Is Grafitti Art?

Is Grafitti Art?

Is graffiti an art form or vandalism? What makes graffiti art if it is vandalism? Why is graffiti vandalism if it is art? And thus, graffiti and vandalism are examples of controversial situations about which people hold different logical theses. According to one of the well-known graffiti artists Banksy says ‘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’. In fact, the both side have rights in two different ways for one same purpose, for a better world. However, people on the side of graffiti defend that graffiti is the most powerful artistic expression which usually gives social messages on communities in a very cool looking style while people who oppose graffiti destroys others property and makes places look like the ghetto or a war zone, but there should be a compromise position between these two extremes.


Above all, before getting into examining graffiti issue it would be beneficial to look at what graffiti is and if it is an art form. The origins of graffiti go back to the beginnings of human and maintain its existence from drawing and painting walls by caveman to now. One example is, the important Neolithic site of Catalhoyuk in Turkey has uncovered a significant 9000 year old wall painting which depicts colored geometric shapes. And many examples like that from prehistory have a common purpose of their expressions that is  ‘Hey there! Here I am.’ which proves their existence. Today, a unanimous graffiti artist famously known Banksy who ironically analyzes contemporary issues such as war, political themes and capitalism. For instance, one of his artworks on the wall is ‘Love Rat’, which is a rat holding a red paintbrush, has drawn a heart. The heart is dripping with red paint maybe bleeding. So, people see a city rat that stands for love maybe they see themselves in that image. At this point, Banksy says same thing on his works, just like artists from prehistory who say ‘Hey there! Here I am’. Accordingly, some people assert that if drawn and painted walls from prehistory are definitely art, and study in universities; then it proves that today’s graffiti is an art too. On the other hand, the others deny that.


                No doubt, graffiti is one of the most powerful artistic expressions which usually contains social messages in an artistic style everybody can reach it out easily on the streets without going to museums or galleries. After Banksy, the another skillful graffiti artist is Shepard Fairey who is one of the influential street artists became widely known during the 2008 U.S. presidential election for his Barack Obama ‘hope’ poster. Now, his works on the streets are exhibited in the considerable museums and galleries as artworks that are worthy attention, just like Banksy’s works. People who advocate graffiti say that if Fairey and Banksy’s works are art in the galleries and museums, why not accept them on the streets as artworks, while the others reject that idea. At this point it would be useful to remember what Fairey quote “When you walk down the street and see something in a crazy spot, there’s something powerful about that. The street will always be an important part of getting art out there for me”. No doubt, streets are more accessible easily and are more convenient than museums and galleries for artists and artwork followers. The problem between graffiti supporters and opponents is to able to consider them as artworks on the streets or not.

Shepard Fairey- Obama hope poster

         Graffiti has some handicaps though. For instance, destroying other’s properties or public places is one of the biggest reasons that people object to graffiti. As a result of that, in the U.S., all the states have laws that make it a crime to spray graffiti on public property or private property that you do not own or have permission to use. In addition, being caught while you are tagging or spraying graffiti is a very serious criminal offense and cause to get penalized convicted of vandalism. Fines are based on the amount of damage done to a property. According to a Los Angeles Board of Public Works document, if a writer causes more than $50,000 in damage, they can be fined up to the same amount and see up to 1 year in jail. Damage totaling less than $400 can carry a fine of up to $1,000 with up to 6 months in jail. For example, imagine that famous abstract painter Jackson Pollock splashed his paints all over the wall on the street, he would get arrested; or Picasso suddenly got bored and started painting on a police car, definitely he would get arrested too. According to these examples, some people have a thesis like that painting on someone else’s property or a public place is a crime, but does not mean that graffiti do not deserve to be considered an art, while the others counter graffiti say that graffiti is a crime and a criminal person can not be an artist. Therefore, in this case governments’ responses and solutions carry crucial value. For example, in Philadelphia, the government created a program called Mural Arts Philadelphia, and lead people to the creation of mural arts program to reduce crime against concerns about gang-related graffiti. Also, the program consists of fines and penalties for anyone caught defacing them, replacing hit spots with elaborate, encouraging people to make community artistically beautiful, and teaching job skills such as team work, personal responsibility, respect of self and others. In my opinion, Mural Arts Philadelphia is one of the best creative problem solving for graffiti issue. Because the potential criminal graffiti artists become paid muralists by working on community and business projects. Instead of destroying others’ properties and involvement in a life of crime, these muralists are learning lifetime skills that give them positive recognition while creating art that is admired and enjoyed by the community.  The other reason is that graffiti makes places look like ghetto or a war zone and look neighborhood uncared and unsafe. Once graffiti are not taken care of, criminal problems tend to increase. Therefore, people feel more fearful and less in charge of their own properties. Also, it ruins businesses customers stop coming to neighborhood. In addition, graffiti is a serious economical problem for the U.S. government. Graffiti is a visual blight in the U.S that has become by estimate between 15 and 16-billion-dollar national problem a year to monitor, detect, remove and repair graffiti damage. Lately the U.S. created a solution that is some places have legally permission for graffiti such as some mural spots in New York City, Queens, Long Island City which also attract tourist’s attention as artistic places. It is the one of the best solutions because it gives an opportunity to graffiti makers to make art legally without involvement in a crime by destroying the others’ properties.

Consequently, people who favor graffiti say graffiti on the streets in an artistic way is the best, easier way to demonstrate a social message; on the other hand, people who object graffiti believe that it makes places looking destroyed with bad reputation. In conclusion, graffiti is a serious community issue, and this issue definitely requires some creative problem solving and comprehensive approach. So, mural arts program and some legal spots for muralists could be creative solution. Therefore, communities could save money in the long run if graffiti is eradicated in favor of creative art. Governments could save dollars if police officers do not have to pursue those indulging in destructive graffiti and the government does not have to pay for cleaning and repairing graffiti damage. In addition, graffiti makers could work on community and business works instead of illegally tagging the others’ properties. Also the graffiti spots might attract people to visit such as Philadelphia and New York City. And today, perceptions about graffiti have been drastically changing. However, graffiti is not fully proved that is art, and always open to debate vandalism or art. When graffiti find a middle ground, and overcome these concerns; thereby might be considered as an absolute art form, not as vandalism.