Art Shmart: Splashes for Everyone

Nikki Sansone

Art Shmart was just involved in a heated debate at 1:30 a.m. regarding the legitimacy of The Splasher. For those of you unaware of whom or what The Splasher is, you need only look at the art section of this summer’s New York Times to get the story. Or you could keep reading.

The Splasher is the name given to what is presumed to be a collaborating group of individuals acting out against graffiti and public works. These individuals are guilty of – surprise! – splashing public artworks with paint and essentially ruining the pieces.

The point of these bully episodes is explicitly outlined in The Splasher’s 16-page manifesto that is usually attached close to the site of the scene with a rudimentary paste made from wheat and glass. The paste, according to The Splasher, is just a vulgar and frivolous act of disrespect to the works, embodying the general sentiment subsequently vocalized in their manifesto.

The manifesto itself is an extensive work of multiple points addressing specific and nonspecific street artists among many insults.

“You truly pioneer nothing but your own decay,” the manifesto claims in reference to the artists. “Your work is cheap feed for grotesque swine.”

The manifesto is especially critical of those street artists who are backed by sponsorship from consumer brands such as Vans. They claim that they are hoping to “take the wind out of some people’s sails.”

It is, at the end of a very long night of reading, yet another lament about the merging worlds of consumer culture and art.

So what was this heated, late-night argument about, you may ask? It was as simple an argument that there could be given for the topic: Is The Splasher an absolutely pretentious jerk, or is this art?

The question of consumer culture and art is not a new one, and although reports of people systematically destroying works in protest are few and far spread, The Splasher’s position on the matter is nothing groundbreaking. We at Art Shmart maintained at 1:30 a.m., in the spirit of virtuous critique, that The Splasher’s actions were a valid reaction to art. Our belligerent and bumbling fool of an opponent had other thoughts on the matter, finding The Splasher pretentious.

Don’t let the flawed logic or hostility of this statement detract you from the real issue at hand, Colgate. In many regards, yes, The Splasher is exceedingly pretentious.

Why does The Splasher act anonymously if they so firmly believe in their cause? Why do they act out at all — what gain can come from ruining someone else’s work? And above all, is The Splasher just as diluted as the artists they critique, working safely from behind the smoke screens and social authority of “art for the sake of art,” while all the while pulling a grand publicity stunt? Is this just TomKat and Oprah’s couch with less babies and more paint? On the one hand, perhaps it is.

It’s a cynical approach, but it presents a legitimate concern for the future of The Splasher. Any artist covered in the New York Times, Gothamist, Gawker — you name it — isn’t going to be unveiling new work to near-empty galleries any time soon. Media hype is what makes our contemporary world go round; its hard to believe that this factor wasn’t considered before The Splasher decided that the best course of action to get their word out was to ruin other peoples’ art.

Why didn’t The Splasher just stop at posting their manifestos on public art sites?

Conversely, The Splasher does have something to say, and who’s to say they hadn’t tried more ho-hum methods prior to their summer of infamy?

It’s not like The Splasher is splashing and running; the people behind it are channeling their inner hippie child and working within a system to critique the very system itself. If the greater population speaks only the language of popular media and sponsorships, then The Splasher had to speak this same language to not only get these peoples’ attention but also to communicate to them in terms they’d understand (though admittedly the manifesto is written in terms many think not even The Splasher understands).

The Splasher isn’t ruining art to be jerks; its voice is angry, and while acting like a jerk, at least the culprits are leaving behind a reason why.

So are the issues between consumer culture and art going to be resolved simply by ruining works and posting wordy manifestos? No.

But aren’t Colgate students, worlds away from The Splasher and victims, talking about these issues? Yes.

Did the 1:30 a.m. ogre-like fellow and Art Shmart ever come to any kind of resolution on this issue? No.

Did the 1:30 a.m. opponent feel the need to reenact his own splashing and throw popcorn on us in order to critique our ideologies and opinions concerning the matter? Yes.

And that right there, ladies and gentlemen, is the true word of The Splasher’s manifesto.