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Chapin Berk

WRD 104-231
Professor Hughes
Graffiti: What a Beautiful Crime
For centuries, dating back to the Roman Empire, people have scratched, scribbled, and
painted on all sorts of different surfaces. In fact, anthropologist Dale Guthrie notes that
Pleistocene cave wall art included drawings done by teenagers. This is not the cave art that we
typically associate with early humans; it is more vibrant, graphic, sexual, not so different from
the graffiti in contemporary cities (Bjorn). Today, graffiti comes in many different shapes and
sizes, from tagging, the simplest form, to pieces, complex paintings that usually cover entire
walls. These varying styles have evolved over time, as graffiti can now be found in subways,
galleries, and everywhere in-between. Though many consider graffiti to be visual language of
social equity (Cathcart-Keays), law enforcement has been attempting to rid their cities of it by
any means necessary. Yet, as human history has shown, people will continue to use graffiti as an
outlet no matter what kind of restrictions are put into place. Perhaps the making of graffiti is
immensely fulfilling or just thrilling. On the other hand, those people who oppose such creative
displays may have varying reasons but deserve consideration also. A compromise must be made
to keep cities looking clean and lively, while simultaneously giving artists the freedom they
deserve. Moreover, given that all people value both self-expression and orderliness, a
compromise is possible.

Comment [SH1]: Biased languagefocus on respectfully

representing each side.

Graffiti has been, and continues to be, a debated form of art. It wasnt until the 1970s
and early 1980s that Graffiti was actively fought. Mayor John Lindsay, of New York City,

Deleted: able
Comment [SH2]: Is this from Welsh?

watched as his city became overrun by graffiti. It was the nucleus of Hip/Hop, documented
beautifully in the movie Style Wars. The urban youth were vibrant, transformational, and
radical using Graffiti to usher in change. Lindsay launched an all-out war on graffiti, starting
the Clean Train Movement, and introducing the concept of "the broken window theory." This

Comment [SH3]: This doesnt give us much background on

Lindsays perspective. It demonizes him rather than
exploring where he was coming from and what led to his

theory proposes a developmental sequence where neighborhoods declined into high-crime areas
through disorderly conditions (Welsh). From that point on, graffiti has never been looked at in
the same way. Proponents of this belief would no doubt include graffiti in their notions about
urban blight. Ben Eine, an artist, is strongly opposed to the broken-window theory and
believes rather If they [councils] stopped painting over them, they would get tagged and then

Comment [SH4]: But wasnt much graffiti gang symbols in

order to mark territory? Its important to distinguish
between street art and vandalism (broken window implies
vandalism or dilapidation).

theyd do silver stuff over it. And then eventually, people would do nice paintings over itThe
natural evolution of graffiti is that it will just turn out looking nice (White). Now, the majority
of people see it as a threat to public safety, despite its aesthetic qualities. $25 billion are spent
annually on graffiti abatement by the U.S. alone. So where does graffiti really belong, if not in
public places? No decision has yet been made whether to ban it, legalese it, or put it behind
The fundamentally political nature of graffiti substantially makes it an area of conflict. In
Britain, there has been some compromise, as many councils designate legal spots for artists to
paint. But the quarantined nature of these spaces embodies the very essence of what many
graffiti artists seek to challenge (Cathcart-Keays). The politics of graffiti is not just in its
contents but in its representation of transgressing laws. Such a human motive cant be viewed as
completely negative. After all it was these rebellious beliefs that enabled great civil rights leaders

Comment [SH5]: Source?

