When I was at school my art teacher told my parents that if I didn’t take Art A-Level something inside me would die. I think this shows a new height of desperation on the part of teachers of the less popular A-Level subjects. Ten years’ on and I am pretty sure that nothing inside me has died, but I do miss being properly creative. I like making things, love colouring in (a friend and I discussed this the other day – apparently it’s ok to be almost 30 and to still derive pleasure from staying neatly within the lines) and I am an active supporter of the doodle.
I remember my English teacher sending a girl out of our class for doodling during the lesson. I think this was a little unfair, as doodling is apparently an evolutionary trait. Humans are not wired for doing nothing. We have a long prehistory of precarious existence: Will I or won’t I be eaten by a saber tooth tiger today? Is my cave winter-proof? Has my cave-man got enough woolly mammoth for dinner? That sort of thing. We therefore need to be constantly engaged in productive action. Fidgeting, fiddling and doodling are the natural result of being made to sit still and be relatively inactive for a prolonged period of time. Although maybe it was the fact that my school friend was drawing male body parts on the desk in permanent marker that so upset our teacher.
It's like something out of The Shining
I found out recently that my most common doodle (of 3D boxes) represents an ordered mind and love of routine. If you know me, you will not find this surprising. I have no idea what it means if you draw male body parts that twelve-year-old girls shouldn’t really know about but I don’t think it’s good.
Despite being a fan of the doodle, I am still undecided about graffiti. To some, it is an art form worthy of display in galleries and exhibitions, whilst to others it is mindless vandalism. Personally I’m not a huge fan of what I will call “everyday” graffiti – tagging is only interesting if you have a tag yourself (I don’t) and are competitive as to where you are able to put it (I am not). However, graffiti does have a really interesting history (going back to Ancient Greece) and historic forms of graffiti have helped us to gain understanding into the lifestyles and languages of past cultures. And obviously, some examples are incredibly talented and really rather cool.
Top of the list is Banksy, obviously. Not a terribly original choice by me, but nonetheless, I think his work is really iconic. He may have made his name by drawing on other people’s property but I think the man is a genius and incredibly funny.
Graffiti can also help us have an understanding about more modern culture. I know that a number of people in Prague dislike the amount of graffiti in the city, which is especially prevalent once you leave the city centre. But it is important to remember that although some of this graffiti is a bit mindless and a touch unsightly, graffiti in Prague and across Eastern Europe more widely was also representative of the social unease and struggle experienced towards of the end of the communist regime here. It can offer useful lessons and examples when learning about Czech social history and change. A particular example is the Lennon Wall
in Mala Strana. Since the 1980s people have covered this wall in graffiti, in memory of Lennon, who was a hero amongst the pacifist youth of Central and Eastern Europe during the totalitarian era.
Mindless vandalism or an important part of social history?
Prior to 1989, western music was largely banned here. Czech people had few opportunities for freedom of expression or to vent their frustration at the Husak regime, and the wall “grew” as people scrawled Beatles lyrics, messages to Lennon and more personal messages. The wall has been compared to the Berlin Wall, praised with inspiring the Velvet Revolution of 1989, and is now firmly on the tourist trail. The Lennon Wall is such an important part of Czech national history that it was reconstructed by the Czech authorities in 1998, so that further messages of peace and love could be written on it, which remain there today. Placed in its historical context, the Lennon Wall is clearly less “mindless” and more “mindful”.
There are obviously a number of less talented, less historically relevant examples around Prague, although some still have their merits. One which makes me chuckle each time I walk by is this:
Although this one might ring more true to those of you who don’t appreciate graffiti.
I know that foul language is not funny, but this still makes me giggle when I walk past...
Now if you’ll excuse me I must get back to my doodling to make sure that I don’t accidentally die inside.