Is Vandalizing Art also Art?

Photo of mural in Olinda, Brazil by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

My article about why Burning Man lacks a recognizable literary style has prompted a vigorous debate.  One interesting contention that several people have made:  a clear written aesthetic does emerge at Burning Man.  It happens as graffiti.

Jared wrote:

“The scrawlings on the Temple, the Man Base and other sculptures are the literature of Burning Man. (Aside: don’t bring art to the playa that it’s not okay to write on; writing on art is following the principles of Participation and Radical Self-Expression.) Burning Man has distinct graffiti that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.”

nncoco said:

“There is definitely a language of the Burner that I am aware of. Kind of a cross between New Age religion and rave goer. I’t is recognizable in the written word a poetry seen in places like the temple walls, camps, art, blogs, forums and the center camp stages.”

Ellie said that Burner writing “Might just be written on a wooden platform. Or in a port-a-potty. Often embodied in the most ephemeral of forms.

And so on.

It’s a great point, one that I hadn’t considered.  Certainly graffiti can be art – even literary art.  The writing on the temple walls is absolutely part of our culture, although I question whether many of the people writing it are considering stylistic issues at the time.

I’m not convinced, though:  I don’t recall seeing any graffiti that struck me as “only at Burning Man.”  Quite the contrary.  The graffiti seemed as ubiquitous in its style as in its presence.

But I could be wrong:  perhaps someone can do a literary analysis of Burning Man’s graffiti to make the case.

But even before we consider the content, I’m stuck on Jared’s contention:  “don’t bring art to the playa that it’s not okay to write on;  writing on art is following the principles of Participation and Radical Self-Expression.”

Is it?  For any piece of art?  Not just the Temple and the Man and other pieces that are explicitly looking for it?

Is vandalizing someone else’s art actually an artistic act of self-expression?

Another writer in the comments section, Barry Brumitt, suggests that this isn’t the way it works in for some people.  According to his account (I have no personal knowledge or independent verification), he created free-standing sheet metal signs on which false statements about various art pieces were printed.  His plan was to go around and put them in the round near the art, creating a mis-informative art tour that could be taken, one piece to another.

He says he was told not to because doing so violated Burning Man’s vandalism policy.

So on the one hand, we have Burners saying that to tag a piece of art is a legitimate act of free expression – and on the other we have a contention that even putting false information near a piece of art is infringing on artistic expression.

Both self-expression and artistic integrity are among Burning Man’s highest values.  Can this circle be squared?

Probably not to anyone’s satisfaction.  But the most interesting questions about our values and how we live them are always on these frontiers.

After giving it some thought – and as always speaking only for myself – here’s my take:

Graffiti, and even harsher forms of vandalism, can indeed be artistic expression in most cases.  And in most cases, I think Jared is right:  if you don’t want it changed in some way, whatever it is, you probably shouldn’t bring it to Burning Man.

But I draw the line at art.  Unless invited by the artist, you should keep your hands off it.  Because a piece of art should say what the artist intends it to:  their art is their radical expression.  Tag it, and you change that expression.  You are taking the words out of their mouth, plucking their vision out of the air, changing it, and then putting it back in.

Don’t do that.  Make your own art.  Write on the graffiti equivalent of a blank sheet of paper.  Turn a subject that doesn’t say anything into its own piece of art through graffiti.  Make more art, rather than drawing over existing art.  Don’t engage in your self-expression at the expense of someone else’s.

But don’t we have the right to criticize art?  Yes!  Of course!  Do that.  Do that far and wide!  A lot of Burning Man art sucks!  But don’t do it on the piece:  that only makes it harder for other people to see how much it sucks.

We don’t have to be nice.  In fact, I don’t recommend it.  But Burning Man’s value of radical self-expression is intended to create more expression and more art, and that means letting other people speak.  We disagree best by creating more expression, better expression:  not by silencing the things we don’t like.

Ironically, Brumitt’s “misinformation tour” fits perfectly into my range of fair play:  he was creating entirely separate pieces of art without damaging the original.  Seems not only legitimate but kind of of awesome to me.

Which is to say that I don’t expect anybody to be convinced, or disagreements to be settled,  but the conversation’s interesting.  What do you think?

Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man.  His opinions are in no way statements of the Burning Man organization.  Contact him at Caveat (at)

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

74 Comments on “Is Vandalizing Art also Art?

  • jinnybee says:

    there is very little art at all on the playa. so vandalizing this so-called art isn’t art either. unless it involves burning the shit down before it’s scheduled to be burned down… then that is just downright funny = art.

    everything else out there is total shit, aside from the hypocrisy, which is fucking epic.

    Report comment

  • Jared says:

    Thank you for engaging this topic, Caveat!

    My personal views on art don’t agree with your argument that “a piece of art should say what the artist intends it to”. I’m a postmodernist, so I believe that as soon as the artist finishes erecting their piece on the playa it doesn’t matter what they think (they might as well be dead). What’s important is what a piece of art says to the individuals observing and interacting with it.

    Graffiti is really important in cities because it challenges the hierarchy of commodification and exclusion. There’s much less of that hierachy on the playa, but as Barry Brumitt discovered there still is a power structure. Artists get free tickets and some of the biggest ones like David Best and Otto Von Danger are celebrities of sorts. If graffiti helps to break down that hierarchy then it’s politically if not artistically good.

    Perhaps vandalism should still be forbidden if the sensitive artists need that encouragement to bring their art to the playa. We prevent some forms of expression (like gun katas) for the sake of public safety.

    But I agree with you that not much of the vandalism *improves* the art at Burning Man. If you’re going to alter a piece of art for every other participant, you have an obligation to make it more awesome.

    Report comment

  • Liz says:

    Jared, I’d argue that graffiti and vandalism are two very different things. Graffiti adds something to a piece of art. Vandalism takes something away.

    Vandalism is what happened to the dildo bubble machine last year. The dildos were stolen early in the week. That added nothing to the art. It just destroyed it.

    I personally don’t feel the need to scribble on or tag other people’s work. Not my thing. And I think if you are going to take it on yourself to “add” to someone’s work, it should at least strive to be worthy of the art.

    Report comment

  • Finn says:

    The dis-info campaign is fantastic! Tagging someone else’s art is just lame. Graffiti is the outlet of the powerless. And if you think you’re powerless at burning man, you are doing it incorrectly.

    Report comment

  • Pet Cathy says:

    “If you’re going to alter a piece of art for every other participant, you have an obligation to make it more awesome.”

    And that’s where this thought experiment fails, whether on the playa or not. For one, not all vandalism is meant to make something more awesome, even for the vandal. Two, one who attempts to make another piece “more awesome” fails the majority of the time.

    Regarding my second point if you’re going to mod someone’s piece make it easily reversible, please.

