Throughout our Greece Teacher Tour, we’d exclaim, “Look at that graffiti over there, and there… and THERE! So terrible. Why do they allow it?”
How jarring it is to have an idealized vision of a country (you know, Greek gods in flowing togas striding around a pristine Athens and handing out free Ambrosia)… then arrive and see the country’s walls defaced.
When you encounter this, you have to ask: “What the heck’s going on with all the graffiti in Greece?”
Is all this writing on the walls a sign of the anger the Greek people feel at what’s going on with their economy?
Is the graffiti a result of the government being so preoccupied with its many problems that it can’t spare the resources to prevent or clean up wall drawings?
Are these wall scrawls simply a cultural difference? Do Greeks tolerate or even enjoy graffiti, rather than seeing it as a sign of disrespect or disrepair?
In Boston, we have very little graffiti in comparison, largely because our law enforcement and government officials have embraced the Broken Window Theory.
To understand this theory, imagine a street in perfect repair, spotlessly clean. Would you be more or less likely to commit a crime in such an environment?
Now imagine that same street with a violently shattered house window. As a resident, would you suddenly feel unsafe? If you were a criminal, would you think, “Hey, this neighborhood is already going downhill. I might as well attack!”
The Broken Widow Theory theorizes that a city must clean up the smallest acts of disorder (graffiti, broken windows, etc.) immediately, in order to ward off larger acts of crime like armed robbery.
There’s a similar theory in teaching: You must get compliance from students from small things (taking hats off, not chewing gum, etc.) to prevent larger classroom blow-outs like fistfights and chair-throwing.
Most of the time I believe the Broken Window theory and thus think that graffiti should be prevented and cleaned, and students shouldn’t wear hats.
BUT, there are some slippery, slide-y gray areas when it comes to these little transgressions.
Most notably in the case of graffiti: when is vandalism actually art?
Examine the photo to the right of the graffiti we saw sprayed on walls throughout lovely Nafplio, Greece: “We are Artists, not Vandals.”
There were moments in Greece I had to admit, that sentiment had a point. Look at the first photo in this article, for example. What a luscious splash of color on a brilliantly sunny day!
But I know from my experience as a teacher and a human: Sometimes kids and adults can handle the small bit of lawlessness and not go on to the big transgressions… but often they can’t!
It’s a trap to cling to the glimmers of good and ignore the building wave of chaos and disrespect!
Here’s a better solution: Channel the criminal activity and develop the beauty by hiring graffiti artists to do paid, legal public art! My guess is that the photo on the left is the result of such brilliance. Pretty! And also legal.
So, dearest readers, what is YOUR take on graffiti??? Share your views in the comments section!
Want more photos and stories about graffiti and street art around the world?
• For an article on Boston street art, click here.
• For pics of beautiful street paintings (or maybe graffiti) in Granada, Spain, click here.
• For photos of CRAZY public art in Beijing, China, click here.