3.4.2010 "Stencil Pirates" part 2


I really enjoyed this articles exploration of the modern development of stenciling. Before reading this article I was fairly ignorant to the effects of graffiti around the world. It's success in Nicaragua by the Sandanista Revolutionaries to overthrow the Somoza Dictatorship was of particular astonishment. I had never really taken into account that such a wide ranging art form could have such effects. Coming from Milwaukee, I was exposed to the art form but much of the Milwaukee stencil graffiti scene lacked a motive for reform- a call for action. These readings have taken me back to a series of mushroom that covered the stop signs on the east side of Milwaukee. To me, works of graffiti, especially stencils, are an art form that many have overlooked. This view is much like that of Van Dalen who was a practicing studio artist who made a turn to street art in NYC. This short but highlighting history helped me in being able to look deeper into much of the street art around me and shows how interesting this development has really been- Egypt to NYC.

I had no idea the stencil had such extensive history. From being used on the Egyptian pyramids to political advertisement today, it made me realize the many uses and functions that a stencil possesses. The main characteristics of a stencil revolve around the basic materials needed, how easily it can be reproduced, and the fact that any person can use a stencil. These are the foundations of a Do-It-Yourself/Together project. Armed with the materials and knowledge, many people from all over the world took to the streets and voiced the message he/she wanted to portray. The article “Stencil Pirates” highlighted political issues such as freeing Mandela in South Africa to social revolution in Nicaragua. I didn’t realize that the stencil would act as a newspaper for some individuals such as how it was in Soviet Russia. “The bold and simplified texts and images were stenciled as posters and used to bring news to a population that was largely illiterate.” Being a visual learner, the use of images is a powerful tool for me and for many other people. With the use of stencils as a way to communicate with all kinds of individuals it creates a better balance. Because most stencils don’t rely on the ability to read, many people are informed of the issues happening currently. I never thought that stencils would be used for anything other than artwork, but making them into a newspaper is a great idea.

I learned so much from this article. I never realized how much graffiti and stencils had an impact on people/events going on around the world. I just love the idea of what stencils can do for people. It's so fast and efficient. It also still has the artist's touch to it, has their unique art style, and being able to display it in many places in such a short amount of time. It truly was a great idea for artists. When I was reading the article I came upon the word estenceler, and after I read what it meant it was really amazing to connect that with the graffiti I found in my neighborhood. Some of the graffiti I found had bright colors that made it really stand out, and I just thought that was neat connection to that word. I really enjoyed learning about the history of street stencils and how early it began showing up to the public. I was just waiting to read something like someone got tired of putting their graffiti up and having it painted over so they made the stencil, end of story type of thing. But then they mentioned the stencils in Nicaragua and how it made a powerful statement on their campaign/showed their resistance. I actually found it kind of surprising that most of the beginning work to stencils were in a form on resistance. Also, to read about and see from the images from the reading that most of stencils were messages surprised me as well. I love how the street was bringing together so many things- art, politics, and music. Also, from that it brought different groups of people including punks, activists, and artists. I just love what art can do for people- bring them together, make strong statements, create this image, make people wonder about things, and so on. Lastly, I absolutely loved Ruth Turner's "Foxtrot" because it involved creativity, bringing people together, and having people walking by try it (in general getting the public involved; I know I would've tried it). I wish I saw things like that. This reminded me of how people try to learn something new, then try to master it, and lastly be able to say they did it/accomplished it. So it kind of goes with graffiti, stencils, and art in general. I'm sure it takes a lot of practice and determination to master graffiti and stencils, but then after awhile you could be walking on the street with a friend and see your work and say "I did that" or something- just that feeling of accomplishment, showing your work to others, and making a statement/image for others as well.

One thing I like most about stencils is that they are easily reproducible. In a society that frowns upon graffiti and stencils and uses paint to hide such talent, it is nice for the artist to be able to reproduce his/her image in such a timely manner. The impact of stencils on society is phenomenal. The easy method of production and the publicity of stencils is what makes this impact possible. However, I do feel that it takes away from a real sense of artistic ability. If it is so easy to make a stencil and produce the image hundreds of times what makes it so special? If everyone is doing it then it really isn't special or unique anymore. Personally I enjoy graffiti art more, the talent of spray painting such images with great detail is amazing to me. Much more time and effort is spent in producing graffiti and I think the outcome is much more appealing. Don't get me wrong stencils are a good way of getting a message across in a timely manner and have an interesting aesthetic to them, but I would classify graffiti as more of an art form.