    Report comment

  • “When you have enough perspective on anything, it becomes art.”
    -Erik Engstrom

    Report comment

  • G says:

    Tagging the Pistle that was inside the Man Base last year was a real pain for us who worked the Manwatch project. Okay, so I can understand people not realizing it was to be disassembled and removed rather than burned. That said, a few people were maliciously defiant and determined to tag it, and did so even as they were being told not to.
    In light of that experience, I would say the best that could be hoped for is to minimizing tagging.

    A whole new thread about just how many rules over and above the ten are too many, and how to effectively convey those to the BRC population.

    Report comment

  • Dienekes says:

    If vandalizing art is also art, than is violence against vandals when you catch them also art?

    And if not, why not? Some arbitrary system of selectively-enforced rules and laws that decides what’s valuable to artists and what isn’t, and doesn’t leave the artist with a realistic means to prevent his or her art from being destroyed?

    Are people actually having this discussion? Go try to draw eyes on the Mona Lisa and when you get out of prison, let us know how it worked out. Until then, it’s all just hippie-dippie philosophy and vandal-empowering pyschobabble.

    Report comment

  • Andy Daniel says:

    I’m really disappointed that people would consider vandalism to be an acceptable form of art, and that some people distinguish between graffiti and vandalism, unless there is permission for the graffiti.

    Radical self-expression means that I get to decide what my art is, and you get to decide what your art is. I don’t get to decide what your art is – that’s not radical self-expression, it’s radical censorship.

    If you believe that my art piece would look better with your graffiti on it, ask me and, in the best Burner fashion, I’ll give you the plans to construct your own so that you can add your graffiti to it.

    Report comment

  • Ranger Radar says:

    Personally I don’t like graffiti. The word “GRAFFITI” to me means uninvited spray paint/pen/scribing one someone else’s property. This property is not owned by the person doing the graffiti. This is trespassing! 99% of the time it looks like crap. Due to the fact that it is all done illegally. Can’t make anything look good if you are in a hurry. I really can’t say what I’d do if I caught someone vandalizing my art. It wouldn’t be pretty. I imagine I’d strap his/her ass down and invite people to spray paint this person……Hey….I don’t own you….but, IT MY ART!!!!!

    Report comment

  • Flux says:

    Obviously, the temple, the man base and center camp are places where if not originally designed, have become centers of sentimental expression. But let’s not leap to the lame excuse that “that if it is possible to tag, it’s fair game” or torching “the man” or any art is excused under the guise of “radical self expression”. Radical though it may be, criminal it is. As artists, we all know that a product of art has intention. Some art is intended for public observation and scrutiny, other art may be intended to invite public interaction more than a philosophical discourse and actually call for joint participation in its final execution. But to assume just because you are able, to put your mark an another’s art is NO excuse for doing so… No matter how “rad” you consider yourself. Respect for art is protocol. You don’t gave to like it, and discourse to that affect is not only reasonable but warranted, if your sensibilities dictate it. But no matter how strongly you feel one way or another should vandalism be the mechanism by which you give voice to that opinion. Vandalism is tantamount to censorship! Have a reasonable, if not radical opinion about displayed art, but defacing is is cheap and unintellectual. If you don’t like art and its diversity don’t subject yourself to it. Stay on the galleries where you’ll feel safer where there are more conventional offerings, if that suits your more conventional tastes. Or, god forbid, make your own public art in the medium and subject of your own choosing. Be radical! Make your own artistic statement! Not debasing another’s…..

    Report comment

  • Capra says:

    As an artist who spent 9 months building a piece that had plenty of opportunities for interaction and then was radically vandalized; I’m not so sure I agree that vandalism is art, and I’m fairly certain that almost none of it improves the art out there. Now it is true that I set myself up. I included in my piece a giant roll of paper that scrolled through the wall that people could write on, and put (horrors!) pens out there to enable them to do so. Because my piece looked like a mini temple, people decided to engage with it like they do with the temple, and before too long, the scroll was abandoned in favor of the walls. Monday and Tuesday’s crowds respected the artwork and wrote on the scroll. Then on Wednesday, it started to look like the NY subway. The one positive effect of this was that it had become so ugly, any qualms I had about burning it vanished on Wednesday night.

    Many of the messages left on the walls were positive, full of hope or remembrances, like at the temple; and then there were some, usually the largest, that were just people spreading foulness; I guess that is a part of it too. But last year (2012) I saw a beautiful artwork that was clearly not meant to burn, that someone took their mind to alter with a sharpie, thus destroying one whole part of it, and I wondered if the vandal understands that the artists who contribute their work to the burn are not compensated for their own time and effort (at most they receive a grant to cover *part* of their expenses for materials and transportation of the artwork), thus many artist rely on being able to sell their work or otherwise exhibit it at additional venues in order to make a living. I can’t say that this piece was intended to do so, but I could tell that removing the sharpie from a fiberglass mold, or replacing that molded figure all together would be costly, time-consuming and a real bummer for the artist.

    On the other hand, Barry Brumitt’s idea is truly inspired, and I would have welcomed it near my piece. I don’t see how it could be considered vandalism, since it is a stand-alone piece. If the artist objected, they could ask for it to be removed or remove it themselves, and then you could have another conversation about whether that was vandalism. His idea is an interaction with the art that creates its own thing without destroying the artwork. And it’s very postmodern.

    I’m definitely into the idea that once the artist is finished creating the work; that’s it, it starts to belong to the public imagination. But vandalism is not imaginative; we wouldn’t stand for it in a museum, and when artists are giving ample opportunity for participation (or even if they don’t), I think a lot of this type of vandalism goes beyond the concept of “radical self-expression.” If someone is doing something patently unsafe (to themselves, an artwork or an art car) or threatening the safety of others, we intervene and stop them if possible. We don’t just call it “radical self-expression” and throw up our hands. I mean, if you really want to go there, then rape would be radical self-expression. I don’t think so. So I don’t know why vandalizing art should be considered self-expression when it damages something someone else was expressing. If you want to express yourself, there are plenty of ways to do so that don’t infringe someone else’s expression. Bring a piece of plywood out and write on that, if you are so interested in graffiti.

    Report comment

  • Aishah the Random One says:


    Report comment

  • At burning man I always carry a Sharpie with me. I mostly use it to write on people tho.

    ………..♥ ####### Four Finger Surprise ##########♥
    …………..♥####### Try It, You’ll Like It #########♥

    Report comment

  • Dogs pee on things because they think it makes it theirs.

    Weak-minded humans write on things because they think it becomes theirs.

    The dogs are a little smarter, it turns out.

    Report comment

  • Maine CORE Project says:

    In 2011 we brought Lobster Bisque’O to the playa. It was our first CORE project and we were proud of our accomplishment. Many people added to it with their inspiring words, thoughts and drawings. When checking up on it throughout the week it was like seeing the art piece everyday with new eyes. I couldn’t wait to see what was new.

