Only on Vashon – The Weekly Rundown 02/25/2024

We start with an argument that’s been brewing for 30 years.

Commenters are torn. Some remember nuts, some don’t. One thoughtful islander proposed that they had both varieties, thus creating a peace within the warring family. 

Others reminisce. One says, “They had a cream cheese filling marbled into them. Best brownies I’ve ever had!”

One says, “I still call it Bob’s even tho it’s Island Baking Co.”

Yet another says, “there was a bakery?”

There must have been, as the original baker posts the recipe! And I see it includes walnuts, as well as a mysterious ingredient called MB (magic beans).

And speaking of things we used to love, we have people saddened about the state of our beaches, which used to be pristine and never had any accumulated debris or exercise machines. We have not one but two posts by the same person on the same topic– some driftwood adorned with trash at KVI. 

One post garnered few comments,  but the other started a feud. Here is the picture from the contentious post, which had the caption: “This is Graffitti.” 

Kilroy was here

There are a few ways you could react to this. Some say it’s no big deal– just someone assembling the trash that washed up onto the beach like a bower bird building a nest. 

Others say it’s a sign of the downfall of civilization. 

One person comments on how lovely the sky is in the picture. 

But most delightfully, someone gets into a fight with the original poster about what art is, what graffiti is, and who can consider themselves a connoisseur of art.

In any fruitless internet debate, we must first establish what is in the picture we are arguing about. One person says,  “looks like two sticks stuck in the ground to me😂😂😂 loosen up a bit.”

Another says, “ just take it down if you don’t like it?? it’s literally sticks”

But wait! If you zoom in, there’s a basketball hoop and a plastic bag. Someone points out: “Looks like an old basketball hoop. I’m pretty sure graffiti is writing…”

Now we get into the good stuff. We have to establish the meaning of our terms. The original poster clarifies:  “graffiti means writing but graffiti also means unpermitted public art.”

The poster has a good point. The word graffiti has the Latin root -graph and comes to us via Italian, where it means “art that is lacking a permit.”

But what level of change to public spaces needs a permit? One person says: “this isn’t unpermitted art, it’s two sticks stuck into the ground.”

But the poster disagrees, they say, “it is an assemblage.”

If you reassemble things you find in an unsightly manner, then it’s graffiti. So if, for example, I found old beer bottles on the ground and I lined them up, it would be graffiti, but if I left them where I found them, then it would not be graffiti? I think I need a better understanding of what this person means. Good thing they dig in their heels and argue with everyone. 

One commenter makes this point: “Um- if shifting around the driftwood & garbage washed up on a beach is ‘graffiti’, then Point Robinson & every beach where people have created forts & shelters & even sandcastles are all graffiti!! You are misusing the word in order to misrepresent a natural event(stuff washing up on a beach OR people shifting around stuff washed up on a beach- as nefarious & criminal!. Assemblages are not graffiti.“

Others tell the poster to chill. One says, “oh stop. No one is saying they enjoy trash on the beach 🙄

The poster responds, “ oh but they are”

Then the commenter comes back with, “ohhh but they aren’t. Move on 🥱

This is excellent discourse. Keep up the nuanced dialogue; I’m learning so much. 

Another commenter asks, “what’s wrong with graffiti?”

The poster responds, “what is wrong with graffiti? Well nothing when it is beautiful but that isn’t.”

Now we get to hash out what is and isn’t beauty, which is completely objective and I’m sure we’ll all agree on a definition. Is it a pleasing combination of colors and textures from the natural world? Could it include assembling ugly objects in your environment into a new form to lessen the unsightliness? If so, does that assemblage have to have particular qualities to be beautiful and not just garbage? Does art have to be beautiful at all?

One person actually gives some insight. They say, “I am generally a fan of graffiti and street art, but art takes more consideration, planning and skill.”

Another person says, “I don’t think you know what graffiti is…”

The poster clarifies by reiterating a point they’ve already made, “graffiti means unpermitted public art.”

