Opinion | Outdoors | Photography

Dear graffiti artists: Keep Detroit's murals intact

At its best, Graffiti stands out without covering anyone else's story up. As seen on the 75 North service drive, between 6 and 7 Mile.

At its best, Graffiti stands out without covering anyone else’s story up. As seen on the 75 North service drive, between 6 and 7 Mile.

I’m old enough to remember when pro wrestling had enough of a veneer of reality that match results would run in the newspapers.

I’m old enough to have witnessed X-Games competitors go from being perceived as existing on the fringes of sport to being medaled as Olympic athletes.

But I’m not so old that I don’t consider graffiti a worthy form of art. And it is not from a belief that graffiti is inherently bad that I make this request to local taggers: Please, leave Detroit’s murals alone.

Graffiti LennonI started Down I-94, my photoblog about Detroit, in late January, after deciding to drop the ego of being a “lifelong Metro Detroiter” and choosing to see my hometown with new eyes.

Traveling Detroit’s mile roads and main roads, I’ve learned to grow eyes in the side and back of my head to see the things we normally miss while traveling from point A to point B. Things like Monumental Kitty, or a mural of Coleman Young, MLK, President Barack Obama, Rosa Parks, Jesus and Tiger Woods, on the back wall of a car repair shop on Eight Mile, were first spotted from the corner of my eye, while I was out looking for other things.

Graffiti Pickle

What A Pickle. What A Waste.

But for as much beauty as I’ve found, more walls in our unfair city are blank than are not. Which is why it makes no sense for taggers to blot out the work of muralists. Detroit has three times the space all of its artists could ever need to make a point.

Graffiti that can tell its own story without erasing others' stories is the most powerful.

Graffiti that can tell its own story without erasing others’ stories is the most powerful.

The existence of graffiti itself is not problematic; indeed, I’ve posted some examples of good graffiti. The problem comes in when any one type of art acts to erase the completeness and beauty of another.

Graffiti Good 2

Good graffiti provides contrast or commentary on the world around it.

Graffiti Wolf

Bad graffiti acts to erase the completeness of an existing work of art, as with The Wolf is Dead mural at Rosa Parks and Michigan Avenue. Below is how the mural looked before being tagged.

So I don’t view graffiti and murals and the art at the DIA on a different plane. They’re just spots on the same continuum. It’s all art, and it all has a place.

It’s when one type of art works to that the problem comes in.

I drive all around this city in search of beauty. There is no shortage of open space for it. And there is no reason why graffiti would need to mark up Graffiti Free Muralan existing piece of art.

If the point of graffiti is the point of art generally, to comment on the world or provide contrast or to give ownership to the abandoned, this shouldn’t be too tough a request. Fill the blank walls. Leave what’s up intact. Easy.

But if the point of the graffiti is to merely leave one’s ‘tag’ anywhere you damn please, whether the building is occupied or not, whether art exists there or not, don’t be surprised when Dan Gilbert unleashes a manhunt for you, or the Motor City Muckraker outs you, or the people who believe in our city the most scorn you.