    In 2012 we brought our second piece of art to the playa. I couldn’t believe that Monday morning when I went out to check on it, it had been tagged in three places. Not lovely words, a poem or thoughtful drawing… no it had been tagged by some ass hat that thought it was funny to spray paint his initials. It was rather up stetting to me that all week until it burned when people approached it, most saw the rather large tag first. I couldn’t see past it.

    Report comment

  • Peach Fuzz says:

    I can confirm Barry’s intention to “vandalize” other people’s art–I camped with him. For the first 48 hours of the event, Barry was visiting projects and writing about them.

    When the Organization told him his piece would be considered vandalism, I (along with several others) helped him install his signs in a free-standing piece entitled Vandalism–the signs he had made stood in a circle at about 8:15 and Esplanade, with a central sign describing the Organization’s take on vandalism and Barry’s views on art censorship.

    Just before sunrise on Burn Night, a few campmates and I got the idea to steal one of his signs and “vandalize” his piece–we stole one of the extra signs he had and wrote our own text about Barry’s piece, posting it about 15 feet from the circle of signs.

    I was really hoping that the Org would come remove it with a backhoe as promised–maybe even letting Barry borrow it to remove his own signs at the same time…

    Report comment

  • Buzz says:

    Let it go… Let it go… Don’t be too proud of your creation – there is something to be learned from its defacing and/or destruction. The more pride you have in your work – the less authentic it likely is. Let it go… Let it go…

    Report comment

  • Ranger Radar says:

    Hey BUZZ…..

    So I guess in your eyes it would be just OK to go into any museum with a hammer and spray paint and just add “your touch” to…anything. Maybe your work is hung up there. Maybe you work hard to make money so you can afford to build your dream. You family gives up endless hours to spend with you so you can build your dream. You take money away from a family vacation so you can build your dream. You take your dream to B-man a (transpo costs money too)…..there your dream sits and it works, its bright, it sounds awesome! You come back a day later and it looks like shi*t, the copper wire was stolen so dumb ass could get $1.00 for recycling it….its no longer bright, it makes no noise….just looks like shi*t. Its now an eye sore and YEAH…..BUZZ… JUST LET IT GO.

    You really think its that easy. You think it would be that easy for your family and friends to see your work defaced (or even burnt down)….?

    If you truly think so, Maybe you should be a teacher….you could teach the world how to be CALM.

    I’d take your class!

    Report comment

  • Eric says:

    The treatise on the subject is “The Destruction of Art: Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution” by Dario Gamboni, published by Reaktion Books.

    Report comment

  • Rev. P-love says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Andy Daniel’s point (which I’m not going to repeat), he wrote exactly what I think about the question.

    I will add this though : wouldn’t it make it easier if artists had a way to communicate if their installation is interactive to the point of accepting they get tagged, changed, transformed in any way (let the meta-artists go at it!) or if their installation is meant to be enjoyed, interpreted as is? Wouldn’t that define what vandalism is (i.e. when such requests, by the artists, are not respected)?

    I’m all for the principles of self-expression and participation but these are limited by civic responsability. Sure it means I can’t do anything I want but it still leaves plenty of room for me on the playa to grow, express myself, create and contribute.

    Report comment

  • Steelhead says:

    Yes, vandalism is art! If you take “art” as meaning an abstract or realist work to generate discussion, then all the above debate in this thread shows that vandalism is art. “But should art be vandalized?” is another question—and that is the main reason all this debate is occurring. Most people see “art” as sacrosanct in the default world and Burning Man opens up the space to say that it isn’t. So what happens when someone tags over another person’s graffiti? Is that still art? I would be interested to hear from any taggers out there.

    Barry Brumitt’s art is a great idea, and it is unfortunate that the Borg neglected to encourage it. The work would have generated some great discussion. But it is not the first time art has been proposed to the Borg in order to engage with other Burners on intellectual level resulting in a lack of engagement. This is one of the reasons we’re in this problem – the rising prevalence of tagging on the playa is only being dealt with through official Borg channels (this blog and JRS) rather than by the cultural production of artists on the ground.

    Back in 2004, when the Borg was planning on having performances in the mini-theatres of the planetarium, I proposed an “artwork” where I would place a thin, clear plastic sheet over the backdrop of the planetarium and later “perform” by spray painting on it (thereby just appearing to graffiti over the painting on the centerpiece at Burning Man), while drawing passersby into discussion about defacing artwork. The Borg emailed me back (NAMBLA the clown, no less), simply saying “We do not encourage the defacing other people’s art,” completely missing the point. Much like Brumitt’s work, the piece was about interaction and generating a discussion about an issue important to the whole community.

    Does this just lead to artistic self-censorship, while the important discussions that could be generated by the unique forms of Burning Man art languish in forums like this? The problem will only be fixed if there is plenty of conversation about this, not just via institutional channels, but on-playa and off-playa.

    Report comment

  • Joe Dupré says:

    To those who think graffiti upon the work of others is a legitimate form of self expression, let me be the first to tag them.

    Report comment

  • turtle33 says:

    Exactly. I think i should like to go around town… and start tagging over someone else’s tag. I’ll just pick one… someone’s name. and every time i see it, i’ll change the colors, something more pastel… yellows and pinks… add some daisies and poinsettas…. to give it a more floral touch… make it look even more awesome!
    After awhile, i doubt that the original tagger would be appreciating the new image i gave her/him… they would feel uncomfortable when they realized that their super-ultra cool stylized tag-art, had been contorted to look a little different… “prettier.” And when the tagger realized that to all their friends, and to all the world, it was believed that he/she just must really like pink lacy letters and bright spring flowers…. they would feel that it was unfair. that they had been censored. they had been vandalized. ID theft.
    but that’s life. that’s art.

    Is that what we are saying? If art is self-expression. Then true art is expressing your respect and gratitude toward other people that are expressing themselves.

    I actually can’t believe we are having this conversation…. the thought to go and put my *shit* on someone else’s labor of love…. work of “art”…. i don’t care if it is a sculpture or a painting, or their garden or freshly mowed lawn…. it’s their thing, they worked hard on it, and they are proud of it… leave it alone. It’s not about “let it go”… it’s their process! It’s not my place to decide how they should learn or change or grow because i “tweaked” their shit.

    And it is rude to think that by “adding” to someone else’s artwork you’ll make it look more “awesome”…

    Report comment

  • When I present a piece of work in BRC I have made a gift of the experience of the art to BRC citizens. I have not given the physical work to BRC. If my work is tagged the tagger is declaring his minute of engagement with my piece has earned him physical possession of it. The value of his tag is solely based on the degree to which my work has been defaced and diminished by his having coming across it. If my work is physically altered without my invitation one thing only is being shown to me by the tagger: Profound scorn for my efforts. “You can work for a year on a piece and I can destroy it in a minute; therefor you (the artist) and I (the tagger) are equal.”

    Report comment

  • turtle33 says:

    ….. and one more thing.

    It seems like “tagging” is antithesis to the philosophy it proposes….

