all said and done, and the wrapping paper is out for the garbage and the egg nog has been slurped up….Jesus will still remain steadfast in my heart and I can rest assured that I may continue my journey with a star to lead me.

I don’t need a rest area to settle that into my little brain.

Merry Christmas.

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