Random Acts of Art: Why Yarn Bombing, Flash Mobs, and Other Unconventional Creations are Good for Kids…and Communities

An article in the newspaper recently caught my eye, about the “Surfing Madonna”, a mosaic that has been causing a commotion in California after it was installed clandestinely this spring on Good Friday/Earth Day, in the beach town of Encinitas.  The 10 ft. x 10 ft. rock and glass piece, depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe hanging ten and the words “Save Our Ocean” along one side, was created elsewhere and then brought to the site by people disguised as construction workers, and installed with powerful epoxy glue.  Though much of the public loves it, city administrators got in a huff and hired an art conservation agency to study how the mosaic could be safely removed and displayed elsewhere, since “grafitti” is against the law. After receiving thousands of dollars from the city, the agency told them the best plan for the artwork is to leave it where it was, protected from the wind and rain.  Gee, I could have told them that, for far less money… I mean, it’s not like it was a gang symbol sprayed in Krylon or a larger-than-life cuss word.  The city of Encinitas should be glad they got free art to beautify what normally is pretty ugly: the underside of a train bridge.  Yes, the colorful piece described as “breathtaking” and “inspiring” was installed on a bridge support.

It reminded me of the guerilla knitters that have “struck” Old East Dallas recently.  People there were waking up in the morning to find that the bases of a few street signs and lamp posts had been wrapped in colorful knitting– kind of like a “pole cozy” I guess.

An example of yarn bombing–
one street sign people might actually pay attention to! (See more
examples at the links below.)

The city called it littering and, when they could find it, had it promptly removed.  Guess they didn’t realize it’s a privilege to be “yarn bombed”, and that it’s part of an international movement to “change the urban landscape one stitch at a time”.  (And, by the way, International Yarm Bombing Day is this week, June 11th, so if something outside looks a little more colorful and fuzzier than usual on Saturday, you’ll know why!)  There has been a lot of support for this kind of public art (a local yarn store even offers classes on yarn bombing), but also naysayers as well.  “Why don’t they use all that yarn and time to knit blankets for preemies in the hospital!” some spout, without realizing that local yarn bombers in fact knit hundreds of blankets and caps for hospitals, and that the yarn they use for public art is usually old yarn not fit to snuggle against a baby’s skin anyway…

But even if they only knitted for public display– what’s so bad about that? Does leaving up the Surfing Madonna or a lampost wrapped in yarn really open up the floodgates for all sorts of other anonymous, noncommissioned public art, as the mayor of Encinitas is worried might happen? I don’t think so, but we could stand to have a little bit more, anyway.  Doesn’t it lift one’s spirits to be going through a humdrum day and encounter something artistic and out of the ordinary? I’m sure those “flash mobs” (groups that show up in public places and look like scattered, random bystanders, who suddenly break into song and/or dance) that are becoming so popular lately are somehow illegal, too, but I know it would absolutely make my day to see one in person.

While I enjoy paintings and sculptures in art museums, I’ve always loved “unconventional” or “unexpected” art even more, and have enjoyed sharing that love with my kids in the hopes that that they will appreciate “thinking outside the box” (not to mention whimsy) and be broad thinkers themselves.  Over the years, together we’ve checked out art cars in parades and driveways; an installation of 500 pink umbrellas in a local park; a house completely covered in pieces of beer cans; a giant Indian sand art painting on the floor of a local business; giant ice sculptures, and giant butter sculptures, too; the Fred Garbo Inflatable Theatre; and let’s not forget the Cadillac Ranch.  And if the Surfing Madonna was close by or a yarn-bombed neighborhood, we’d go there, too. 

Yes, there is the question of public decency, and communities all have standards about sexual content, violent images and offensive language that of course I would want city workers to uphold.  And even if random art doesn’t violate any decency standards, it might hurt or offend a large group of people, like American Indians or Catholics for example, and if enough got together and voiced a loud enough opinion about a mural, etc., of course it would make sense to take it down.  But if it passes “the test”, why not leave it up? What if a lot of people spoke up in support? Communities who have embraced their quirky art and the unique talents of their citizens reap tourist dollars.  Believe it or not, Beer Can House, America’s largest art car parade, and the birthplace of the yarn bombing movement all reside in Houston, Texas, which has gained international fame for its folk art in addition to its oil, gas and rocket ships.  And people are flocking to Encinitas to snap photographs of its mystery mosaic and/or lay flowers beneath.  

I know people could argue, ‘well, what’s art to one is not art to another, so why should everyone be subjected to it?’ But every day in communities, we are all exposed to elements of art for which we have no choice– like the design and color of public buildings, commercial businesses and landscapes, some which we just have to shrug off and say, “Hopefully someone likes that”–  so living among “art” we like and dislike is something we already do anyway. 

And the stuff we don’t like may actually provide parents with teachable moments about something else that’s important for our kids to learn, a good skill to have when living among other people: tolerance. 

Links worth checking out:

About yarn bombing



About the Surfing Madonna


About art cars and Beer Can House

Flash Mob video

6 thoughts on “Random Acts of Art: Why Yarn Bombing, Flash Mobs, and Other Unconventional Creations are Good for Kids…and Communities”

  1. Cool article. I had never heard of yarn bombing before, but I hope I see it spread to Los Angeles! Going to the art car parade was one of my favorite things in Houston. I have to admit Patty, part of my interest in art stems from my visit to Dallas to see you when I was younger. You took me to an art museum and I will always remember the lip-shaped chair outside in the garden. You might have wondered at the time if doing art projects with me and taking me to see different, interesting things paid off, and I definitely think it did. Thank you!

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  3. Wow– thank YOU for letting me know that! Somewhere in one of my many photo albums I still have a picture of you in that chair!

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