    Some artists paint or sculpt, and DON’T sign their work. some artists create and DO sign their work. vandals, it seems, in many cases, don’t do anything, and then sign it. That is why i find it amazing that we are having this discussion… It seems that on the one hand some graffiti artists are saying that art and artists are to attached to an egoic world view… or something like that…. yet people tagging…. other art or boxcars, or city walls…. is gotta be one of the MOST egoic forms of self expression!
    All you are doing is writing your name…. (granted, it looks cool. looks awesome even…. but are you writing it because you think YOUR name is soooo awesome? or is it because you think YOU are so awesome? which one is it?)

    I don’t know… forgive me for my ignorance. i don’t understand politics, never took a university class on art history, or read noam chomsky. never was taught Fundamentals of Anarchy 101, and never read
    “The Destruction of Art: Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution” by Dario Gamboni, published by Reaktion Books. ….so maybe i don’t understand the politks of what we are talking about….

    Just saying… anybody that leaves the house with a sharpie in their pocket because they are going to write their name somewhere…. ought’a consider doing some self-reflection on why they feel they must act that way….

    Report comment

  • jrinn says:

    Last year I noticed a lot of tags that really ruined art pieces; huge tags that became the first impression over people’s incredible hard work and effort. Even just huge initials and things…

    I just since sincerely hope this discussion can carry over somehow to the people who need to hear it – the taggers…

    Report comment

  • dedejeumjeum says:

    As an artist who has installed interactive sculptural art on the playa three out of the five times I have been to BM, I find this an interesting topic. One of my crew built her own interactive musical artwork during the second year that was nearly destroyed… and it was heavy metal! The artwork could not be fully played with as intended. Was this acceptable?… of course not! My first two art projects were fragile, and appeared so, and wonderfully, no intentional damage was done. Last year I built a new artwork, which was fairly sturdy, and daily found damage. People cut ropes, untied and moved things outside and didn’t return them to their original place, burnt off a section (definitely accidental… but still!…. this caused me dozens of hours in repairs, lucky for me that I could sort of “fix” it.) I pay for everything myself. I get no financial assistance. I have garage sales for funds. I don’t get a free ticket. I use my time, skills, and those of my willing friends… and I appreciate their efforts immensely. Would I want my work tagged, or written on in any way. NO! Not at all!!! This has made me rethink my next project… and as one friend advised me: “ART ON THE PLAYA MUST BE MADE TO WITHSTAND DRUNKEN IDIOTS”. I must add that graffiti and taggers must be included in this perspective as well as the shit-faced drunks. Graffiti, tagging, and any other alteration, without the consent of the artist, is still DAMAGE! And, I would like very much to share my art in other places after putting all the effort into making it in one place, taking it apart, hauling it to BRC, setting it up, maintaining it daily (or twice daily, or three times daily – usually a major component of my time at BM), then taking it all apart, hauling it back, storing it, and so on… ALL THE GRUNT WORK of it… I WANT the artwork to survive BRC. If I wanted to burn it or alter it…. I would…. but I don’t want that for these artworks. My friends and I talk about this dilemma a lot! To make an interactive artwork or not….why not just a great costume or camp…. and screw the stress of having one’s artwork destroyed in some manner… sometimes fixable, sometimes not. This consideration is HUGE for me as an artist. btw, on the question of Barry Brumitt, and his artwork: I don’t see any issue with his free-standing art commentaries. My artwork had an unexpected giant plywood penis sign installed almost-in it for awhile. I did move it about 20 feet away when I realized it was blocking access to the entrance, but I didn’t freak out. It didn’t hurt my artwork. And I could have moved it much further away if I had desired. (In this case, I found it amusing!)

    Report comment

  • Human Jones says:

    Free expression does not include anarchy. It does include respect. Defacing someone’s art work is not free expression, it is just being a jackass.
    Remember, everyone is free to make their own work of art.

    Report comment

  • junebug says:

    the 8,000 pound grillaz in the room is that burners have since so long ago lost whatever aesthetic they think they own that it’s laughable to think the new generation – the generation zero – has any concept about what ‘art’ is. you are all such fecking rejects from your mother’s vaginas that the only problem is that daddy didn’t wear a condom. but now you’re all suddenly artists. where that fecking came from no one knows. yet you still all pretend. you deserve what you get out there.

    Report comment

  • Bugs says:

    Let’s apply a few of the 10 Principles


    In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
    Tagging is a form of commercial sponsorships and or advertising. If it were not, the tagger would have no need to sign it nor would he take great care displaying it in a location that is most visible to as many burners as possible. Can you see someone dressed as a clown, running around the Temple drawing McDonald’s logos everywhere; do we really stand ready to protect?

    Radical Self-reliance

    Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources. The key here is inner resource, without the work of another burner; the “artist” would have no means to reveal his Radical Self Expression. Let’s not leave out the “self reliance”

    Radical Self-expression

    Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient. I don’t see a tagger walking up and asking permission to deface someone’s “Art” rather they sneak around and hide their activity’s.

    Just my thoughts

    Report comment

  • killme says:

    @Human Jones
    >Free expression does not include anarchy

    you fail to understand that the only reason you go to the playa is because of the anarchists that brought the event there to begin with.

    you should die in a horrible fire. eyes ripped out, eaten by small creatures who didn’t get burning in the original fire that consumed you’re despicable carcass of human waste; your mother’s worst spent moments.

    Report comment

  • butterflyisland says:

    >Radical Self-expression

    fuck you.

    Report comment

  • StaceyS says:

    I consider myself an artist, and I’m an architect professionally. I have brought art to the Playa and I’ve seen grafitti and vandalism that I thought was a net negative to the artistic experience. Because of this, I probably won’t bring art back to the Playa in the future. I’m not looking for rules and enforcement, I’m just choosing not to expose my efforts to that sort of callous, useless abuse.

    In my opinion, the only one who benefits from “tagging” is the tagger. If you want to be poetic or artistic and do something really cool, go ahead, but please, please, please put some real, honest effort into it! I’m being honest and sincere in my effort to create art. I expect you to come to the conversation with the same honesty and sincerity. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people at Burning Man take that effort for granted.

    Far be it from me to enforce my perception of art and experience on others, but for me its a question of investment in the idea: If I put in a ton of thought, time, expense and effort into a piece of art and put it on display, I feel that effort should be worthy of a certain amount of respect.

    If someone comes along and puts in a ton of time, thought and effort into a modification of that piece, I can respect that effort, even more so if I see it as a positive addition or modification. (See Banksy’s work, and I think Barry Brumitt’s work would fall into this category as well.) This sort of thing CAN add to the artistic conversation.

    If someone comes along and just scrawls some thoughtless message (or even more selfish, their tag) in a few seconds, unless they are a real genius, it typically does not benefit the artistic conversation. Its the intellectual equivalent of the self-centered egoist hijacking the artistic conversation and shouting “ME ME ME!”.

