Questioning graffiti and street art as acts of resistance

Over the past half century, not only has there been an increase in the amount and types of graffiti and street art appearing in large urban centers, but so too has attention paid to this type of urban public art.

One of dominant questions, however, that pervades this activity is why do people and groups engage in graffiti and street art?

Temporarily setting aside definitions of graffiti and street art, since the emergence of these activities, one of the dominant perceptions is that graffiti and street art are acts of resistance.

Indeed a considerable amount of graffiti and street art has been produced during major social and political revolutions, protests (e.g., Black Lives Matter), and campaigns of resistance (e.g., against the Russian Invasion of Ukraine), etc. (thus leading to the term conflict graffiti), but there is a significant amount of graffiti/street art that is put up that bears no connection to these types of events.

Thus to suggest that all work done by street art luminaries such as Banksy or Shepard Fairey, for example, are works of resistance is a gross simplification of their body of work.

Based on similar arguments, some graffiti and street art practitioners and observers, will go so far as to suggest that graffiti is resistance, but street art is not. This, they argue, is tied to their unique (often non generalizable) definitions of these practices.

The reality is that some, but not all, graffiti and street art are acts of resistance, and thus to imply or infer that all graffiti and street art falls in to this category is probably some combination of romanticism and sloppy homework.

The latter argument probably derives from a failure to (or poor execution there of) to talk with, interview, or observe individuals who engage in graffiti/street art, or to immerse oneself in the scholarly literature on this subject.

I suspect that some of the people who subscribe to the graffiti and street art is resistance also suggest that all crimes are acts of resistance. An argument left for another day.

Notwithstanding the fact that many graffiti writers and street artists may have difficulty articulating why they do this sort of activity, in principle, there are as many different causes (i.e., anger, fun, sneaky thrills, recognition, etc.) as there are people who engage in this activity.

In short, whether we are talking about the causes of graffiti and street art or almost any kind of human behavior we should be careful and suspicious about any sort of monocausal explanations, Often times the message is ambiguous and thus to infer that resistance is the only or most dominant cause should be questioned.

Photo Credit: Daniel Lobo

Pasta, Pappardelle, and the Perils of Overconfidence

One of the earliest dishes I learned to prepare was spaghetti. My efforts involved opening up a can of Chef Boyardee, and heating it up in a sauce pot.

Soon I gravitated to boiling supermarket bought packaged dried pasta, warming up a can or jar of spaghetti sauce, placing it on top of the drained spaghetti, and finishing it off with a sprinkle of Kraft parmesan cheese.

Over time, I experimented with various brands and different types of dried pasta, added a variety of ingredients to the store bought sauce to make it more interesting, and topped off the concoction with selected types of parmesan.

This ritual progressed to making pasta with cottage cheese, or heating up olive oil in a pot or pan, adding the cooked pasta, and then some salt and parmesan to the dish.

Despite trips to Italy where not only did I eat some of the best pasta in the world, but once spent a delightful afternoon, in a small hillside southern Italian town, making pasta from scratch, under the direction of the aging aunt of one of my friends, my pattern of heating up dried pasta, and dousing it with prepared spaghetti sauce persisted for a number of years.

For example, once a week, when my wife would work late, and it was my turn to feed our children, boiling dried pasta and covering it with canned spaghetti sauce was my fall back/go to meal of choice to cook.

But over the past decade not only do supermarkets from Whole Foods to Trader Joes sell dried pasta made out of different ingredients (e.g., rice, etc.), and “fresh pasta” that one can cook at home, but I also started to deliberately improve my cooking skills.

To be fair, cooking fresh pasta presents a slightly different set of challenges, than cooking package dry spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine, etc., but ones that appeared to be easy to master.

Recently, however, I decided to purchase and cook freshly made (and relatively expensive) Pappardelle (pasta), (which is about eight inches in length and laid out in consecutive U shaped rings), from a well-respected local purveyor of Italian food.

At the time I believed that the biggest challenge was deciding among which type of sauce (i.e., tomato, ricotta cheese, or mushrooms) that I would finish the pasta with.

But that was just the beginning of my temporary culinary decent into hell.

I assumed that I knew how to cook the Pappardelle. I had seen my wife cook this dish numerous times and thought it was a no brainer. Or how difficult could this be?

One of my biggest mistakes, however, was assuming that the pasta showed up on the plate the way it was nicely laid out on in the plastic container in which it was bought and that there was no need to separate the individual strands of pasta as they entered the boiling pot of water. I also reckoned that it was not necessary to put oil in to the water and felt confident enough that it was neither necessary for me to consult a recipe or a youtube video that would walk me through how to cook it.

