City Journal Winter 2016

Current Issue:

Winter 2016
Table of Contents
Tablet Editions
Click to visit City Journal California

Readers’ Comments

Heather Mac Donald

View Comments (24)

Add New Comment:

To send your message, please enter the words you see in the distorted image below, in order and separated by a space, and click "Submit." If you cannot read the words below, please click here to receive a new challenge.

Comments will appear online. Please do not submit comments containing advertising or obscene language. Comments containing certain content, such as URLs, may not appear online until they have been reviewed by a moderator.

Showing 24 Comment(s) Subscribe by RSS
I agree with Mac Donald on this one - if you can't take it don't dish it out.
"...with colorful graffiti featuring a large butterfly on its “West” side and the stark grey concrete showing on its “East” side, President Reagan remarked:

“Let our children and grandchildren come here and see this wall and reflect on what it meant to history. Let them understand that only vigilance and strength will deter tyranny.”

Kid killed over tagging:
It is unfortunate that you are so intensely shortsighted that you willingly choose to label all the contributing artists of the show as 1) vandals and 2) graffiti writers.

I will agree with you - that tagging - is an eyesore. It is a signature of identification that is usually unidentifiable.


Your ignorance into the variances of genres within the "street art" culture is apparent. You have an agenda - to label any and every "street artist" as a thug, hoodlum, and vandal - whose medium is to selfishly scrawl his or her name on the bland walls of the metropolis. It's almost as if you seemingly wish to connote it to tagging. You certainly sell it that way. It is so horribly unfortunate for many of your readers who will buy in.

There are many "street artists" who utilize a variety of mediums to create amazing portraits, murals, and imagery that evoke change and catalyze thoughts in every corner of this world. Most of these brilliant pieces can be found in areas where there is an absence of color - where the landscape is stark - and the community is in financial ruin or social turmoil.

The essence of "street art" is radical. It is meant to catch you off guard, because of its inherent placement is in an area that normally would be overlooked as you sit in traffic - or walk with your eyes down, avoiding interaction with your fellow men and women. It is an out of line, temporary, communal centerpiece of culture that catalyzes conversation.

Do I enjoy every one I see? Not in the slightest. Do I enjoy street art? In the absolute fullest.

My home has been tagged. I have painted over it. I have empathy towards this. However - if my home was the chosen canvas for an actual piece of actions towards it will be situational.

You see - we never know what life brings...what will move us. The opportunity to have "street art" in our cities - provides an opportunity of shared emotion. You can change from someone who despises all "street art" in a moment; if the image or message touches your soul...and that is is happenstance...and the very soul of "street art."

Artists such as Banksy have unified previously divided communities, JR has been commissioned by the prestigious TED conference, C215 has brought many to tears, and a variety of artists recently breathed life into the destroyed landscape of abandoned Detroit homes - into bastions of hope. I can go on...and on...and on.

When you paint with such a broad brush, you paint a crude minimalist visage. A mirage. You create a prefabricated icon of negative connotation fueled by your ignorance.

You are a zealot in your quest to quell a movement that has been in effect since primal mankind scrawled on cave walls.

And in this will fail. You cannot eradicate the inherent need by humanity to create. Whether it is in the quiet of their homes on a socially acceptable canvas from Aaron Brothers or on the walls of a rundown building or alleyway, people will always create. The canvas of their choosing cannot be limited. After all, the first works of art

To try and limit the bounds of our collective creative potential - is a futile effort.

Thank you for your perspective.

"Zealotry is a man (or a woman), blind and deaf - screaming through a megaphone." - THEFL | Artist
Good points, Richard and tma_sierrahills. Some of these comments remind me of a long-ago poster: "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit."
As with her previous articles concerning the 'Art in the Streets' exhibit @ MOCA, I must respectfully disagree with Ms. Mac Donald's take on the subject.

I found the show to be worthy and appreciated much of the work exhibited by many of the talented artists on display.

A side benefit of attending the MOCA show was a discussion I had with my oldest son and him introducing me to an exciting young artist named Vhils.

I would invite any interested/open minded person to check out this link to his work:

Scrolling down, there are samples of his collaborations with other street artists, including Conor Harrington and JR.

I would add, his video 'Scratching the Surface' is well worth a look.

For despite the broad brush, which Heather Mac Donald uses, in an attempt to diminish and dismiss the creations of some truly talented souls, the work lives on.

For which I, for one, am grateful.

tma_sierrahills June 24, 2011 at 6:45 PM
"Art in the Streets is a classic exercise of the elites’ juvenile dalliance with countercultural norms that they have no intention of adopting in their own protected lives."