    Report comment

  • butterflyisland says:

    >I consider myself an artist

    holy shit, really?! thank GOD an artist has arrived to tell us what-the-fuck at burning man. thank you, stacey. thank you very much. wow, a real artist. that’s so fucking cool.

    Report comment

  • cindy-flower says:

    >Just my thoughts Bugs

    I fully respect your perspective, Bugs. Very interesting. I think your comments represent a radically new perspective; one that should have its individuals (their special though-perspectives) treated with dignity and respect before having their brains ripped out through their nostrils (which was a more sane way of dealing with the devil before just chopping heads off became the norm).

    Looking forward to more of your posts.

    Report comment

  • HoneyBee says:

    While writing and drawing on the Temple is part of the Burning Man tradition, tagging and vandalizing random works of art is a form of theft. Vandals steal an artist’s art by destroying some aspect of what was originally created.

    Vandals are too lazy to invest the time, effort, and money to create their own art, with their own materials. They are the rabid dogs peeing on what they are unable or unwilling to create on their own.

    I have seen and shared the tears and heartache that come when an artist finds their work defiled, after they have put their heart and soul into creating something they are proud to show to the Burning Man community.

    Even artworks that actively invite the addition of words and images, should still be treated with respect and thoughtfulness. Being invited to add your artistic touch to the Temple, a table, or a person’s skin is an honor and should be treated accordingly.

    Report comment

  • Power Bunny says:

    >I have seen and shared the tears and heartache that come when an artist finds their work defiled

    I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about, HoneyBee. It’s such a shame. Last year we built a 90ft replica of Larry Harvey’s anus, and we had to spend the whole week out there pushing guys off because they heard from Lady Bee that fucking the hole would bring them closer to God. It was a horrible mess! Where do these people come from, Arizona?

    In the end, we just had to use the spend seamen on the omlets we served to DPW. no one else could stomach them. but then they blamed cafe village for the dysentery, but that was the original point.

    is irony so lost?

    Report comment

  • berespectful says:

    I can’t believe this is even a topic of discussion. If it is not yours don’t mess with it. Didn’t we learn that in Kindergarten. Leave the spray paint at home. Wouldn’t anyone be upset to come back to their camp and find their car or RV spray painted? Why on earth or playa would it be ok to do it do someones hard work and investment? That’s not self expression that is selfish. Burning Man is not anarchy. Spray paint your own stuff not someone elses.

    Report comment

  • tinkerbell says:


    i think the grammar police needs to take a visit to your own house.

    Report comment

  • Ren says:

    Lots of great points discussion. I still can’t wrap my brain around the need to tag things. I feel like I got pretty good at making my initials right around kindergarten and moved on to bigger things. It seems like if you really needed to get out and tag things you could just ask the artist if it was ok to do so…I”m sure some would oblige. The sneaking part reminds me of the guy who waits for you to turn the corner so he can whack you in the balls before you notice him. Never really appreciated that form of expression either.

    Report comment

  • Ren says:

    Now if I see Black Rock Scouts out there doing it using practice on their initials as an excuse I am going to laugh.

    Report comment

  • Droidle says:

    Uh, Jared, no artists receive free tickets unless they volunteer for an official crew the year prior.

    Report comment

  • Paul de Jong says:

    Is burning someones car or tent radical self expression. I think not. Neither is destroying someone else’s art. Tagging is vandalism. The Temple invites people to write messages on it, a totally different thing than tagging. People work for months making something for themselves and others to enjoy then someone with a spray paint can spends 30 seconds destroying it. I call that the height of disrespect. That is taking, not giving and is in no way aligned with the ideals of Burning Man.

    Report comment

  • Elliot Naess says:

    It’s the old “Your rights end where my nose begins.” No-one should write or paint on anybody else’s stuff unless invited to.

    Report comment

  • APOK says:

    passionate disscussion! my favorite. let me state for the record, my ego considers itself an artist, and will be hurt if you don’t too. Also for the record, I create graffiti, and I am a tagger.
    I would like to share a personal experience of creating a video mapped sculpture at a Canadian music festival. through the installation/calibration process I felt it needed protection from passerbys(I had a rope perimeter so no one could obstruct the projector) but then realized I needed to LET GO. I took down the rope, and was delighted that people started congregating on the grass near the sculpture(obstructing he projections partially but I didn’t care). Monday morning came and people were relaxing around the installation and I noticed someone had tagged a picture on one white face of the sculpture- I was stoked! here someone had appreciated my creation enough to modify/reinterpret it with their own form of expression.
    Another experience was when I was living in Sydney Australia and feeling depressed by the lack of smiles and eye contact on the streets / trains. I bought paint pens and started TAGGING(something I did alot when I was younger) the alleys and trains. This didn’t last long, as I was dissatisfied by the (aforementioned)ego trip of writing my name on a wall; instead I starter tagging HEARTS everywhere I went and on everything. When I later saw the hearts I had tagged it made me smile- and I hoped it did the same to others.
    Everything is ephemeral- nothing lasts. I am stoked when someone writes over something I have created- interaction! try to rip it down, write over it, I don’t care. I will never stop creating so it matters not to me! BURNINGMAN itself is temporary and ephemeral in nature- celebrate this and embrace it- crying over some marker, spraypaint, or vandalism is just you holding on to the present moment. Anicca anicca anicca(Impermanence). <3

    Report comment

  • G says:

    @ APOK
    Are you saying then that everybody should be just like you and not mind tagging?

    Report comment

  • forrest gump says:

    99% of graffiti is immature frustration of pre adolescent, and/or gang tags, no real thought? is it art or gang advertisement? Graffiti is used to mark gang territory and more often than not lead to the degradation of neighborhoods, or art on the playa. It is almost always expressed on an object that does not belong to the tagger. It is an immature attempt at drawing attention to a tag by defiling something of value to someone else. That said the 1% of graffiti artiest that actually have talent are amazing and are always used as an excuse.

    Report comment

  • APOK says:

    @G: you interpreted my post correctly- conrgats! blessings to you.

    @Forrest Gump: everytime I see a piece of roughly done graffiti I think: ‘keep writing, keep practicing’- graffiti artists use the in between areas deemed unmarketable or unworthy of advertising to hone their craft- for all to see and judge. my point being, any artist must create 1000 pieces of crap before they create something that is appreciated as beauty. do you think Banskey popped out his mother’s Yoni a fully realized artist?

    tagging something beautiful is very nice- words of encouragement or blessing- wonderful. tagging something abusive is exactly like Internet trolling- getting pissed off achieves the desired reaction by the tagger. you mad bro? breathe deep.

    wishing there was no tagging or graffiti at Burningman or saying it should be segregated to blank plywood is unrealistic. if you don’t want people to write on your art then have a sign saying so- it’s all you can do- and if they do anyways then they are in the moral wrong. that person will have to deal with their bad karma.

    Burningman is a massive tag on the storefront of Western culture.

