Read this first part of this post here.
The second argument that bloggers and commentators have rolled out to defend Creepytings’s actions is that we shouldn’t view her work any differently from the rock art that is speckled across much of the American West. But here, too, we have a major difference in meaning. We know that much of that rock art was created for specific purposes. Some to mark territory, some to record specific events (such as astronomic explosions, volcanic eruptions, spiritual visions, and migrations), some astronomic record keeping, and some interactions with other groups. Rock art was a very real way for people in the past to interact with each other through time—even if it was only a week apart—and to create a permanent system of observation.
Yep, that’s right. Some rock art records empirical observations. Some rock art isn’t even technically art, it’s science!
Of course, we’ll never truly know why all rock art was created. That’s not how history works. Whether it is text-based evidence, artifacts, or art, researchers interested in the past will always be reexamining current models as new data become apparent, new misunderstandings are revealed, and data are looked at in previously unthought-of ways. Although we always strive to get a more accurate understanding of the past, we’ll never get a perfect one.
Many existing rock art sites are still visited by modern tribal groups. They are sacred sites now. Places with stories, meanings, history, and observations about long-gone human activity. Places of reverence. Sacred terrain. So, no, Creepytings’s drawings don’t equate well with any of the uses or meanings attached to Native American rock art. That’s my opinion as an anthropologist, at least.
I casually asked friends and acquaintances of mine in the art community whether they considered this to be art or not, and to explain. Here’s what they have to say:
Rob (artist): “I don’t like it and I consider it vandalism. These are sacred places for some and national nature lands should be ‘leave no trace.’ I remember backpacking in the Big Horn Mountains as a kid and hiking far in and seeing garbage in the stream. What she is doing is pretty much the same thing to me. There are plenty of other forms of media to display your art and few places of untouched nature. Saying this, I do like street art and graffiti, but its place is in the city.”
Sarah Anne Stolte (art historian): “Whether or not the Creepytings drawings should be considered ‘art’ is like asking the highly debatable, arguably unanswerable question, “What is art?”. Although I would consider Creepytings to be graffiti style art works, intended as such by the maker and exhibiting certain aesthetic properties, I also consider these art works to have been created with ill-guided intentions and with a problematic choice of medium in tandem with the selected canvas. They are, thus, both art and vandalism.
“Graffiti intended by the maker to be ‘art’ and that adheres to certain aesthetic criteria including, but not limited to design, composition, and meaning, can be, in my opinion, considered art. The fact that graffiti is usually illegal and often defacing of public structures is inherent to the practice. I will not comment on whether I think the practice is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ as it is, I believe, a separate issue. These particular works were generated with the intent of being art that evidences the artist’s presence on specific landscapes. The forms and compositions are well-designed. Is it art? Sure. Is it good art? Well, that is an entirely different question. From my perspective as an art historian, the issue with Creepytings is not so much a question of ‘is it or is it not art’ as much as it is an illustration of how contemporary Americans consider their relationships to the environment, the history of the American landscape, and the continuity of Native American cultures.
“I think it is without question that this particular artist made several substandard art practice decisions. National Parks are sacred places created with the intent of preserving and protecting the natural environment from what is often visualized as modernism’s impending and ever-encroaching destructive effects on the planet. Would the discussion be different if the artist had chosen to use natural pigments rather than acrylic paints as she marked her presence on the land? My mind recalls, for example, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty of 1970, and although this is perhaps not the best comparison, it does offer room for thinking about how contemporary Earthworks and graffiti converge and diverge.
“An example of a more thoroughly conceptualized graffiti-style art practice is evidenced in the work Ryan O’Malley. Made of materials that will decompose naturally and not cause any harm to the environment, O’Malley corn-pasted his prints on the streets of Venice, Italy during the exhibition, “Epicentro: ReTracing the Plains”.
“To those adamantly commenting that the Creepytings artist defaced the natural environment and should be criminally punished as a vandal, I ask why they extend their protection of the planet only to National Park spaces and urge them to consider their own, daily footprints on the environment. I bet many of these angered citizens unconsciously pollute the air, water, and land each day through driving and other daily consumption practices.”
Peter Janus (artist): “Some artists will do anything to get their names out there. No matter the cost sometimes. There are tasteful ways of doing this, but in this case, it’s just low class. National parks are there for the beauty of nature, not this. I am concerned that if this getting attention, what others might attempt.”
G. Bearskin (artist): “As an artist and Native American Indian, the law is the law. And she cannot compare her work as the same as rock art, otherwise “most of” the ancients’ symbols would not be unexplained. Charge her.”
Anonymous female (art historian): “There might be two camps from an art historical perspective on this woman’s tagging and behavior. The first might side with graffiti practice and the perceived artistic ‘right’ to tag public spaces (à la Banksy, who has gotten so much press recently and has a large following via social media). Tags and graffiti images mark/change a landscape (not only the physical) and in some cases make political or social statements that spark discussion and critical thinking, like all good art should do. On the other hand, the spaces in which she has decided to tag have a long history, both in terms of the age of the earth, and also the use by the native peoples of this country. Ultimately, the land was set aside for the enjoyment of all the people, and therefore one person’s permanent changes to that landscape go against the democratic intent of the parks and the landscapes within them. Also, I am suspicious of this woman’s choice to also tag a bathroom. If there was a strong artistic impulse that perhaps honored or mimicked indigenous rock art (and equally respected the spaces where those images are typically found), I might be more willing to say ‘okay, she’s attempting something here, albeit badly.’”
Niel (artist, tattoo artist, former gallery owner): “Short answer: Vandalism.”
Anonymous male (art historian): “I really lament these actions on the National Parks. For me, it is obviously a wretched way of pursuing media exposure. The way this person is trying to bring attention to her actions does not dignify anybody, least of all herself.
“A lot of people pursue attention by performing gestures that are upsetting to people, or controversial, in order to get their names out there and from that platform of discussion launch themselves as ‘artists’ and commercialize stuff through the newly minted name they think they are acquiring. I am not impressed by any of the drawings, much less by the gesture of making unsophisticated marks on what belongs to everybody, namely the national heritage.
“There are many reasons why this would not qualify as art, perhaps mainly for its betrayal of social institutions, yet more pressing is the question, would this even qualify as graffiti? The answer would depend on what is being transgressed. Graffiti being a rather urban phenomenon, this person’s gestures are cast into a dubious sphere. I recommend discussing this ambiguity with someone in a better grasp of notions of graffiti and the whole legality and institutionality regarding the park.”
Banksy, Creepytings, graffiti, Lewis Borck, National parks, rock art, Sarah Anne Stolte, street art, Vandalism