Graffiti – Art or Vandalism?
I’ve not travelled to many places in the world, but I have been to several big cities where I have noticed and photographed graffiti quite often. Anyone passing through an urban cityscape is most likely to also observe the colourful, provocative and in some places illegal ‘eyesores’, so-called graffiti.
I was recently looking through some photographs I took of graffiti, and I decided to look up what people’s opinions are on ‘Graffiti’, purely out of curiosity. To my surprise, I discovered that there is a lot of controversy and debate revolving around the topic ‘Graffiti’, as many consider it to be a crime!
It seems to be that society is a little mixed-up when it comes to graffiti since some consider it to be a form of Vandalism whilst others view it as Art.
Graffiti as Vandalism:
Graffiti has been gaining recognition from the art world over the years and has been accepted as a legitimate form of art. However, many still consider the spray-painted pieces a ‘nuisance’, a ‘criminal damage’ and an ‘economic crime’. Although they are not denying its artistic merits, they still consider it a form of vandalism and they describe it as ‘ugly’, ‘unnecessary’ and ‘vaguely threatening’.
Jonathan Jones (2015) writes in The Guardian that graffiti is ‘a pretentious subcultural backbeat that is replicated everywhere in much the same style, the same chunky lettering and coded messages’. Noel Sanchez writes that through graffiti ‘artists tag both public and private property, which becomes costly for taxpayers and business and property owners’. In fact, the cost of cleaning up spray paints in the U.S. has not been documented definitively, but it is safe to assume that it is in the billions of dollars. Especially for large cities that typically budget more money toward graffiti removal.
In the past, graffiti has been related to gang-related crimes, public disorder crimes (such as littering and loitering), other forms of property destruction, and even violence. Graffiti can also ruin the reputation of areas when it comes to ‘quality of life’, as when an area has extensive graffiti, people tend to view it as a ‘bad neighbourhood’ or ‘an unwelcoming area’.
Graffiti as Art:
In any case, we cannot deny the fact that graffiti has the ability to make a statement, as the colourful murals are always noticeable and hide important messages. This is exactly what has gained it exposure the past years, and over time has consequently helped the graffiti movement to launch into the rest of the world.
Despite the many criticisms, graffiti has gained recognition by the art community. Graffiti art has been shown in various galleries in big cities such as New York and London, and artists are often commissioned to do legal murals and other work for art shows. Recognition by the art world and inclusion in galleries is why today graffiti art is legitimised as ‘real’ art.
In his speech, airbrush artist Diego Gonzalez says: ‘I believe that art can change the world, and images can be more powerful than words’. He talks about the ability images have to change education, change politics and change the way communities are looked at. This is because images have the ability to influence us and can change the way we perceive the world. Gonzalez argues that the benefits of public art are not something conscious or literal, and explains that art raises the energy of our communities – it asks us how we feel about our communities and if we want to be part of them.
On a similar note, street artist Zabou, suggests that there is a difference between Graffiti and ‘Street Art’. She explains that graffiti used to be about tagging your name on buildings and public transport and was all about occupying and claiming a space. She explains that today, things have evolved as ‘Street Art’ is not as ‘territorial’ as graffiti was known to be, it is ‘legal’ and is all about creating an outdoor gallery that everyone can see. Zabou also agrees that today ’Street Art’ is more accepted in many countries now, as artists are getting permission to create and sometimes even get commission and support by their cities.
Graffiti is no longer an underground movement and is becoming more mainstream. In recent years, ‘Graffiti’ and ‘Street Art’ is shared more and more online and on social media. People all over the world connect to appreciate and celebrate art – which effectively results in art preservation. Furthermore, people around the world have attempted to protect and preserve art, by physically applying Flexi glass over them (e.g. on the works of the famous British artist Banksy). Didier Mathieu says that ‘a city without graffiti, has no soul’. We live in a world that is beautiful and it can be even more beautiful with art that we can all share.
Banksy encourages us to ‘imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet’.
Source – Graffiti: Art through Vandalism