I thought that it was very time efficient as well. It's hard to imagine artists' trying to get their message/artwork out there, such as in a large area/city, in such a short amount of time. So by having stencils they'd have more time to work on something else and be able to spread their message/artwork around. I also mentioned something to what you said. I said that it's different but it still has their art style and touch to it. But I agree that it's not really the same. That's a good question you've raised. I way I look at it is that it wouldn't be too special compared to having it put somewhere once, but I think the main idea of the stencil is that more people would be able to see it and the artist would be able to get their message out there faster. If considering art form, I suppose I too would classify graffiti higher up than stencils, but stencils are still a great art form. I mean the artist is still putting their artistic abilities into the stencil; it's just a little different than actual graffiti. I'm not quite sure which one I like better becasue after my little trip to find graffiti and being able to see both, I was just amazed by both of them. So I guess I don't necessarily like one more than the other; it's a tie I suppose. It's all just a matter of opinion/preferences.

I think an interesting point that you are neglecting here is that one cannot purchase a stencil from a ready-made factory. In stenciling, the artwork part of it comes not as much during the installation of the piece, but rather during the creation of the stencil. Discovering how elaborate stencils can be while still being practical for multiple uses and durable enough to stand being carted around is definitely a form of art. The making of the stencil requires a knowledge of what the artist wishes to portray in an interesting light- not necessarily just what it looks like, but the highlights and shadows inherent to its construction.

I am not meaning to bash your opinion here, but simply remind you that there is more that goes into stenciling than you are perhaps keeping in mind.

I loved reading about the beginnings of stencil art in this article. I was extremely surprised to learn that ancient cultures like the Egyptians used stencils; while I had always thought of stencils as being more modern, it does make sense that such a simplistic and reproducible art form would have existed long before the modern age. I was inspired reading about the revolutionaries that used stencils to convey their messages on (literally) every street corner, and it made me think that in some ways, graffiti is to stencils as an individual dissenter of the status quo is to a more fully formed revolutionary group. It is true that these revolutionaries could have used graffiti to convey their messages, but they chose to use stencils because they could spread a singular message more widely and faster. While an individual revolutionary can use graffiti to send very powerful messages about a person, place or thing, (as with the “Welcome to Minneapolis, Duck Motherfucker! graffiti we viewed in class) when a large group of people are all trying to get out the same political message, a stencil is the perfect tool to use.

I couldn't agree more with your statements. I also thought the stencil was a modern invention made maybe a century ago, but I was completely wrong. In accordance with Egypt, I wonder if the hieroglyphics they used were in fact stencils? That would make their work a lot easier! Also, the idea that mainly the first use of stencils was for resistance is an intriguing thought. Take for example in our modern notion with campaign images. When a person sees an image that relates to a candidate, he or she is able to correlate that individuals message without the presence of words. Just as the candidates message was portrayed through the image, the resistance can have common ground with a stencil uniting everyone in the specific cause. This is because people on the "inside" know what is meant by the image and have a sense of empowerment every time it is seen. The cause is then much stronger because more people know about it. It truly is the "perfect tool to use."

I like many others, was ignorant to stencils and its effect that it has had around the world. I didn’t realize that stencils were often used as a tool in bringing about a revolution but after reading the article it makes sense now. For example, “the anti-apartheid movement turned to the walls as a place to communicate the new of the day.” Since stencils are so easy to make and reproduce it is no wonder that it became a type of news form. Information could be communicated to the masses and help bring about a call to arms in this easy to use art form. I also liked how the article mentioned that “it was the ability of the stencil to be repeated endlessly that gave it extreme power.” This was in reference to the Nicaraguan revolution and I definitely agree with the statement the article makes. Since the stencil is so easy to reproduce, why not reproduce it more than once in continuation? For me personally, I am drawn to stencils that are repeated over and over again as opposed to one just standing alone. I think that the power of the stencil was illustrated well in this article and opened my eyes to its capabilities.

I like the repeated image as well, it seems that that is what stencils are meant to be used for. Having an image all over a city is very powerful, it becomes iconic. This was made obvious with the cowboy hat in Nicaragua. I think it did an excellent job of unifying people, making them feel like they had others on their side who shared their opinions. And even if the stencils don't have much of a political connotation, I still think repeated images throughout a place-like Banksey's rats or the stop sign shrooms that Case mentioned- can give a sense of community. Everyone sees them around, and it becomes a part of your 'home' in a way, I guess.

