Graffiti art — vandalism or artistic expression?

Graffiti art — vandalism or artistic expression?

Is graffiti is art or is it vandalism? It’s a hard choice to make. Graffiti or street art is any art, stencil, mark or image that is painted in a public place without the property owner’s permission.

Graffiti is usually found in urban areas including places like walls of buildings, on bridges or freeway under passes and has many styles. Street artists paint colorful designs using spray paint, markers or stencils. The most popular forms are called “tags” which are intricate forms of stylized writing; usually an artist’s nickname.   Graffiti can have a political or social agenda.  The artist strives to challenge authority or question the status quo. Some artists look at graffiti as the freest form of self-expression and believe that graffiti improves the look of a bleak urban landscape.

Graffiti is also gaining some legitimacy in the world of art. Street artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey have had their work displayed in galleries and their art has sold at auctions.  Some of Banksy work has sold for millions of dollars.

A work by Banksy in the West Bank city of Ramallah shows an Israeli soldier getting frisked.

Recently, there has been a fierce legal battle in Brooklyn to stop the destruction of a graffiti mecca called the 5pointz. 5pointz has been a free and legal place for street artists from all over the world to come and show off their skills as an artist.  It has become a major tourist destination when people visit the area. The legal battle over 5pointz has also served to legitimize the argument that graffiti is art.

In addition to graffiti’s recognition as high art, it has also made its way into main stream culture gaining popularity through its use in mass media advertising campaigns from corporations such as Nike and Adidas.

In spite of the facts that street art gaining popularity and appeal as a legitimate art form and main stream culture; it is still a form of vandalism.  Vandalism is the deliberate destruction of someone else’s property without their permission.  Because street artists paint without the permission of the owner, it is illegal to paint graffiti in public spaces. Graffiti in public space isn’t limited to just the walls of buildings.  It could include the defacing of things like cars, signs, fences or even people’s homes.  While an artist may consider graffiti to be the truest form of self-expression; most would admit that its appeal comes, in part from the rush of getting away with something.

The casual onlooker may see graffiti as a public nuisance but to property owners graffiti is the deliberate destruction of their personal property, detracts from their business and can cause a loss of revenue. Artistic value aside graffiti cost tax payers, businesses and property owners thousands of dollars to clean up and remove annually.  In the city, it is looked at a form of visual pollution or an “eye sore” that detracts from the looks of the city. Major cities like Chicago and New York have spent millions towards its removal.

Another consideration when thinking about whether graffiti is art or vandalism is; graffiti can have some drug, gang  or territorial related affiliations as well. While this may not be true necessarily; graffiti might send the wrong message to visitors that the neighborhood is unsafe.

Whether graffiti is art or vandalism can be debated. Its gaining legitimacy in the world of art, the legal battle over areas like 5pointz and its popularity in mainstream culture all serve to strengthen the argument that graffiti is art and not some passing trend.  However, the cost to tax payers, businesses and property owner’s money to clean up and remove it and its association with drug, gang culture also serves make a strong argument against it. Do you believe graffiti or vandalism?