Q&A: On Graffiti

Q: What do you think about graffiti? Do you approve of it? Do you regard graffiti as an art? I would appreciate if you could answer! I’m a big fan of your artwork and I am an aspiring graffiti artist. 



This example of graffiti is really fun and it would be difficult to assert that it damaged its environment. It uses the anamorphic perspective made popular in 3D pavement art.

A: I am often asked my point of view on Graffiti and its relationship to pavement art. For me, the difference is in the intention of the artists. Graffiti artists work in isolation to impose their vision on an unwelcoming environment. Pavement artists interact with the public and seek to gain their interest and support. Pavement artists do not seek to permanently alter the environment, but hope to enliven it for a moment. The word graffiti comes from sgraffito, which literally means to scratch the message into a surface. In Europe you can see examples of this scratching that have defaced artworks and monuments for centuries and perhaps millennia. This historical version of graffiti was certainly an imposition on history and culture especially because the damage was permanent and defaced beautiful things.

To me, art is nature’s way of expressing its creativity through human beings.  If graffiti is creative, it is art. The real question to pose is about the relationship between the artist, the art and the public. I believe that a work of art exists only in relationship to its public. It is absurd to assert that a work is important outside of that relationship. A work may be potentially important if a sector of the public will eventually embrace it, but most works do not survive long in a cultural vacuum.

Pavement art is aligned to graffiti because it allows artists to express themselves directly to the public without an intermediary, (such as a gallery or cultural institution). It is different from graffiti in the sense that pavement artists seek to entertain, amaze and challenge their public in the hopes of financial compensation. In general, graffiti is focused on the artists’ intense need for self-expression. Graffiti pretends not to be dependent on the public’s approval.

I think it is vital for humans to express themselves in the context of their culture without an intermediary. At the same time, individual self-expressions in public places that are unconcerned with their audience are egotistical and antisocial. These expressions may be valid if the goal is for social reform; (to undermine, criticize or protest the evils of society), but the artist must then be prepared to accept the inevitable consequences and limitations of these actions.

Graffiti is an art form that has largely been created by young people working independent of social structures, and this is its strength. Becoming fashionable, it has been embraced by some galleries and official venues. Context and audience changes every work, therefore no work in a gallery can claim to be entirely independent of public approval.  It is an irony of our time that we attempt this.

Aesthetically, I rarely “like” graffiti in the sense of wanting to live with it.  I can admire the vigor of the calligraphic expression and the virtuosity when it is present. I also truly appreciate the need for artists to work outside of conventional venues.  Graffiti is in fact a form of “outsider art” sometimes called “art brut”.  It represents the human need to create in its most powerful and fundamental form.  Outsider art reinvigorates all of the arts when they lapse into convention and repetition.

Graffiti as an art form has all of the challenges and problems of any other movement.  It constantly risks lapsing into conventions and creating venues that are at odds with its primary message.  Artists eventually seek some sort of acceptance or approval from some group of people.  It is a contradiction when part of the artists’ message is that they don’t care about acceptance.

The first question any artist needs to ask is, “Who is my audience, and what am I trying to say to them?” When the relationship between the artist and the public is compassionate, everything functions well. When it is antagonistic, there needs to be a good reason for the strife. If the graffiti expression is done in a closed venue for a specific and appreciative audience, then there is no reason to judge it at all.


On Time

Q: What is time?

A: This was not a question posed directly to me. It is a question posed by the 2013 “Flame Challenge,” an international kid-judged science contest sponsored by Stony Brook University on Long Island, N.Y., and actor Alan Alda. More information is here: http://www.centerforcommunicatingscience.org/

In my own studies of creativity, I came to the conclusion that creativity, along with time, space and energy, is one of the four fundamental attributes of the physical world. It was important for me to define time, space and energy in order to give substance to my ideas on creativity. I feel that most of the published definitions we find do not correspond with our current knowledge, and therefore wrote the following description. The contest called for 300 words, but I found I needed over 400. Partly, this is because I found it necessary to define space, energy, physics and even reality in order to describe time. The contest also called for being a scientist or science teacher, so I did not need to worry about the length of my description for the contest.


Time, along with space and energy is one of the three measurable attributes of the physical world. Measurement, in turn, is a mathematical language based on predictable patterns and changes observed in space, time and energy. These three measurable attributes are not themselves part of the physical world. It is the patterns they form together that give the appearance of reality, and it is these patterns and their transformations that can be measured. The measured description of these patterns is important for working in the physical world and understanding it, but it is important not to confuse the mathematical description with reality itself.

time- blog

Allegorical Figure of “Time”

Physics, which is the quantitative study of energy, space and time, defines each attribute by comparing it to the other two. Energy is described in terms of its patterns and actions in space and time. Space is measured by light years, which are movements of energy in time. Time is a measure of changes in energy and space. Historically, time was measured by the rotation of the earth and its path around the sun. Today, the measurement of time is based on the radiation emitted by a particular atom. Both of these methods use predictable changes in energy and space to measure time.