Comment [SH6]: Again, is all graffiti aesthetically pleasing?
Comment [SH7]: Source?

to free their people. In some ways, graffiti is analogous to the natural, and sometimes healthy
human desire to undermine the system. With legal painting many artists feel that the
authenticity of the sport is lost, including Glynn Judd, who says Graffiti is always about being
slightly naughty Its a different mindset from painting legally (Cathcart-Keays). Nicholas
Riggle, author of Street Art: The Transfiguration of the Commonplaces would certainly agree
with Judd. His belief is that For street art, the artistic use of the street must be internal to its
significance, that is, it must contribute essentially to its meaning (Riggle). Riggle describes
what happens when street art is placed in a gallery saying, At best, then, one could imagine how
the work seen in the gallery might have been street art (Riggle). Jeff Chang, author of Total
Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop summarizes this conundrum as The question of
vandalism and graffiti as an art form has provoked endless controversy, raising such questions as
whether vandalism can be considered art or whether graffiti can be considered graffiti if they are
made legally (White). Making graffiti and street art legal would surely backfire, taking away
that adrenaline rush which so many seek.
The Anti-Social Behavior Act of 2003 defines graffiti as painting, writing, soiling,

Comment [SH8]: The number of quotations here, of voices

in the conversation, is effectivejust be sure to fill in the
gaps between the quotations with your own narrating voice,
drawing attention to the importance of the connections
youve pointed to.

marking or other defacing by whatever means (Cathcart-Keays). While graffitiing and

stenciling are indeed considered forms of vandalism, the art itself can have a great deal of
monetary value. Banksys Keep it Spotless, in 2008 sold for a whopping $1,870,000. Another
titled Simple Intelligence Testing, ended up fetching $1,093,400 at auction. With such rewards at
stake, the question arises, who does the art belong to? In Melbourne, a builder accidentally
drilled through a Banksy stencil thought to be worth more than $50,000 (Cathcart-Keays).
Similarly, Transportation for London workers removed a Banksy piece from a wall in 2007.
Afterwards a TFL spokesperson commented that Our graffiti removal teams are staffed by

Comment [SH9]: Source?

Deleted: a

professional cleaners, not professional art critics (Cathcart-Keays). Peter Salib expands upon
this idea in his article The Law of Banksy: Who Owns Street Art, presenting a solution to resolve
the legal ambiguity. His opinion is that courts should equitably divide street art between finders
and owners of the underlying property on which the art was found (Salib). Its only fair that the
individuals who deem graffiti and street art to be meaningful, are able to seize control and
protect it before anyone inadvertently destroys it. Salib suggests that mediation, in this case, has
to do with a philosophical discourse about worth and ownership.
To this day, determining the overall quality of graffiti and street art has remained a
very subjective practice. However, in Toronto, Canada, the citys Graffiti Management Plan
removes what they consider to be graffiti vandalism, while graffiti art and other street art that
adds vibrancy can remain if commissioned by the buildings owner (Cathcart-Keays).

Comment [SH10]: Does anyone argue that part of the

charm of street art is that its knowingly temporary,
ephemeral? If they do, where does that perspective come
from? Which historical, social, or ideological narratives led
to it?
Comment [SH11]: So this is interesting. When you put
something you make on that which doesnt legally belong to
you, does that make it yours? Do you therefore have some
legal claim over it? Does the artist relinquish the ownership
of art when the work is on property that does not belong to
them? And, again, what philosophies lead each side to their
Comment [SH12]: Yesgood point!

Theyve even gone as far as assigning an official panel of specialists to judge the value of
graffiti, deciding whose markings are artistically worthy to grace the citys bricks (CathcartKeays). Nicholas Riggle, author of Street Art: The Transfiguration of the Commonplaces would
disagree with the system which the Toronto council has put into place. His belief is that The
aesthetic features of street art are often guides to that significance. The meaning of street art
outstrips the power of its manifest aesthetic properties (Riggle). Later, he goes on to say that
There is no necessary tension between a works beauty and its philosophical, critical, religious,
or moral force (Riggle). What makes graffiti and street art so amazing, is the creative ways in
which people use them to express their feelings artistically. A famous quote from Banksy reads
Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people
become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place. The phenomenon

Comment [SH13]: Cant this be said of all art?

