Web Exclusive – On existentialism and bathroom graffiti

It is a shame that 99 percent of on-campus bathrooms are dirty. Anyone using them jumps in, holds their breath, does whatever they need to do, and jumps out (hopefully washing their hands before they leave). But inside these bathroom stalls exists an underappreciated art form, namely, bathroom graffiti. One can argue that graffiti is merely vandalism, but it is necessary to understand graffiti as a form of expression also.

"Chemistry sucks," a stall wall reads in bold, uppercased letters, a few meters away from a chemistry class in Snygg; although simple, verging on brutish, this little piece of text offers a ticket into the world of a chemistry student, one full of anguish and annoyance. Why did he write this? What was going on in his class? Was he failing or maybe just too stressed out? Reading bathroom graffiti is like reading the diary of someone you will never know. It is an anonymous celebration of the human condition.

Similarly, another bathroom wall depicts the frustration of a student inside Tyler Hall. "I hate frats," a student scribbled in frenzy, the ink of the pen possibly years old. No matter the details of the story, this boy felt isolated by some group of people. He put down his most simple thoughts for anyone to read, a secret conversation between he and any bathroom-goer.

Most bathroom graffiti contains frustration. By penning these ideas down in a place where someone will see them, the author finds some release. And anyone who reads the small work will be put into the author’s shoes, even if only for a moment. These etchings then become a crude social counselor for anyone who sits in the stall. Everyone can relate to feelings of alienation. Knowing that someone who sat in the same spot weeks, months, or years ago, felt the same way is a bit cathartic, almost relaxing.

Graffiti can appear anywhere, including tables, chairs, or desks. I read one yesterday, probably the voice of a young woman sitting at a desk, trying to study: "I want a boyfriend," she wrote into the wood with her black pen, as her mind wandered instead of memorizing facts. Don’t we all? This kind of graffiti is personal and sincere because no one will ever know who wrote it. It allows the author to tell the bare truth. I call it art because it is a conversation between the vandalizer and the reader. It is a more intimate conversation than any you will find at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A connection, no matter how vague, is made every time I read a passage.

Go read some of the stuff on the third floor in Penfield; a childish existential journey is scribed on one of the walls.