A wall—is it the side of a building, holding up the roof and providing structure to shelter those within, or is it an opportunity for a passing artist to declare, express, or illustrate their need to share with the world in a way that social media just can’t satisfy? It’s a conundrum, and a job-creator in the fields of external painting, resurfacing and sand-blasting. Sometimes, when the artist is clever, I have personally felt the artist’s touch was an improvement. I’d never tag a wall myself, but if there was a safe walking tour of clever, beautiful and hilarious street art, I would buy a ticket, and the proceeds could go to an after school program for local young artists that provides canvases as an alternative to walls. It would work—someone should move on that, seriously.
But I know that’s not fair to the wall owner. That wall owner wasn’t doing anything wrong, and that artist, regardless of talent, didn’t have the right to paint on something that wasn’t theirs. It’s all fun and games until someone has to pay for clean up, I know, but secretly I root for the artist.
There’s no room for secret support when the vandalism is just hurtful—broken windows, hate speech and damage for damage’s sake is not a form of expression, it’s just mean and wrong. No one wins. Often there’s no one to hold accountable, either, because vandals don’t sign their work.
What if you knew a vandal was coming—not an urban artist or misguided youth, but someone who just wanted to destroy things—would you do something to stop them if you could? Most places will put up fences, lights for the exterior at night and even employ a security department because it’s worth it to them to keep out potential vandals if they know they are likely to be attacked. That’s smart.
There is no crystal ball to tell us when a vandal is near, and if there was a snitch willing to do the job, odds are the information wouldn’t be good for long, and yet we prepare on the assumption that we will be targeted. But there are other things that come quietly and leave destruction in their wake that we can predict, and we want to put up all the proverbial lights and fences we can if that will prevent damage. In the land of digital media storage, that means back-ups and redundancy, with protection from the power surges and the external conditions that can damage your data like a vandal damages the wall.
There’s nothing clever or expressive about coming in to turn on your computer and finding your work stolen by the unavoidable vandals, Time, Elements and Outside Forces. While the cost of repairing the vandalism would certainly help prove the case for installing the appropriate security measures to prevent it in the future, at that point it’s too late to prevent what has already been done—creative content that can never be recreated exactly is gone forever.
If that ever happened to me, though I may still be clever, HR would have a field day with my level of expressiveness at that moment.
Don’t wait for life to tag you before you put up a fence. It’s a nice wall. It’s your wall. And your art is on that wall, so I’m rooting for you.