This is true of so much of the dronings of the PC Pod People who currently rule. They live completely differently from what they preach, while going about destroying the norms of the society by which they so comfortably live, final consequences to take effect conveniently after they are gone.
- - - -
Border Enforcement + Immigration Moratorium = Job, Crime and Eco Sanity
All people deserve wealthy life time and business loans or just term loan will make it much better. Just because freedom bases on money state.
Silly me. I'd have said the ones "stamping on people's hard work" would be those defacing other people's private property.
zopilote, aside from your ethnically charged framing of 'mongrelization' which sounds like 19th century racial-cleansing dogma (see Gobineau), what you and the balance of the naysayers here don't seem to get is you have to look beyond it as an art form, when neurolinguists and neurophenomenologists assemble the evidence of language shifting in storage systems (text with images) through and beyond text, 70's graffiti is assigned a level of code that advances the idea of language. The shift in pattern-making is there, it's too late to stop the evolution 70's motion graffiti began. By clearly misreading the short term financial damages, and not the long term gains, graffiti's effect will be felt hundreds of years from now as computer code and spoken language merge. And they will all look back at thinkers like Futura 2000 and say he and others initiated this shift in usage and meaning, and they will find disbelievers like Heather Macdonald and laugh at her lack of vision; for only looking at the short-term financial effects.
Absolutely true. I strongly suspect that the people who promote graffiti do not take the subway themselves. I distinctly remember, as a newly arrived (and thoroughly lost) resident of Manhattan, attempting to read the subway map posted in the subway car in order to find out what my stop should be, only to find that the map had been graffitied over with spray paint. Manhattan is not a uniformly friendly place, and under some circumstances getting lost could be dangerous. The ugliness of graffiti is not its only drawback.
While I have no doubt that the ideology driving this exhibition is, as Ms. MacDonald says, a "classic exercise of the elites’ juvenile dalliance with countercultural norms," I don't think she really addresses two key questions: was the best graffiti actually fantastic art and is it important enough to be considered in an art historical context? I say yes to both. Graffiti was an artistic expression of a marginalized community that at the same time gave birth to hip-hop, music that conquered the world. Clearly, something big was going on. You don't have to appreciate the art, approve of it morally, or whitewash the social pathologies that nourished it to recognize that the story of what happened in New York and the South Bronx is fascinating and essential cultural history. The genesis, development, and suppression of graffiti is worth any thinking person's consideration. A museum show that does not take into consideration the fact that the art was also vandalism with socially corrosive effects is dishonest, and perhaps this show will fall short. That is no reason to call for its cancelation. There are enough of us still in NYC who remember the whole story, and I can't see any way that the conversation that a show about graffiti would hurt anyone in Gotham. As for me, I remember the ugliness of tagged subway cars and the social decay they embodied - but I also remember the sense of wonder I experienced when a car painted by a master rolled into the station. I believe that some graffiti represented supreme artistic accomplishment while at the same time understanding that it had to be destroyed - I'd appreciate an exhibit that showed people why. I don't know how many people will visit the Sargent show and consider that the artworks on display are, if viewed a certain way, simply fine examples from the countless flattering portraits of rich people commissioned by rich people for themselves. These portraits are now commodities as well as artworks, and though their destruction would constitute nothing short of cultural tragedy, one's appreciation of their aesthetic worth may also come down to a matter of personal taste. Graffiti and Sargent's paintings are both parts of the story of American art - to ignore either because one does not cotton to the social context of their creation is small minded.
Wonderful follow-up, Heather. Deitch is a man for whom the term "shmuck" was coined.
Note to Chris, Klein and Amy...
If graffiti is so wonderful, then when
you're stopped for a freight train, count
the cars that don't have graffiti on them.
You'll have a first person look at the
mongrelization of the United States.

Graffiti isn't's an obscenity.
Richard in Chicago June 24, 2011 at 9:15 AM
Excellent article, Heather. Although the proponents of graffiti claim it is a popular art form, it is the same old radical alliance of elite and underclass. The official art world has become so distant from the the larger society, some balance has to be restored.
Thanks a bunch there Heather, nice to see you're clearly enjoying stamping on people's hard work and holding them back. I'd say "i hope you're happy" buy you're obviously very pleased with yourself. Perhaps if you got down off your high horse for one second you'd notice how many people wanted this exhibition and how you helped to deny them it. Perhaps next time a controversial independent film is shown near you, you could have that stopped too because hey: if you don't like it nobody else should be allowed to see it either!
Every radical art movement is met with a conservative attack that misreads the medium and message. Beardsley's posters, Courbet's center of the world, pantheonic 70's graffiti is no different. It is safe to say that these initial artists' impact is still growing and no longer implies the threat of vandalism, conversely it has created revenue sources, the writer is quite inept to not grasp the effects of the era's revolt. This quite weak attempt has to posture to demonize a form that has yielded substantial revenue for advertising and marketing. No doubt this op-ed writer veils her rant with ideology that offers a supression not in-step with the democratic ideals of this country.
As a former student of the Art Institute of Chicago, I had a hard time understanding how, years ago, the winner at a contemporary exhibition was a solid black canvas. I could never understand how rap and loud noise are considered music. I do not understand how anyone could consider graffiti to be art. And the coarsening and dumbing down of America continues...
Ward L. Reed, Jr. June 23, 2011 at 9:44 PM
Congratulations! It's refreshing to see junk correctly labeled.
thank you Heather
Shut up Heather. Sick to death of Sargent. Love them but seen them all. So last century. Lets show art of today!! Thanks!
Actually, motion-graffiti, the 'counter-culture' visual revolution, is perhaps the most vibrant occurrence in linguistics in its recent history. By breaking down English (and Spanish) to spare parts, and then shifting them through pictograms (like rebus) and symbols, the nature of language is evolved. Issues of syntax and pronunciation are transformed. Already heavily influencing advertising (anyone notice the full bus and subway ads?), 70's graffiti sparked a monumental change in English and will assist in building languages closer to glyphic storage. This show is not to be missed wherever it arrives to.
Not sure whether an exhibition means endorsement, Heather.

"MOCA has never tolerated graffiti on its own premises; none of its wealthy Hollywood and real-estate-mogul trustees would ever allow tagging on their homes or businesses, either"

Nor am I certain that having an exhibition on the subject of graffiti/streetart means that trustees endorse graffiti on their property.

How exactly does this concept of a graffiti exhibition not address "the seminal fact that behind every act of graffiti is an invisible property owner whose rights have been appropriated against his will."?

Surely it's explicit?
How smug of NY to think LA gives 2 shits about what NY thinks. The Moca is an amazing show none the less.