I agree with your idea. I think that the repetition of stencils adds more of an effect on society than simply creating the image once. By creating the image multiple times people are constantly reminded of the message or image the artist is trying to portray. Whether the message be a political or comical statement people become accustom to such repeated images and are constantly reminded of the importance of the message.

I had no idea stencils were used in ancient Egypt! That's really cool that it actually dates back that far, when most people think it is somewhat new to the graffiti art world. When i was in Nicaragua, there is still a great deal of stencil work. I was there right after an election, and it was clear that stencil art was a major campaign method. The stencil art in Nicaragua is just an example of how powerful one symbol can be. In my high school, we partook in a guerrilla marketing campaign against the students' apathy for a critical standardized test. We plastered one symbol around the entire school one night when no one was around. With in twenty minutes of the next day, then entire school (4300 kids!) was talking about it, even the deans had no idea. It was a powerful statement that was created by simply putting up hundreds of signs that had a single image.

Wow! your use of stencils to fight standardized testing sounds very intriguing, I think it is so great that you have had personal experience with the power that stencils possess when wielded correctly. Reading your story brought to my attention another interesting comparison. I have seen many posters up around the University; bulletin boards are literally covered in layers and layers of posters all around our school, yet often we do not have enough time to read all of the small type as we are walking by. Perhaps, rather than including superfluous details that not everyone is interested in, creating a really dynamic image to represent your group and then making sure that image, above anything else, is widely distributed, could have a very positive effect for student groups etc. I have seen this employed successfully with the groups that I think have the highest visibility on campus. If you think of the groups you have heard of, would you say that was accurate?

I was, it would seem, less surprised than many as to the early nature of a stencil's purpose. I had some prior knowledge on graffiti and stencils before reading this article, though it definitely elucidated some interesting points for me. I found the origins interesting, naturally, but was not surprised as to the revolutionary leanings of their original purpose.

Through their very nature, stencils are an ideal medium for delivery of a message to a people, especially when that message is unpopular with an establishment. Incredibly cheap, easy to put in place, and accessible technologically, they are perfect for sowing the seeds of revolution. In this way, they are a sort of mass communication device, delivering their message to a public that the artist cannot receive direct feedback from and in a way that is impersonal, facilitated by the technology utilized. I think that it is interesting that so many consider graffiti and stencils to be such a blight on a city, yet accept advertising EVERYWHERE with little problem. On billboards, in newspapers, on TV, it is to be expected here. But in restaurant menus, on t-shirts, and even while urinating, we are bombarded by advertisements. I, personally, would much prefer to read an interesting and clever political slogan than how I can grow my stock portfolio during my next trip to the urinal.

You make a really good point about the acceptance of advertising over the acceptance of stencils as mass communication. Giant billboards are put up all over advertising casinos, cars, hotels, anything, but they really don't represent what the people think and want. By a group of people or a single person coming up with a message that has a passion or desire behind it, i can appreciate that much more. I think the advertising world should look into this, as, like you said, i would rather read a witty cartoon or picture whilst going about daily activities (even crossing the wash. ave. bridge to get here)than posters with cars and some text on it, though i do love cars. =)

I liked at the end of the article when the author talked about why Van Dalen got into stencil work. It said he was "feeling like his art was too separated from its subject matter." He was giving back to his neighborhood- his art was about these people, so why not put it where they can see it? I really like this mentality, and it reminded me a lot of Diego Rivera and other muralists. Rivera created art about his people- typically on the poorer side. So why would he only put art in museums where they would never get to see it? Like Dalen, he gave back to his community and made his art accessible for all.

I also like Van Dalen's inspiration for graffiti. I like the idea of putting art where everyday people can actually see it and admire it as oppose to some museums which require an entrance fee. I also think he was trying to show the high brow art world what art can really be made of and that art can not only be admired in the walls of a museum but anywhere really. Also, I think that Banksy connects art back to its subject matter with his stencils of rats that represent the street where this art is being displayed. For me it's even hard to imagine street artists doing installations in museums because it would seem so out of place in the sense that their art is really meant to be admired by everyone and in the appropriate and vivid setting that is the streets.

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