The result was a big mess of cooked pasta that was all stuck together.

Always willing to deconstruct what worked and did not work for me in the kitchen, I asked myself why did things backfire on me, and what deeper meaning could I derive from this experience?

There are about three competing hypotheses.

First, my failure, could be attributable to my white, middle-class male sense of confidence. Although this may be true, I think this explanation does not hold much water (boiled or not).

Second, the outcome could be attributed to the way I conceptualized the challenge. This is the notion of framing. Since I had cooked both packaged hard pasta and fresh pasta before, I assumed that my biggest challenge would not be cooking the pasta, but orchestrating the sauce.

Third, and more likely is something akin to the Dunning-Kruger effect that suggests that people with low skills, ability, and expertise often tend to overestimate their ability. Yes, I am learning how to improve my ability to cook Japanese food (in particular Washoku), but that doesn’t mean that my knowledge and skills are immediately transferable to other types of food and cuisine.

In skills acquisition and performance, there are always blind spots, and this was one of them for me.

What lessons can be learned as I go forward?

In the future, although it’s important to experiment and not shy away from trying new things and methods, it’s also wise to not assume that just because I have some expertise in one area, that it is easily generalizable to another. More specifically, as DK experts will tell you, in order to minimize this effect, it’s wise to:
Recognize that you may have a bias;
Try to get feedback (in this case early on before you destroy the pasta);
Ideally this feedback is from people who are recognized experts in the relevant field;
Commit yourself to continuously learn more and improve your skills;
And most importantly be humble.

Photo Credit
Italian Chef 1

The importance of earning a certification, degree, diploma, and education from a respected accredited school or organization

Numerous organizations offer skills certification, practical training, or undergraduate or graduate level degrees.

Undoubtedly some of these entities are better than others.

But how does one determine which school, instructor, or trainer best suits their needs to receive appropriate instruction or a respectable education from without having to fork over lots of resources (i.e., money, time, etc.).

To begin with there’s always word of mouth. Understandably it’s easier for some people and with some fields than others to access the benefits of this process. Sometimes you know a person, just like you, who graduated from one of these programs, an alumnus, who can vouch for an instructor or a school that they attended and benefited from or direct you away from a questionable target.

Alternatively, you can post a question on an on-line forum like Reddit asking for recommendations and hope there is someone whom you trust to give you honest feedback. Keep in mind, however, that other people’s opinions may be singular. Their experience may not be the same as others.

Since these strategies are not sufficient, it’s helpful to consult a handful of publicly available ranking systems like US News and World Report, QS World University Rankings, or the Times Higher Education Review. They have a set of criteria, ask experts in the field to rank order schools in their area of expertise, and then they consolidate the responses.

But what about the field of criminology/criminal justice? Indeed the graduate programs in these fields show up on the previously mentioned publicly available ranking platforms.

However, over the past few decades, in addition to the traditional bricks and mortar schools, a number of for profit and not for profit programs in the field of Criminology/Criminal Justice, offering face-to-face and/or on-line programs, have emerged. In general, they are cheaper and easier to enroll in than the more well known schools, colleges, and universities.

Unfortunately not all of them are created equal. These schools, colleges and universities, pejoratively referred to to diploma mills, may have legitimate sounding names, but questionable accreditation credentials. Meanwhile numerous well-meaning but poorly informed or advised individuals have been duped by these educational organizations.

For example, over the past few decades many people (including incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and criminal justice practitioners) have enrolled in certification courses, bachelors, masters and doctoral programs, only to discover that the rigorousness of instruction was lacking, the work required to pass classes was laughable, and to find out at some time during the process, or upon graduation, despite the fact that the school was accredited by a professional sounding organization, that their degree was practically useless.

Why were these certifications, diplomas, and diplomas not worthwhile? Because savvy people who made hiring decisions knew that the educational institutions were not rigorous, or properly accredited.

Few members of the public, including aspiring students, understand the nature, purpose and meaning of accreditation. And there are lots of different types of accreditation. Although accrediting bodies are voluntary nongovernmental organizations, some of them are better than others. Some have higher or lower standards.

With all economic transactions (and education is no different), in the case of searching for an appropriate place to receive certification, a diploma, degree or training, the buyer must educate themselves about the subtle and not so subtle nuances of organizations that provide services.

photo credit: Image of Banksy’s “Follow your dreams”