Every time I drive between Wautoma and Tomah, Wisconsin, I admire three things: Necedah Wildlife Refuge, the cranberry bogs, and the Shiprock stone formation that has its own little rest area. I used to like to stop there and clamber around the rocks, but every year there is more spray painting and litter there, making it more painful than pleasant to observe.
Is graffiti an art form or an act of vandalism? Artist Terrance Lindall is quoted on Wikipedia as saying that graffiti can be a subversive form of expression that is revolutionary, adding, “People who are oppressed or suppressed need an outlet, so they write on walls–it’s free.” Having grown up in a small town myself, not unlike this area, I suspect that the spray-painters who leave their names and initials are simply bored or want to somehow leave their mark on the world.
My friend, Bill Buchholtz, comments on the practice of defacing areas of natural beauty, saying, “How sad. Instead of protecting stuff like this, my people are losing more of their history.” This Cambrian Shiprock formation happens to be just a bit north of the well-known vacation area of the Wisconsins Dells, which is full of even bigger sandstone bluffs, left over from the last ice age. The ones in the Dells area are mostly protected, including some that have ancient pictographs (rock painting).
Tens of millions of rock art images appear around the world, with the ones in Australia dating back 60,000 years. “Rock art,” says James Q. Jacobs, an expert on pictographs and petroglyphs, “constitutes the greatest body of evidence of the intellectual life of our ancestors.” He feels it is important to preserve these graphic records of prehistory.
What are we recording in our current history, and how much of it will survive to tell our tales? The first image I posted on this blog is an example of the rock art in Boynton Canyon, Arizona. I was moved when I saw it, so I took a picture of it and shared it with you all. The spray painting along Highway 21 in Wisconsin? I just shake my head and keep moving.
Good post. This is something I grappled with while we were in Spain. I’ve never seen so much graffiti on buildings until this trip, but on an interesting note over half of it was political in various languages (including English). Even though Franco has been dead for a while, it seems that this was one way (and still is) the Catalans, Basques, Spanish, etc. had a way and still have a way to express themselves against the government.
Cece, thank you for this observation from abroad! Artistic and political expressions take many forms. As my brother-in-law says, if kids had to clean up the brick walls they marked, they might be more selective about where and how they expressed themselves. But I wouldn’t want to squelch that expression altogether…