    Report comment

  • Jordan Tenney aka 10E says:

    Tagging, defacing, damaging, altering, or burning an artwork that’s not yours, or that you didn’t create with your own hands, or that does not explicitly invite you make your mark on it (such as the Temple) is the height of douchebaggery. At that point you are not even remotely close to being an artist, you are just a contemptible douche. So don’t kid yourself in thinking any different. It is just plain rude. No worthy “philosophical discussion” has ever arisen because of some supremely inconsiderate person’s misguided need to damage another’s hard work. Not only are you lessening the inherent value in the original artwork, but you are also impeding the potential meaningful interaction of the other 50,000 people at the event. In certain times and certain places you would be treated and prosecuted as a criminal, as you rightfully should be. Although I am not encouraging it, in some situations and places you might even get a fist to the face or a swift kick to the nuts for your “radical self-expression”.

    Do you know how artists feel when they find damage to their creations? Sad, angry, confused, bitter, vengeful, dismayed. The list could go on. They may even harbor a feeling of wishing harm to the perpetrator. Is that the “discussion” you are looking for? Is that why you come to Burning Man, so that you can ruin someone’s day and prevent people from experiencing the gift of their artwork? You apparently must get so much art in your regular daily life that you think the works displayed at Burning Man can be dismissed so easily. The world needs more art, not less, and when you discourage REAL artists from making efforts in the future then you have diminished the precious GIFT OF ART, not helped advance it with your unauthorized alterations.

    I find those of you that advocate this type of meaningless destruction to be exhibiting the worst kind of selfishness. You really should be ashamed and step back for a minute to consider what you are advocating. Burning Man is not about “Me” but ”We”. That’s the whole point. I don’t care what you think your uninspired message is trying to say because they only thing it is conveying is, “I am a selfish douchebag that has no consideration for others”. If you have created something before, as some have stated, and have no problem with people doing damage to it because you “let it go” then great, but don’t think that it gives you the right to project that same attitude on the majority of other people that would strongly disagree with you. Should I go on or have you started to figure out that these types of acts, without explicit permission, don’t enhance anybody’s experience. If you still don’t get it then you are merely a vampire and a blight. In that case it’s probably best if you go find somewhere else to play because you are at best just wasting everybody else’s time.


    Report comment

  • Andy Daniel says:

    @Apok, you wrote:

    “I had a rope perimeter so no one could obstruct the projector) but then realized I needed to LET GO. I took down the rope”.

    I just want to point out that you used the word “I” 3 times.
    You had a rope perimeter.
    YOU decided that letting people modify YOUR art was OK.
    YOU took down the rope, essentially giving them permission.

    Good for YOU (really!) You made your choice on your art, and I 100% respect that. If my choice is that I don’t want my art modified, please respect that too.

    Report comment

  • Kennita Watson says:

    If vandalizing art is art, then the SOB who burned down the man early was just engaging in radical self-expression and we should have no problem with him. UUm, no — he deserved to be hung up by his thumbs, or by something more painful. Don’t destroy someone else’s art (unless the artist gives you permission, of course).

    Report comment

  • McArthur says:


    Congratulations, you successfully vandalized the comment stream.

    Report comment

  • Jordan Tenney aka 10E says:

    I pretty much summed up the essentials in my previous post but I like to highlight a few more points for emphasis. Yeah, it’s a lot of words but please read on.

    I want to address this idea that an artist should “Let Go” once their art is publicly displayed.

    No artist at Burning Man truly “let’s their work go”. This argument rings hollow and cannot stand on its own. At a minimum, the artist is responsible for it from beginning to end. They must first get it there, set it up, monitor it throughout the event, fill the generator with gas every night to run the lights, pick up trash from people that don’t know what LNT means, and of course take it down and haul it away at the end. Nobody has “let go” of anything. In fact their responsibilities are likely to require them to commit much of their time to maintenance of the installation rather than going out and exploring the other aspects of the event for themselves. This is a sacrifice made by the artist in order to bring you their gift. I can tell you this is not easy. To burden them further with unnecessary worry over vandalism is unfair.

    Let me reemphasize one of these points. Even if the artist were miraculously able to disconnect from their work emotionally, mentally, financially, and so on, they still cannot disconnect from it physically. This physical object standing in the middle of the open desert has to be removed before everybody leaves. Leave No Trace. This is the responsibility of the artist, not the general participant of the event. Even if the artwork is gloriously burnt to the ground the ashes and other fragments must be cleaned up from the playa surface. This is again the responsibility of the artist. If you want to make the argument that you should have the right to make a work of art “your own” by damaging or altering it then why must you not also take on the responsibility to remove it and clean up the location at the end of the event? You know what they say, “You break it, you buy it”. But of course being an inconsiderate vandal in the first place it is extremely unlikely that you’d ever make such efforts. Your attempted shortcut to being an “artist” yourself only displays your lack of creativity, lack of personal responsibility, and utter laziness.

    Obviously one cannot directly control what others do or how they react to a work of art out on the open playa. Unless of course, guard(ians) are stationed around it 24/7 or the vandal is caught in the act. Even then that might not be enough. In theory, should this be necessary, other than to defend against disrespectful asshats? Absolutely not.

    Finally, I want to bring up one personal example to illustrate from 2011, which I have resisted until now. It shows how this underlying attitude affects things. I had a medium-sized art installation I was setting up near to one the large sound camps. Unfortunately it took longer to set up than planned (sacrifice of my time) and I had to work into multiple nights so it would get done. As you can imagine a lot of people showed up in the area. Since I was not done I still had items and tools filling my work space. The first night some dude rode there bike at high speed right through the space and actually ran over the top of some of the components. I was pissed and yelled at them, but they continued to ride away. I couldn’t believe it. The next night I made a perimeter around the space with caution tape strung from four sawhorses to prevent a repeat. I had multiple lights illuminating the space. Wouldn’t you know it, instead of simply walking ten feet around the perimeter an entire group of 8 to 10 people decided it would be better to lift their legs up over the tape and walk through my work area while stepping on my stuff. They weren’t the only ones. Really? Was it not obvious enough for you? What in the world is wrong with people? Even though I made an effort to delineate this area with tape it still did nothing to stop such actions. This has bothered me ever since and I just don’t understand what compelled these them. At the least they should have offered a helping hand but were obviously more concerned with themselves. Basically, it was extremely rude. Yeah I can’t control everybody, but should I have to? Didn’t you mother teach you any manners?

    You cannot ask an artist to merely “Let Go”. It doesn’t work that way. Never has, never will.

    That’s all I want to say for now other than Art Can Change The World. Let’s keep making art but not at the expense of other people’s efforts. Peace.

    PS. Even Banksy doesn’t make it a point to needlessly disrespect other people’s artwork. Even if he did, only in the graffiti world is spraying over another’s work “acceptable” since everyone expects it. I hate to have to tell you the obvious but at Burning Man we are not in the ghetto anymore.

