Graffiti: Art or Vandalism?

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What do people think of when they see graffiti? Is it art, vandalism, or could it be both. Graffiti is a relatively new and developing art form that presents a lot of controversy due to its involvement of illegality. A lot of people see graffiti and instantly label it as vandalism and not an art form; however, by legal definition that’s not always the case. According to Oxford Dictionaries, art is defined as “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination…producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” Therefore, graffiti is and should be recognized and appreciated as an art form and accepted by the art community.

Graffiti includes any images or letterings painted, scratched, or marked in any matter on property. It can appear as simple words and range to an elaborate art masterpiece. Graffiti has existed since ancient times dating back to Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. The term graffiti comes from the Italian word graffiato, which means scratched. Modern graffiti art originated in the late 1960s, specifically in New York, and has been developing ever since. Graffiti is not readily accepted as being art, like the kind that is in museums and art galleries. Most of the opposition to graffiti is due to its location, bold presentation, and illegality. However, this should not disqualify graffiti as art. A lot of people have a misconception of what graffiti is. Graffiti is mostly associated with spray paint, which is the main form, but it varies as it is much more than that. Using markers, any sort of paint, scratching, and chalk to write on property is considered graffiti too. Even just putting one’s hand in wet cement is a form of graffiti. George C. Stowers, a student at the University of Miami, poses an interesting question of, “Would Picasso or Monet’s markings be graffiti or art or vandalism or graffiti art?” (Stowers 1). The answer may vary, but art historians would consider this strictly as art and not vandalism, even if it is legally defined vandalism. Graffiti is only legally vandalism if it appears on private or public property without the owners’ permission. However, most people that mislabel graffiti as vandalism say this only in spite of the piece. While it may be legally done with owners permission, people will still mislabel it as vandalism.

Forms of graffiti become art according to four aesthetic criteria. First, graffiti art is separated from everyday graffiti markings by the artists’ intention to produce an art piece. Second, graffiti art has an established history of development in style and technique. Third, some graffiti art has been recognized by the art world. The fourth criterion is the public response to the graffiti which indicates if it art or not. Herein lies the heart of the controversy. The public may or may not agree on if the graffiti is good, bad, or valuable, but that’s a different discussion of evaluation. The evaluative concerns of graffiti being art instead lie in where, when, and how the graffiti is displayed.

There are two major questions involved in the exploitations behind graffiti. Those are, who is doing it and why. There is a large misconception of who is actually doing graffiti. “Only 20% of graffiti is gang related.” (Stowers 4) .In a survey I conducted, 40 random teachers and students at my high school were questioned about their perceptions of graffiti. Of those 40, 34 admitted to creating some form of graffiti in their lives. To the surprise of most people, graffiti is not predominately produced by poor, urban, lower-class, Americans kids. In fact, half of graffitists come from Caucasian middle-class families (Stowers 3). Graffitists range from the very wealthy, to the very poor and usually range from the ages of 12-30 years old. The reasons why people do graffiti vary from the artist who produced it. However, they are mainly the same reasons why people create any art and are simple enough to understand. One of...
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