In the physical world, time has only one dimension. We think of time as being composed of the past, present and future, but only the present exists in the physical world, the past and future do not. Albert Einstein said, “The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”. When we listen to music, we have the sensation that it is travelling continually through time, but in reality we are remembering the sounds that came earlier and anticipating the sounds that will follow.

Nature, like music, creates patterns in time. The seasons, the beating of the heart and the hours of the day repeat themselves like rhythm in music. Cause and effect move nature forward with variations that are forever new and surprising, like the melody line of a symphony. When we look at nature we can see an infinite number of causes and effects impressed upon the face of the physical world. On a beach pebble we see the actions of a million waves. In the mountains we see the grand movements of the earth and in the evening stars we see the effects of untold millennia. In the eyes of a child we see the whole history of life along with its future possibilities. In this sense, time is the mark of eternity upon the moment.

Kurt Wenner

Here, by the way, is the winning entry by Nicholas Williams of Livermore, CA.

What is time?

Have you ever heard your parents say to you that it’s time to go to bed or time to get up, time to go to school, time to clean your room, time to do this, time to do that, and on and on. Our world runs on a time schedule, and the schedule is so tight that there are schedules for everything we do throughout the day and clocks that tell you what time it is so we can do those things at the correct time. Time is so obvious in our lives that no one questions it. It’s just there, we have to live with it, and so we accept it. All activity on earth is based on time, and this time is what happened a second ago, a minute ago, an hour ago, days ago, and years ago. Well, now we have an important question. What is it?
Time has a lot of definitions; like time is history or time is age. But, have we ever considered a good definition? I have. Here’s my definition. And no, I did not get this from some book or online. It’s just something that makes sense to me. I think of time as Forward Movement. Think about it! Everything moves forward, from the universe to every second of your life. And because everything moves forward, man developed a way to keep track of this Forward Movement and called it time. Man also invented clocks to keep a precise log of this Forward Movement in years, days, hours, minutes, seconds, and even parts of seconds. I’ll always continue to think of time as Forward Motion. I’ll also think of it as a Forward Motion that will never change, will never stop, and can never be reversed.

Q&A: An Unusual Experience

Question: What kind of unusual experience have you had while doing pavement art?

Answer: There have been many unusual experiences, especially in the early years when the art form was not as well known. Some of the stories can be found in my book, Asphalt Renaissance, but here is another:

Installation- blogIn Geneva, Switzerland, I worked on an anamorphic work that was the synthesis of my anamorphic studies. I had tried a similar work before in Rome, but after having the image destroyed by rain prior to completion for a period of 6 weeks, I was prepared to try a new technique. The work would take a minimum of 10 days to complete, and I knew that in Switzerland the chances of not getting rained out were slim, even in the summer. I had two canvases sewn together at a tent shop and prepared them with a mix of acrylic paint and pumice to accept pastel color. I mounted two PVC tubes to the roof of my camper van to carry the rolled canvas, and was ready to go. I then found that it was possible to prepare the tape that bordered the canvas with the same paint preparation and thereby work seamlessly between the canvas surface and the pavement. To passers-by, the work appeared as an inexplicable hole with foreign bodies attempting to crawl out.

The image was so unusual that many pedestrians inquired if I had a postcard or photo of it for sale. I decided to photograph the painting at the end of each day and order multiple copies from a one-hour photo lab. I was not comfortable with selling anything on the street, as selling came under a different set of laws and would certainly have been illegal without a license. Instead I chalked the message “free with any offer” and trusted the Swiss to be generous. This plan turned out to be a huge success and I returned to the lab for a new batch of photos each morning, moving several hundred of them over the course of a few days.

One day a woman passed my site and said she needed desperately to buy a photo of the work. She needed this photo to prove to her husband she wasn’t insane. She had described my work, (with tortured souls crawling out of the ground), in great detail to her husband. She had insisted that he couldn’t miss what appeared to be a large hole in the street, but her husband had come during the evening and found nothing that fit her description. The following day, seeing that I was working on the picture exactly where I’d been the day before, she assumed that her husband had not looked in the right place. That evening she sent him back, and again he returned home never having seen the painting, despite a very detailed description.

Relieved to have a photograph in her hand, she then went on her way. I didn’t quite have the courage to tell her the image was on a canvas and I took it, as usual, with me at the end of the day. The next morning when I arrived at the spot I saw that the corner where I had been working was completely torn up and a gigantic real hole had been created exactly where picture had been. I wondered what the woman’s husband thought when he returned to the spot. It was truly lucky for her that she had obtained the photo.