    Report comment

  • imcoolerthaneveryone says:


    they don’t get this, and never will.

    Report comment

  • Jared says:

    No art will survive contact with the desert.

    Burning Man is not just a museum or an art gallery transported to the desert. It’s a city and the art is part of the structure of the city. Thank you kindly to the artists who help build and maintain it, but it’s there to be lived in. Tags are art that overlays a city. If you don’t appreciate tagging in a default city, I don’t expect you to appreciate it in Black Rock City so let’s just agree to disagree.

    Report comment

  • Eric says:

    >Kennita Watson Says:

    >If vandalizing art is art, then the SOB who burned down the man early was just engaging in radical self-expression and we should have no problem with him. UUm, no — he deserved to be hung up by his thumbs, or by something more painful.

    Well, let’s see, for prematurely burning…a trademarked corporate logo, Paul Addis was prosecuted as a felon, convicted, served time, then jumped in front of a BART train and died. Is that enough pain for you?

    Report comment

  • funnyfuzzy says:


    this! 9,000 times. thank you for posting.

    Report comment

  • harinama says:

    No vandalism is NOT art. Any art piece that allows for viewer changes(ie. leaving items at the temple), is by definition NOT being vandalized.

    I tire of the losers who destroy things. They are assholes.

    Next Question?

    Report comment

  • dedejeumjeum says:

    Here is my follow-up after reading all of the above comments, and referencing my own earlier comments: Despite my desire to do so, and having collected some of the major components to create my next large interactive artwork, I cannot accept the taggers ongoing logic (or illogic) that it is OK to alter someone else’s artwork. With this in mind, I think I would rather create my artwork and put it somewhere other than BRC that will have a much smaller chance of getting irrevocably damaged by ABUSERS/taggers. Unfortunately, that is the sum total of all my readings. A few rotten apples CAN spoil the pie. Thanks APOK for helping me clarify the dilemma.

    Report comment

  • OS says:

    If I make art to take to the burn that is my gift, by taging it your taking away that gift, removing the joy of giving it. you (the tagger) are treating it like a default world commodity. its like walking in to a camp and demanding something with out looking to see what is already being given, freely and openly.

    Would you pour sand on the cookies someone is giving out?
    would spray paint them?

    I want that random person to enjoy the art on Friday the same way you first did when the dust storm cleared and there was this cool thing that made you thing and grow.

    Report comment

  • G says:

    Uninvited alterations (as in mostly tagging) are just plain wrong.
    Unless the artist invites such activity, it is simply not right.

    BTW There are so many amazing cool things going on in BRC that are rarely if ever found in the default world, and the best thing certain folks can do is run around painting grafitti everywhere?? Really? REALLY?!

    IMHO, such activities should be grounds for ejection from the event.

    Report comment

  • Cheshire says:

    I camped with Peach Fuzz & Barry. I wish I could remember the actual name of his installation, the whole concept was freaking awesome. ‘Vandalism’ came about because an Artery shift lead decided to quote an unpublished “vandalism policy”, and Artery chose to follow NFL rules regarding the ref on shift. To my knowledge, BMOrg in general, and Artery in specific have never published this alleged policy. This was a bad call, and will likely continue to chill any serious effort at spontaneous expression – thus encouraging half-assed actual vandalism in its place :(

    Artery actually did send out a crew to remove the one placed at the Seattle CORE site without bothering to check with the Artist (me).

    Regarding tagging – that really depends. We actually encouraged it for the Seattle CORE. Most of the notes were heartfelt and wonderful. It was a great way to let us know you appreciated our project before we burned it. OTOH, I was bummed to see all the damage done to the central structure at the Man.

    Report comment

  • G says:

    To back up the idea of, if there is any doubt, don’t do it ethos, I will cite a story I read here or some other online source. It was about an interactive art work that presented a blank surface coated with an invisible fluorescent coating that could then be painted with infrared light sources to make ephemeral glowing art at night. The author of the story wrote with disgust and disappointment that it got tagged, which of course ruined it’s functionality.
    Graffiti and tagging should be done only where it is appropriate, or invited, and there is no doubt!
    It is about decency and respect for your fellow burners.

    Report comment

  • Buena Chica says:

    ***Art happens!!!
    ……… when we are most inspire to share something visible……..
    …………… creating something new together is THE MOST AMAZiNG
    ………………….. part of my BURNiNG MAN experience!!!!! <3 <3 <3

    Report comment

  • Sparky says:

    I can’t believe that anyone in their right mind would think it’s OK to alter a piece of art that they did not create themselves and then justify their vandalism because it’s “radical self expression” and because it’s on the playa.

    Can I spray paint the windshield of your car, slash your tent and set fire to your food supply because to me, it improves it, it’s radical self expression and I consider it to be art?

    Where do you draw the line, and who gets to decide where the line is?

    Report comment

  • m says:

    Once upon a time at Burning Man, I listened to a tagger wax on like APOK. He felt that his tag, “Disco,” would make everyone smile. His certainty of the positive impact his tag would have was meant to justify the action – but why would tagging need justified by the message of the tag unless there was something inheritantly wrong about it? The positivity intended by “disco” or little heart drawings is not a more legitimate artistic message than the hate intended by the “fuck you” or a swatica. If such “negative” tags wouldn’t be okay, then equally shallow “positive” ones aren’t okay, either.

    A lot of selfish choices can make you smile. The perspective that the good feeling you get from something is itself a justification for doing it displays the intellectual depth of children — admired for their ability to “let go,” but also reviled for their cruelty, their tendency to destroy, to harm, to spoil.

    No, I don’t want cops arresting taggers in BRC. But I don’t want cops arresting thiefs in BRC, either. I want our fellow citizens to make smart choices, and I hope the option to tag becomes widely recognized as an unethical act. No one waxes on about the smile you get from the taste of food stolen from another camp. Even thieves know they’re guilty.

    So yes, the conversation must reach the ears of “Disco” and all the small-hearted shallow-minded sociopaths out their ruining things to make their lips curl. Ironically, the best way to reach everyone may be to have this discussion on the walls of our rented portapotties.

    Report comment

  • Howdy.

    I’m Barry Brumitt, the artist who, along with Gregor Talbot), created a set of two dozen minimalist attractive museum-style signs, mentioned above, intended for placement near other’s work, to create a faux Museum Tour of playa art.

    This piece was, in fact, expressly disallowed by the Artery on tuesday afternoon of the ’12 burn.

    —– Summary —–
    * This piece was respectful to other’s art, consistent with many established default-world art practices, intended to add value, and is consistent with the 10 Principals of Burning Man
    * It was not an instance of quick, vulgar defacement, “tagging” if you will, which rests on much shakier ethical ground.
    * I strongly believe that: 1)the ethics around this decision should be reconsidered, and 2) a clear statement should be made by the ARTery of their (anti-) Vandalism Policy.