of graffiti becomes an avenue for the discussion of values that we share, and those we. A human,
and civil conversation around the issue could draw people closer to one another in the end.
Surely, the true vandalism, gang related and or consisting of inappropriate content
should be removed. Even artists would agree with that because it tarnishes their reputation.
Additionally, freedom of speech or expression, in any form, including graffiti, must be regulated
so to not incite bigotry and hatred. The overall powers of graffiti are accurately summed up by
Susan Phillips, when she says It can be understood as concrete manifestations of personal and
communal ideologies which are visually striking, insistent, and provocative. In addition, it
personalizes depersonalized space, construct[s] landscapes of identity, make[s] public space
into private space, and act[s] as promoters of ethnic unity as well as diversity (White). While
promoters and detractors of graffiti may seem to hold opposing views, in fact, their ideals
overlap significantly. Both sides care deeply about the urban environment, and believe that the
community should have a say in how the environment is used. Therefore, people who feel
strongly about graffiti probably also feel strongly about democratic ideals, fundamental to the
idea of community. To take this argument one step farther, people on both sides would likely
respect the outcome of a popular vote. A possible compromise would be to have some sort of
voting system. If the general public in a specific neighborhood likes the art, it should be
protected. As far as legal spots, it would be fair for both parties to have a minimum number of
required spots. These spots would be governed by the artists themselves, retaining an aspect of
freedom. Possibly artists would have the ability to acquire permits for a limited amount of time
to express themselves however they wish, respectfully. The discourse about graffiti seems to
contain a heavily loaded view of them vs. us. A compromise would ideally deconstruct this idea
altogether, simply making the presence or absence of graffiti unimportant. Thered be no artists

Comment [SH14]: Be sure to finish this sentence.

vs. non artists, young people vs. old people, law vs. rebels. While this view seems visionary, a
conversation around graffiti might be where it begins.

Articulate, specific, and descriptive, this is a sophisticated essay. The examination of the social context
that led to each perspective is especially astute. Overall, fantastic work!
My feedback for your final draft is:
This essay could benefit from a deeper examination of the distinction between vandalism/tagging, street
art, and graffiti. What is the definition of each of these, are they used interchangeably, and to what effect?
Should they be?
Added visuals would really help illustrate some of your ideas (see images below for examples). You
describe the various categories graffiti might encompass at the end, but utilizing images throughout will
make the essay more realistican essay about graffiti should definitely contain more than one example.
See marginal comments for more details.
If you have any questions as you revise, please dont hesitate to contact me. I look forward to reading
your final draft!

Comment [SH15]: A strong and poetic conclusion.

I think people would generally dismiss this one ^ as inappropriate.


I think you could easily make a case for this one ^ beautifying a community (

This one ^ would probably be subversive and divisive. (

Works Cited
Carey, Bjorn. "Ancient Cave Art Full of Teenage Graffiti." LiveScience. TechMedia
Network, 14 Feb. 2006. Web. 02 Mar. 2016.
Cathcart-Keays, Athlyn. "Is Urban Graffiti a Force for Good or Evil?" The Guardian. Guardian
News and Media, 07 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.
Riggle, Nicholas Alden. "Street Art: The Transfiguration of the Commonplaces." Journal Of
Aesthetics & Art Criticism 68.3 (2010): 243-257.Academic Search Complete. Web. 23
Feb. 2016.
Salib, Peter N. "The Law Of Banksy: Who Owns Street Art?. University Of Chicago Law
Review 82.4 (2015): 2293-2329. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.
Welsh, Brandon C., Anthony A. Braga, and Gerben J. N. Bruinsma. "Reimagining Broken
Windows: From Theory to Policy." Journal of Research In Crime & Delinquency 52.4
(2015): 447-463. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Mar. 2016.
White, Ashanti. "From Primitive to Integral: The Evolution of Graffiti Art." Journal of
Conscious Evolution Issue 11 (2014): 1-18. California Institute of Integral
Studies. Web. 2 Mar. 2016.