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Czech Life

The writing’s on the wall

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.  
 

Brilliant Banksy

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.

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About CzechingIn

A blog about an English lady living in Prague.

Discussion

9 thoughts on “The writing’s on the wall

  1. Stars – it was never going to be rocket science, was it? “Stars are drawn by ambitious people and may suggest a desire for self-promotion. Little stars indicate optimism, while asymmetrical stars suggest excess energy.”

    Posted by Rosalind | February 21, 2011, 10:12 pm
  2. I’ve always been disappointed by Prague graffiti. It doesn’t reflect intelligent viewpoints or artistic merit. It’s a sad need to be heard or recognised – the vast majority are simply ‘tags’ drawn anywhere and often on historically important buildings. Graffiti can be part of a city’s cultural life (Bristol being an obvious example), but here it would seem to reflect an undeveloped society. Even the John Lennon wall has little of intrigue or merit – just a lot of people wanting to be heard/read and writing over each other. The locks on the bridge are far more interesting.

    Posted by Jim | February 21, 2011, 10:53 pm
    • I think I do agree with you about the tags – a number (most) display little artistic merit. But I disagree about the Lennon Wall – don’t you think the fact that this was started by so many people who did want to be heard, and weren’t able to have any other particular outlet, is interesting in itself? It is a part of Prague’s cultural and social history, in the same way that other monuments and architecture are.
      These people probably didn’t take art a-level either – they need to do something to prevent themselves dying inside.

      Posted by CzechingIn | February 22, 2011, 9:06 am
      • The history of the Lennon wall is magnificent – the communist authorities cleaning it almost every day and messages of warmth and love reappearing overnight for the next morning. I don’t think what it is now is a reflection of that. It’s like the screaming needs for attention of a child. Lovelocks are indeed not particular to Prague, but do require thought, reflect the individual and don’t require A-level art. The wall is just a visual cacophony – compare it to something like the Wailing Wall and it appears crude.

        Posted by Jim | February 22, 2011, 9:27 am
  3. Agreed – tagging is just the human version of cats weeing all over you house – Czechingin, you know how i feel about this. However, expression, true expression of political conviction, or even just the continuation of a tradition that started as something and has morphed into something different, no matter how crude it is needs to be seen/heard. Sorry but i 100% agree with Czechingin on this one!

    Also, check out Fafi – brilliant female graffiti artist mainly character based, i have a big love for her work, but she is not as subversively clever as Banksy.

    Posted by Lucy | February 22, 2011, 10:28 am
  4. Most graffiti in Prague is mindless & pointless and spoils the beauty of this city. The Lennon Wall is an exception, because of the history that you outline. But I do think doing doodles on paper shows a very creative mind 😀

    Posted by Chaplain.cz | February 22, 2011, 3:56 pm
  5. CzechingIn – I totally love your blog, read it all the time! English humor really appeals to me.

    Am surprised by some of the views people are expressing on graffiti, if you think of its roots. Maybe you english guys are not yet used to living in an oppressive place but I can tell you that for me, graffiti has always been a symbol of fighting against subjugation. I disagree with what the guy above says a lot. Here in Prague, as it has been for over 2,000 years with Nazi-occupied Paris, Roman-occupied Egypt, the Spanish occupied Mayan lands, French occupied Saigon and even this week, the ‘Welcome to Free Libya” scrawls on the buildings on their boarder, graffiti is far from a cacophony, it is the symbol of a voice against the machine. Yes, you won’t get beaten up in a police cell now for doing it in Prague as you may have done once, but you will in some places so it is still an expression of that free will in my mind. It doesn’t need to be intellectual either, let’s not be too pretentious. Can you compare the Banksy artwork (CzechingIn thanks for introducing this guy to me!) With the Mona Lisa? No, and you don’t need to. Its about context, not merit for me.

    Its a shame you guys don’t value the John Lennon wall. Whether you like it or not, what a symbol! How great is it that people feel so drawn to it. I don’t get the reference to the locks though. What does it symbolise or signify other than it seems like a lot of people have just added to it? How is this any different or better than a wall with loads of graffiti?

    Anyhows guys. Love the blog and love the fact I can write on your ‘wall’ – its a bit like the lennon wall for letting us all voice our thoughts publically, even without artistic merit! God love the internet and free speech!

    Posted by Jakub | February 24, 2011, 10:53 pm

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