Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bathroom Graffiti in Harder


Bathroom graffiti probably brings to mind for those of you who have ever set foot in a public bathroom the crude writings, drawings and comments that plaster the bathroom walls and particularly the bathroom walls of Harder.  The nature of bathroom graffiti interests me. In its little self-contained world, what goes on inside these walls can range from the disturbing to the hysterical.  Many students find it entertaining to watch one single comment pioneer its self into a wall loaded with controversial comments and images. If only class discussions could be this passionate and dynamic. To be honest I feel that the truth about our societies subconscious appears quite often on these walls or at least what our society finds as taboo and restricted among the circle of social life. Airing the values, which are suppressed in more public places Bathroom graffiti, is still a nuisance to custodians and costs a lot of money to take off and cover up. Even though this is a disrespectful form of graffiti most of these statements would rarely be seen anywhere else but the bathroom. I’ve found bathroom graffiti to stand out from other forms of graffiti, turning the bathroom into the most read private discussion board and means of communication.

What ever is written or drawn in the confines of Harder Halls bathrooms is generally anonymous and can be done without the fear of ridicule, exposure or judgment. Bathroom art is also usually the product of the sharpie pen, pencil or spray paint. They particularly take place only on the bathroom stalls and grow outwards from the areas from which they were started.  In my research I searched through all the bathrooms with in Harder and also for a comparison looked at graffiti, which was found on the outside of the bathrooms.  I broke the graffiti into five types of graffiti. There are advertisements, drawings, statements, top ten lists and questions which make up the body of content with in these bathrooms.

            The smallest group starts with advertisements. These were seen in about one out of every two bathrooms and consisted primarily of health posters, and club events. The bathroom seems to be used increasingly for advertisements. Many times in public bathrooms even outside of Harder you can commonly find a poster tapedup to the back of the stall. This is a great place so it seems because a good majority of people will read it, which is one of the main objectives of posters and flyers to begin with.


While at Alfred the poster boards in Powell might be the “designated” places for posters they are probably not the most successful at getting the word out because they are competing not only with the masses of other posters, but with your time. Most of us will unless indenting to look at them past by with out a glance. Posters in the bathroom, which are placed on the stalls or next to, the mirrors are almost impossible to ignore. The posters, which I encountered, came primarily from the health department warning students about the flu season or safe sex. Other posters, which frequent the bathrooms, are the job fair posters and women’s leadership events. On Valentines Day bathrooms also become the hot spot for distributing out condoms.

            The second most popular type of bathroom graffiti and text were top ten lists. These struck me as most peculiar that they would be a considerable theme amongst all bathrooms. This is an obsession with in bathroom graffiti. It is like homework in a sense with the hopes of people actually responding back to these questions.  The topics of the top ten are usually fairly x rated for the most part like, “top ten places to fuck” or at least become so in their responses. Some of this top ten come straight fr

om boring Internet quizzes like, the “top ten flavors, top ten hottest guys/girls” and “the top ten ways it would be sweet to die”.  Mostly the top ten stray from using real names, but on occasion professors, administrators and popular student figures can become the victims or stars in this bathroom art scene. Did you make the top ten? I hope not. 

            The third most popular type of bathroom graffiti is questions. Questions take up about a quarter of bathroom walls content. Aside from the top ten these questions are not always perverted and sometimes can be insightful. Some questions include, “What is beauty?” or “ is there a God?” The answers to these can also be quite insightful. I even found one that defines bathroom wall writings, “ Since writing on bathroom walls is done neither for critical acclaim not for financial rewards, it is the purest form of art.”  In a way I think this definition is missing some things. Bathroom graffiti shows what we think of as social taboo or restricted in the ordinary circle of social life. Perhaps these questions, “ is there a God?” or “ what is beauty” are considered to be irrelevant beaten to death questions, questions that have been tossed around in society so much that they have become clich√©. Then why ask these questions if they are so over done? In asking one local bathroom artist who shall remain nameless I found that they wrote some of these questions for their entertaining responses pile up. Sometimes the object of the game, says our graffiti vandal, is to say the most outlandish, trivial, contradicting or bluntly honest. Separating truth from hoax in these answers is probably close to impossible with out knowing who wrote what, but fact and fiction is only the surface of what is on these walls. The real deal is where this graffiti happens and its activeness. Bathroom graffiti is the result of pressures to self express. When there are no pressures to express our selves in society then graffiti becomes less prevalent.


The fourth most popular category is probably my favorite and the most memorable by all, are the drawings. These freakishly disturbing and hysterical figures and renderings take up about 20 percent of these walls. Even though the most classic drawings are of giant penises there are some drawings, which are just plain odd and the fact that they even made it to the bathroom walls astounds me. The butter walrus for example or the teen girl squad are weird things, which I might not ever associate with bathroom art. These kinds of drawing, which cover entire spaces are particularly bold, but can be quite well drawn for such a private gallery space. I am sure that most of these were thought out well in advanced compared to their counterpart doodles and writings. However some of the writings seem to be done like works of art too. Just another tall tale sign that this is in fact an art school full of expressive minds.


        Our fifth and final category of bathroom art are the words of wisdom. Yes these are the blunt four letter statements and realizations. These are the "I love, I hate" statements, website suggestions, announcements, proverbs and social advice.   Love and sex are usually the front-page stories of these walls. However, the statements I most remember are the ones which are strangest like, the “ Did ja Know” comment about the drink-ability of urine.

            Graffiti is a form of expression no doubt, but suppression is what  is felt to  make up the other factor of this art form. First is the pressure to be expressive, which could explain why graffiti is more prevalent in places where self-expression is demanded like in an art school setting. This is to say that we would not find as much graffiti in a bathroom in a place where there is not as much pressure to be expressive. In comparison the graffiti found in Myers is non-existent. Graffiti is an “inappropriate” art form as viewed by most adults and especially custodial staff. Bathroom graffiti on the other hand provides I feel a social temperature check for modes of expression and suppressed social values. For years people have been writing on the walls of these stalls expressing them selves in this obscure form of oral written tradition. I sometimes wonder if these walls were never painted over what layers could be uncovered and if at some point the graffiti would end, but as long as there are secrets to be told, values to publicly suppress and pressure to express there will always be graffiti in Harders bathrooms. 


  1. Have you personally added anything to the walls? If so, where and why?

  2. The men's room holds scribbles of superior quality.