Graffiti – Art or Vandalism? What comes to mind when you hear the word “Art”?

Drawings, Paintings, Sculpting, and Films are all probable answers. How about graffiti? Few people would even think of graffiti. The word graffiti connotates vandalism, crime and thus something wrong to the average person. Graffiti has been labeled by many critics as the lowest form of art. However, these opinions reject the possibility that graffiti is perhaps the most expressive art form of today. Graffiti can clutter up walls, but graffiti can also be a way to represent an idea, establish a social atmosphere, provide political viewpoints, and to bring color to dismal urban environments. Modern graffiti started in the 1970s in New York City, in response to the overwhelmingly monotonous urban environment. Youth of the ghettos and inner-cities began painting blank walls with colorful pictures and words. Unfortunately, it immediately got a bad rap, and was seen by outsiders as pure vandalism. Graffiti went from an expressive tool to a gang weapon, perhaps its worst association. For years after, gangs used graffiti to mark territory. How could any good come from this? Graffiti grew in positives ways for those who took it beyond street gangs, maturing and developing over three decades to become the most in-your-face form of expression. Expressions varied from graffiti murals to digital design influenced by graffiti to an art form now recognized as “aerosol art.” Aerosol exhibits now stand next to oil paint, sculpture, and photography exhibits. Experienced aerosol artists make outstanding livings from paid projects (such as murals), while other artists choose to express their talent anonymously. These “hidden” artists are trying to make political or social statements through art in hopes of kick-starting change. Both sides (the

professional and the underground) have had positive impacts on our world. Two known artists, Daim, from Germany, and Banksy, from England, are prime examples of each professional type. Daim started doing graffiti in 1989. His style of 3D lettering has forever raised graffiti to a whole new level. Daim has said that he gets his inspiration from his studies on photorealism; Dali’s surrealist paintings, and Van Gogh’s portrayal of light and shade. Daim has his own graffiti studio where he and fellow graffiti artists work on large collaborative murals and canvases. He is one of the most famous, and richest, aerosol artists in Europe. Banksy decided to take a different route with his work. Born in Bristol, England, he is Britain’s most famous -- and notorious -- graffiti artists. Banksy’s work is well known, yet his identity is not. Only close friends and some family know who he really is. He is a faceless commentator, who uses mostly stencils to make his mark. Banksy has done more than painted rats on buildings and stencils of kissing cops, he has put up fake paintings in museums, dressed zoo animals in orange jumpsuits and handcuffs, and even written protest pieces on the segregation wall in Palestine. Banksy is anti-government, anti-capitalist, and anti-war. The police despise him, while the general public is thrilled by his humorous ploys and paintings. He is a modern-day Robin Hood with a spray can. Pieces he has done and his few gallery showings (where no one knows if he is present) have also made him very rich. In Britain, he is as famous as he is anonymous. Brendan Wells, an art major at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln had this to say about graffiti: “I don’t think of graffiti as art or vandalism. Graffiti done in the right places, back alleys and abandoned buildings, places people don’t have to go, and graffiti

done with skill and sense is a good thing. It creates something good to look at. Graffiti is not art, it’s just a way to make something look good.” Others would argue that any unauthorized printing on public property is illegal and therefore vandalism. Is all this just crime, supported by people, paid for by individuals; or is it a way to makes the surrounding environment more aesthetically pleasing? Graffiti is more than words on a wall to some. It is about expression and making the urban world more visually pleasing. In a society with more and more rules constricting one’s freedom, graffiti is one of the last pure outlets of total expression. There are no rules about how to do it, just rules against doing it. Banksy describes his attitudes of graffiti in his book “Wall and Piece,”:

“Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw wherever 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.”

Graffiti can be vandalism. Graffiti can be art. The term is used to cover a broad range of differing practices. In the end, it comes down the audience, the people who are left to view the graffiti. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and graffiti is in the hands of the spray can holder.

CITATIONS

The Council of the City of Sydney. (2006). Graffiti Statistics. Retrieved March 3, 2007, from http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/Residents/Graffiti/GraffitiStatistics.asp
Ganz, Nicholas. (2006). Graffiti World: Street Art from Five Continent. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Graffiti Generator (2007). Text for cover sheet. http://www.graffitigen.com/. Hansen, Kathleen A. (2004). Evaluating and selecting the information you’ve gathered. message, information strategies for communicators. (pp. 233-258). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc. Hume, Marion. (2007). Style on the Fly. Time, 169, 67-67. MacGillivray, Laurie. (2007, February). Tagging as a social literacy practice. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 354-369, 50. Retrieved February 27, 2007 from Academic Search Premier database. Weisel, Deborah Lamm. (2004 August). Graffiti. Office of Community Oriented. Retrieved March 3, 2007, from Internet from the COPS web site database. Wells, Brendan R. (2007). Personal Interview. Whitman, Paul M. (2007). Personal Interview. Ybarra, Mario. (2006, November). Mario Ybarra Jr. On the Belmont Tunnel. Modern Painters, 82. Retrieved February 27, 2007 from Art Abstracts database. In Behind the