on the use of eyes in street art
Stroll through downtown Los Angeles, up New York's Broadway, or along the avenues of Philadelphia's Center City, and look in the forgotten, in the grimy, and in the underused places. With a keen glance and a bit of luck, you will witness the riotous beauty known as street art. Oh, what a profusion of style and color, of shape and size, of message and image, all blending into a whole that, if viewed from afar, resembles little more than visual clutter; but get in good and close, and follow the guidance of your peripheral vision, and your most tender of sphincters will drink invariably of the intoxicating power of street art.
But why do we look? Why are we powerless against the urge to sweep our gazes into worn and sticky places and up onto soot-covered utility poles? Eyes, my friends, we look at graffiti because it is full of eyes (and not just any type of eyes, but human eyes). Perhaps they stumbled upon the technique accidentally, perhaps they copied it from advertisers, or maybe they just plain Knew to tap into one of mankind's most primal and deep-seated fears, but, however it occurred, street artists employ one of the most basic methods for getting people to look at something – to give it eyes.
Since our time as forest-creeping, prairie-running, skull-bashing troglodytes, the species homo sapiens has developed the uncanny ability to recognize the shape of the eye even if it should be obscured by layers of seemingly random patterns. While experts may argue whether this ability is restricted merely to recognizing the human eye, or if it applies to the eyes of all of our former predators (think bear, cougar, coyote), few persons dispute the fact that our brains are really good at figuring out if someone, or something, is looking at us. Advertisers exploit this evolutionary adaptation to our status as Top Predator Of One Another by blanketing the phaltscape with pictures of pretty people who nearly all happened to have been staring directly at the camera's shutter when it opened. (Now, however, instead of our powers giving us the upper hand in a fight-or-flight situation, they allow us to be convinced that we need that new and re-formulated cucumber body scrub; woe be unto mankind.)
All quasi-scientific, pseudo-evolutionary nonsense aside (I am not a scientist, nor am I particularly intelligent or well-versed) – why do graffiti-writers use so many eyes in their designs? Why in the name of Beelzebub do they wish for people to look at their works of art, and to what purpose do they make use of our aforementioned ability to pick eyes out of the ether? As the SDUBS (self directed urban beautification specialist) is wily and suspicious by nature, and since she maintains a level of honor, decorum, and discipline so profound as to make inquiry into her personal matters a life-threatening endeavor, these questions shall likely go unanswered for many generations to come. For now, however, please enjoy the street-side galleries of free-to-the-consumer art wherever you may be, and rest easily in the knowledge that, by looking back at eyes that look at you, you are merely executing a deeply-ingrained survival reflex that is as natural to humans as is laughter. Never forget, however, to keep an eye out for your fellow man, he who has been hunting you for longer than you shall likely ever know.
americanifesto / JPR / whorphan / 場黑麥
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I bicycle, write, surf, and strive.