Thursday, January 26, 2012
One of the most thought-provoking essays to appear in the '70s [in translation; 1972] was Walter Benjamin's 1936 essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Now, what is a work of art? Marcel Duchamp argued that "ANYTHING is art if an ARTIST says it is" and he also added, "Mystery is an essential component of a work of art." He also said, "The SPECTATOR completes the work of art." And an unremembered philosopher added, "Anything you create that's not done for the profit motive is 'art'."
So . . . does the lowly, compact, easy-to-carry-and-apply STICKER qualify as "art"? The sticker can simultaneously be "beautiful" or "shocking" but to succeed in its purpose it must be visually provocative -- i.e., stand out from the urban concrete jungle dense with an information overload of signs and signifiers. How sad to make a sticker and have nobody even notice it....
So the sticker is created to elicit a reaction from passers-by. And what reaction is desired? Most probably a variant of "WTF"... [mental shake-up, followed by a pause] Then, the reaction, "Hmm . . . I could do that." Arguably, the best purpose of a communication is to inspire an action -preferably a creative action, such as making your own D-I-Y stickers and virally multiplying the visually aphoristic "artworks" you've created or dreamed up.
It undoubtedly helps if your artistic message is simple. I always thought that one DNA principle of Punk was MINIMALISM (even though the U.K. "Punk" designers Zandra Rhodes and Vivienne Westwood could create baroque over-the-top splashy frothy ceremonial excess). Minimalism suits the physical demands of the sticker format, because the major challenge of this MICRO ART format is SIZE: how to communicate something impactful, mysterious and memorable within a small, portable signage that's compact, easy to carry and affix rapidly to an available surface.
Stickers can be carried in a shirt pocket, instantly ready to be deployed when the opportunity presents itself. Like Johnny Appleseed, they can nourish countless random onlookers whom one does not even know exist. They excite the challenge of trying to create an immediately recognizable VISUAL SIGNATURE. The best part is: it's all FREE - this kind of art-making resists commodification, and requires no museum or gallery.
A future society based on the exchange of poetic images (not money) can only be imagined, but perhaps the worldwide corps of those who use the sticker as "art-and-provocation memes" will be judged by history as worthy contributors to the cultural flux that creates tomorrow's iconography, mythology and mythography. Our bodies will definitely vanish but our art may - who knows - endure. Because, making art cheats death more than any other human activity - and besides, it's often more fun than anything else; making art certainly beats working for a living. Lastly, as our final justification, we have a 2000-year-old Latin aphorism as our yardstick of life's values: ars longa, vita brevis.
After I got arrested for spray painting on all those churches, cop cars, banks and bars, I knew I had to bring my teen angst down a notch. Although growing up in a shitty small town certainly shaped me, its soul sucking reality was something that needed to be dealt with and attacked daily if I was ever going to survive. Following my subsequent incarceration, I stumbled back onto the streets with a new Fuck-The-World strategy. Stickers.
Stickers? Yeah, I know, stickers aren't going to kick start the revolution or change a goddamn thing. But for me, a 19 year old punk with a hip-hop jones, they gave me some hope in an otherwise dismal situation. They became my sword and my shield in protecting my sensitive artist ass from the gray confines of the strip mall hillbilly sprawl. I was on a mission. I was in a war against everyone and everything around me. Everyday on my way to my toilet cleaning job I would leave a line of me on every pole and sign and surface I passed. Every night on my way home I would do the same, until everywhere I looked had my king's seal. My royal wave, my royal wail and my royal goodbye. Every sticker I put up or slapped down got me one more minute closer to leaving Northeast Cockhole. Forever and ever. Amen. Jesus Saves Shit.
Gag Reflex. Severed Hand. Flat Soda, As Freedom Rings. Never On Fire. End Of The Stick. Take Me To Your Kung-Fu Jungles. Sore Kisses. Burst Forth, Light. Every Sha La La La. Chief Some Shit. Rabid Sing Song. Enigmatic 1/2 Joke. Open Wide Pills. Classic Nerd Wedding. Stay In (Or Fat City). Attempt Your Specific. Cameo Egos In The Future. Robots For The Dead. Sky, Space, Sometimes Emptiness. Oh, Nothing. There were so many words to choose and so many ways to put them together with other words and images. So much meaning to it all. So many points to get across. So many messages to make. So many combintions and connectors. So much to consume my time as I prepared my ascent away, away, away. No lament, no waste, no death march. My private battle raged on through industrial miscarriages and corporate parking lots I knew and saw and loathed. Nothing could destroy me if I covered it all.
The night I left, I packed up my truck, punched out my dad, and put a big sticker at the end of my block that said, "This Place Fucks Dreams." I drove to New York City and never looked back. I never put up stickers the same way again. I looked around me and saw a landscape covered with everyone saying something about everything. It was monstrously beautiful and rich with color and text and texture. Angles and ugliness. Layers upon layers. I was home. I was free. I no longer needed to flex my space, my place. I had nothing to prove on these streets. It was all there, and much more to wash ashore. I was just a swamp honky looking to take it all in. Lines upon lines. My fight was over, overwhelmed by the depths, the heights, the size. My heart was ripe for the breaking. Looking back, stickers remind me of how well they helped me to look ahead. How creative it can be to fuck it all. (attack)