    —— Long Story ——
    Sparky says in a comment above:
    “Where do you draw the line, and who gets to decide where the line is?”

    This is an excellent question, indeed, for it illustrates precisely the aesthetic and social norms which art has (probably since the word “art” existed) sought to explore, define, and challenge. Graven images were a sentence to hell. Images of Mohammad are verboten. Shostakovich was imprisoned for a concerto. Goya was threatened with death for his painting of a nude during the inquisition. The religious right succeeded in censoring a video at the National Portrait Gallery (David Wojnarowicz), by calling it blasphemous — this just 3 years ago.

    The point? Whenever there is a line to be crossed, art may illuminate, explore, or challenge it — often profitably, especially in the eyes of history.

    Now I do not feel that defacing artwork is a respectable form of expression… respect (almost always) means the viewer leaves the art fundamentally intact. However, if a piece of art was clearly advocating actual unethical (read: evil) actions (say, a statue of a doctor being hung, with a list of ObGyns with addresses, some checked off, some not, titled “Justice”), I would reluctantly suggest defacement could be a reasonable response, for vulgarity can merit vulgarity.

    But leaving aside serious ethical conundrums (above), clear cases of defacement, (the vast majority of tagging incidents) there are still a wide variety of acceptable, even valuable, ways in which art is transformed through participation, ones very likely not condoned by the artist…

    Let’s consider some.

    Video art, projected on public buildings can be beautiful and amazing — and for a time, that building’s appearance is altered. Protesters can surround and crowd art offensive to their ethics — again, the ability to view the art is altered. FSM “believers” insist on having their diety placed next to a publicly displayed Christian Creche. Artists set up easels and paint scenes of art. An observer seeing such a painting, especially in progress, will doubtless have their view altered, even if microscopically. A building is erected, perhaps an architectural masterpiece, perhaps a Costco, behind an exquisite statue.

    Any of these might be thought of as intrusive, changing the intent, lessening the work — but we appear to choose not to call *these* defacement, let alone vandalism, at least so goes the dominant paradigm.

    Further, in the default world at least, the far-less inflammatory acts of criticism, commentary, and discussion are generally likewise all-clear, nay, even explicitly permitted and encouraged via fair-use clauses.

    But for whatever reason, the act of commenting, riffing, remixing, participating, interacting, playing with playa art by placing a simple *sign* — something far less intrusive than the dust, the playa’s natural visual background, art cars, abandoned bicycles, content-free comments by passers-by, the environment itself — this, a *sign* has been deemed by BRC’s art culture’s ethics’ stewards (the ARTery) as to be unacceptable.

    A reasonable approach to this conundrum could be try to balance the applicable ethical principals: immediacy, participation, communal effort, and radical self expression. But it seems that default-world rules “well, you can’t put up signs in museum, so you can’t do it in BRC either” have been adopted without any such rigor having been applied.

    I think this piece has illuminated a sufficiently grey area as to merit a more careful re-examination of how the Ten Principals should be applied when it comes to artwork.

    Worse still, the Vandalism Policy, a clear limit on expression, may even run contrary to the principal of Decommodification: is this prohibition intended to protect the value of ARTery brand?

    I’d hope you, the gentle reader, would pause to consider the following:

    Is an (unstated) vandalism policy a good one, given the questionable ramifications and value propositions I’ve suggested above, especially since this policy may run contrary to the organization itself:
    “The mission of the ARTery is to serve and defend artistic expression at Burning Man.”

    I remain unclear how artistic expression was served by the ARTery censoring (prohibiting, would be a more polite but slightly doublespeak way of saying it) a Faux Museum Art Tour.

    The artistic expression of tour itself was expressly NOT defended by the ARTery, even though (I believe) it offered net positive value, was respectful & safe, was far removed from “tagging”, and was quite in accordance with the Ten Principals that guide the ethics of BRC.

    Regardless of the piece, I think the ARTery owes the community of artists they represent a clear statement of their Vandalism policy, plus any other such double-secret-probations currently in-force.

    Art hopes to evoke response.

    Hence we’re back to the top again: “Where do you draw the line, who gets to decide where the line is?”

    Report comment

  • Finn says:

    “Well, let’s see, for prematurely burning…a trademarked corporate logo, Paul Addis was prosecuted as a felon, convicted, served time, then jumped in front of a BART train and died. Is that enough pain for you? ”

    Yes, I think that’s about right. Thanks for asking!

    Report comment

  • Gumby says:

    re: Addis – Do you really think the punishment for the vandalism caused him to jump in front of a train? Odds are he had bigger problems.

    re: Tagging. Tagging isn’t art. As much as your name means to you, it doesn’t mean it belongs anywhere/everywhere.
    Graffiti can be art, but uninvited art isn’t art – it’s vandalism. As has been stated, unless the ‘artist’ is ok with me going to his camp/car/house and ‘expressing myself on it’ then he/she is just a delusional vandal.

    Report comment

  • Daifung says:

    @Apok – I applaud you for wanting people to add to your art and expression. I assume you would be equally happy if someone came with a paint roller and completely covered your creation with a thick coat of paint, and would applaud you for that.

    That said, when you tag someone else’s creation you are making a choice that directly impacts others, and does so in a way that does not take their feelings, dreams or values into account in any way. That fails the fundamental test of respect.

    If you want to further your aesthetic, organize camps and art projects that explicitly invite others to tag/modify them and explain the values you hope to promote.

    Report comment

  • Roissy says:

    The first full scale graffiti started with Megatropolis, that same year for the first time Temple of Flux was tagged. I heard the builders of the Temple were appalled when they saw it. Writing on the Temple with a sharpie is one thing, doing it with a can of spray paint is another… Placing a canvas “Hot Topic” sign over Thunder Dome is clever, defacing it with spray paint is not.

    Report comment

  • I find this to be a rather intriguing and colorful conversation. And funny, I just posted about a graffiti documentary I just watched offering some interesting perspective of the subject of graffiti – on my Fan Page.

    “Exit Through the Gift Shop”
    From IMBD: Filmmaker Thierry Guetta’s project to chronicle the underground world of street art takes a fascinating twist when he meets elusive stencil artist Banksy, who turns the project around to film Guetta while he reinvents himself as a street artist.”

    The documentary traces the history of the graffiti artist movement and ends with a question of when is art, art? And, actually, who gets to decide? Is it “real” art because someone buys it and hangs it in a museum? Because it’s been given a place of distinction by a greater power? Was Banksy a “real” artist, creating then placing his graffiti art around the city? He, and Guetta, ended up with gallery shows drawing big buzz, big money in the art world and on the street. Did it loose it’s original artistic grit by becoming art on a wall in a gallery rather than on a building?

    And when is graffiti vandalism vs. art? When tagging others’ art? Maybe. But spending hours on a one’s art that then is pasted/posted stencil painted to a “blank” non-art wall, is that not art? Hmmm… I’d love to hear more thoughts on this.

    Report comment

  • Comments are closed.