Credit Where Credit Is Due (or how artists get left behind)

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We’re very excited to be kicking off a new guest contributed series from our friends over at The Wynwood Monthly. A fresh face in the Wynwood scene, they’ve been keeping tabs on all the newer places opening up and things to do. Printed and distributed in Wynwood and surrounding areas, their monthly calendars feature special events and exclusive deals that you won’t want to miss.

For our first collaboration, we asked the Wynwood Monthly team to explore the reasons why the majority of people who take pictures of and in front of murals rarely ever seem to bother tagging the artists on social media. Below you’ll find their intriguing in depth-experience trying to get to the bottom of it:

Two young lovers stand in front of a mural depicting a couple holding hands. We wait from a respectful distance while a third member of their party snaps a cute photo of the duo mimicking the pose in the painting. Before the group starts to move away we approach and tell them we’re writing an article about the murals and want to ask them about the picture they just took.

“Are you going to post that on Instagram or something?” Of course, they are. Or at least that’s what they tell us.

“Are you going to tag the artist? Do you usually tag artists?”

The couple nods their heads, clearly uncomfortable about the line of questioning. We get it; we really do. They’re out for a casual evening in Miami’s uber-fashionable Wynwood Art District, wanting to down a few craft brews, snap some pics, maybe make a few memories, and a couple of heavies sidle up and start probing them for information. We run into this reaction with almost everyone we ask. Suspicion, apprehension, annoyance, and often, a modicum of guilt.

The mural that we’re referring to, of course, is “Codo a Codo” (“Elbo to Elbo”), completed in 2015 by Chilean artist Inti. His name is painted in all caps on the lower left hand corner of the mural in blue. If you don’t know him or his work, you could miss it. Or at least we choose to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Our Mission Isn’t to Shame

As we go from couple to group to lonely solo selfie-takers, we experience the same look of regret-suspicion-embarrassment on their faces. We even change our opener to include, “We’re not here to shame you or pass judgment . . . ” Just answer the question and you’ll never have to see us again, we didn’t add.

We approach a young woman who’s being photographed by a man in front of a mural of a massive lion’s head with a brilliantly-colored mane.

“Are you going to tag the artist,” we ask. She says that she always tries to, so we dig in. “Why wouldn’t you tag the artist? Under what circumstances would you fail to tag the artist?” Some of her reasons included sometimes not being able to find the name on the wall, or not being familiar with the artist’s work. Sometimes she leaves and forgets who the artist is by the time she’s looking back at the pictures. And of course, there are the times that she decides she doesn’t look good in the picture and doesn’t end up posting it. 

In this case though, she’s in luck. The artist is in fact Eric Karbeling, and one need only look in the lower-right corner to find his social media username in the lion’s whiskers (@erickarbeling).

Some aren’t so obvious, like the giant Polaroid camera mural painted by artist Leon Keer. Despite the fact that this is probably one of the most meta photo-op locations in all of Wynwood, without a visible tag, very few people know how to credit Keer. Even a Google search of the painting’s details (we tried “giant-ass polaroid cam in Wynwood”) doesn’t immediately yield the artist’s creds.

Location, Location, Location

One thing that we hear more than a few times is that when people can’t figure out who the artist is or they forget everything they had known prior to guzzling down a gallon of craft beer at one of various Wynwood events, they tell us that they always hashtag #wynwood or #wynwoodwalls on their IG feed. We don’t ask any of these questions, but we really want to:

  • Do you think it takes the artist less time to paint these murals than it does for you to perform a Google search?
  • Are you standing in front of that wall because you like the painting or do you just admire the sturdy construction?
  • As far as famous walls go, Wynwood Walls rank somewhere between the Great Wall of China and Trump’s mythical Mexican border wall. What are you hoping to accomplish with your location tag and generic description? (#selfie @wynwoodwalls #artlover)
  • If you and that wall were in a band, do you think the wall would approve of you as the front person, or are you honestly more of a bassist?

This Wynwood Art Really Brings Out Your Eyes

After about an hour of bouncing around between some of the greatest works of street art in the United States, we decide to step out of the 90° F weather and check out what mainstay artist Peter Tunney is offering in his bright, air-conditioned gallery. With any luck, someone might offer us popcorn. Who knows?

Pairs and trios of gawkers are standing in front of the large-sized, distinctive Tunney pieces. They’re bold, colorful, and boast the same kinds of sayings that the modern-meme culture plasters all over the walls of Facebook and Instagram. In other words, Tunney’s works are the perfect backdrop for a selfie.

We select a middle-aged woman in a blue, flower-patterned shift who’s standing in front of a Tunney that says “Don’t Panic”—only the word “panic” is upside down. It might be a joke, but no one is laughing. The base color of the piece is a close match for the print of her dress. We ask her and the man taking her picture if they intend to tag Mr. Tunney.

“I suppose we could,” the man responds nervously.

We tell him that we aren’t making a judgment, but just want to ask a few questions. We maintain a safe distance, but he still seemed nervous. To him, we are Secret Police – Art Division, asking to see his papers. “Is there a reason why you wouldn’t tag the artist?” He says that will make sure that he does.
“No,” we explain, “We mean, before we came up, what were you planning on doing about crediting the artist?” He tells us that he and his wife almost never come down to Wynwood. This isn’t their normal thing.

No, officers. I never even tried “the reefer” before. Thank goodness you came along and stopped me before I ruined my future. That sort of thing.
We want to ask him more questions, but just end up reassuring him that what he is doing was fine by us.

Data Uncertain – Mission Scrubbed

Out we walk into the heat of the night. It’s near closing time for the Wynwood Walls and a few stragglers are taking their last photo ops in front of the colorful murals. We approach a young woman snapping a selfie in front of Kenny Scharf’s retro-vivid masterpiece. “Ma’am, can we ask you a question,” we inquire. Whether it’s the fact that she’s twenty years too young to be a “ma’am” or she just wants to put some distance between her and this goon squad, the result is the same: no eye contact and not a word. We are pariah, and it’s time to admit it.

Without a proper study, we can only hypothesize that the same ego-driven raiders of this cultural treasure—those who believe that blocking out a section of the artist’s painting with the same mug that they see in their mirrors every day—apparently don’t think that the individuals who put hours, if not days or weeks of their lives into those walls deserve credit for turning an ugly slab of concrete into a smorgasbord for the culture-hungry masses to feast upon.