I agree it’s shitty to leave garbage there, but now I want to get a permit to leave garbage on the beach as art. Where do you get a junk assemblage permit? Can I apply for one along with a fishing license?

I think the poster is also implying that the people who assembled the junk were purposely trying to make art, and just did a bad job of it. Apparently, someone agrees with me. They say, “Jokes on you when it makes its way to the Art Temple and they have an entire exhibit.”

I remember I used to go to the art museum in Pittsburgh, and in the modern art section, there was this one installation that was just some broken blinds and a fluorescent light bulb. It looked like the kind of trash that piles up in the corner of my basement, only under better lighting. So yeah, I could see an old basketball hoop and a decomposing plastic bag ending up in an art museum, provided they were assembled just so by someone with the proper credentials. And speaking of credentials, we get into an argument over who gets to have opinions on art.

We get to that part of the argument via this comment and picture: “actual graffiti for comparison” 

The original poster says, “an art historian I see you are.”

To which the commenter replies, “Takes one to know one!”

In my opinion, putting graffiti on ugly public surfaces like dumpsters to make them more appealing is art, but putting garbage in nature to make it look shittier is not art, and thus not graffiti. But I don’t have a degree in art and I don’t work in the art field. Let’s hear from the experts.

The original poster says, “well I do have a degree in art from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and while my degree is in painting and drawing I took more art history than most people who majored in it, so if you say so🤷

The commenter replies, “And I have made my career in the printing industry now for over thirty years and work with artists and graphic designers ‘of note’ on a daily basis to translate their ideas to paper. All day, every day. Degrees are great!”

When the original poster tried to make peace, albeit badly, by being like, oh you do art, we should get together, and then added a backhanded side eye about the graphic designer being a gatekeeper, the commenter said, “I keep no gates and art is completely in the eye of the beholder. You see graffiti in some sticks, I see bored nights on Vashon.”

Sounds like the commenter is turning down the chance to meet. Too bad, I think two people getting in a fight on the internet then realizing they’re both artists and getting together to trade subtle jabs would be a great meet-cute. 

The poster’s rejoinder is: “you identified yourself as a gatekeeper in the comment referencing artists ‘of note’”

The response; “your ‘art degrees’ have no context here. It 💯 percent is not graffiti. It’s freedom of expression and you shouldn’t try to push your credentials around or say let’s go tear this down Go home. Leave it alone.”

I feel patriotically moved knowing that people see the reorganization of garbage as free expression. Much of my life is spent moving objects around my cluttered home, and now every time I try to find a place for a potato masher or outgrown baby sock and end up shoving it in an overflowing drawer, I will call it Free Expression. 

The commenter and the poster flout their credentials, but neither gives a compelling argument. I love when people swing their experience around like they’re wielding a Katana. Whose opinion should hold more weight? What if people who are equally qualified have different opinions? Does it mean there’s no one answer and it’s open to interpretation? Does that mean I have to form my own opinion? 

Fine, if you insist. If it’s junk they found at the beach and arranged it, then whatever. If they brought garbage to the beach then boo. I like when people rearrange objects to make their environment more inviting, and sometimes people take ugly objects and make the environment less inviting as a commentary on the ugliness and alienation of our current world. Were the people who made this assemblage consciously, or even unconsciously, trying to communicate something about their lives and feelings, their sense of non-belonging in a beautiful world where they feel like they are discarded trash? Or were they just bored? Without a handy plaque next to the art to explain it to me, I can’t pass judgment on the matter. So, instead, I’ll ask the question that’s been nagging at me since I first saw the post. Does the hoop still work, and if so, is anyone interested in a pickup game of beach basketball?

Anna Shomsky
Author: Anna Shomsky

I'm a former teacher and a data engineer living on Vashon Island. My writing has appeared in Five on the Fifth, Women on Writing and on the Post-Culture Podcast. I wrote and produced the radio show Whispers of Vashon for 101.9 KVSH. I’ve had short stories published in the anthologies Island Stories and Chicken Scratchings, as well as through the Open Space Literary Project.

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