The intended purpose of this investigation paper is to educate the reader or readers about the culture, pros, cons, stereotypes and matter, both artistic and legal regarding Graffiti. As an artist myself, I thought it may be interesting to dig into a world of art that I am not all to familiar with. Throughout this paper, I will be giving some information regarding what graffiti is as well as addressing the issue as to whether it should be considered a form of art or not.
Should Graffiti Be Considered Art?
In researching this topic, my first mission was to find a direct definition of graffiti. According to the Guardian News website, in an article titled “Is Urban Graffiti a Force for Good or Evil?”, the Anti-Social Behavior Act of 2003 defines graffiti as “painting, writing, soiling, marking or other defacing by whatever means” (See paragraph three). This definition overall marks graffiti as an illegal act rather than a style of art, though we use the term “graffiti” within our culture and society more or less as a description of a specific style. We tend to use this term as a way to describe gang tags, street art, murals and essentially any piece of art or writing that dons a piece of public property. So, what does the law say graffiti is? What does it say it is not? We will start by breaking down the different types of graffiti and street art. Our next step in this process will be to discuss the controversial issues regarding graffiti as well as the laws that have been put in place to delude them.
Graffiti serves several purposes in urban culture. Tagging, for instance, is a way that gang members communicate to each other through symbols which they mark on objects such as trains and buildings to orchestrate heists, turf protection and other various tasks and ventures. (See New York Times’ “Graffiti as Art. As a Gang Tag. As a Mess.”) Other forms of ‘graffiti’, such as street art and murals are commissioned pieces of work, done by street artists who are paid by a company or individual to paint on the side of a building or other surface. According to the Temple News’ “Graffiti is Art, Not Vandalism”, a mural artist named Jane Gold launched the Mural Arts Program in the 1980s to support other graffiti artists and to give them the opportunity to work on “Constructive Art Projects”. Our final form of graffiti is quite possibly the most common. This is simply vandalism; the technical term that we discussed earlier as “painting, writing, soiling, marking or other defacing by whatever means”. This will be my main focus for this paper as it is technically illegal, but can be just as artistic and creative as a mural or piece of street art.
There are several issues surrounding graffiti, both for the artists and the general public. Where an artist may view their work as a simple form of self-expression or as a beautiful masterpiece, the vandalized property owner becomes the victim of a possession being marked against their will by a total stranger. Some onlookers may also be disturbed as certain pieces may depict profanity of pornographic imagery. In 1984, according to the Temple News as well as the Government Innovators Network at Harvard.edu, Philadelphia launched and Anti-Graffiti Network. Thus, protecting the public of Philadelphia from such vandalism. Stating in the Harvard article that “The efforts of the Network range from crime and grime fighting, to public art producing and community beautification.” (See p. 2). This program’s first steps were to simply make stricter laws, rules and regulations regarding Graffiti. Doing things like limiting the sale of spray paints to minors and intensifying law enforcement. Next, the convicted graffitists were assigned to city cleanup and scrubbings. The juvenile vandals with artistic abilities were encouraged to take advantage of apprenticeships, being offered experiences such as attending art museums and learning trades. The primary focus of this program was to refocus the youth of Philadelphia and teach them to redirect their creativity, focusing of murals and art rather than vandalism.
Now, what about those who have not been exposed to a program such as this? What of self-proclaimed artists who paint on buildings and vandalize without commission? According to the Guardian’s “Is urban graffiti a force for good or evil?” In 2008, the Tate Modern opened the world’s very first major display of urban graffiti. Later, that very same year, were tried and fined one million pounds. (about $1,248,990 in the U.S) The vandals were then sentenced to eleven years in prison for various vandalism and graffiti charges. This same article states that in December of 2013, a magistrate used a term “The next Banksy” to defend a man from Manchester who had been charged with vandalism for various acts of graffiti. This man did ultimately avoid a jail sentence. However, when trying another man, a tagger from London, this same magistrate said “He is no Banksy. He doesn’t have the artistic skills.”. So, where is the line?
My hope now, dear reader, is that I have instilled a better understanding of what graffiti actually is. I hope that I have clearly defined this topic by offering familiarity to a subject that is so well known, yet still so in the dark. We have addressed several pros and cons as well as cross referenced multiple articles from different perspectives and points of view. This paper was meant to inform and to educate. It was not intended to sway one’s opinion towards either side of an argument, but rather to give information… to paint a picture if you will.
- Burach, R. 2018, January 16. Graffiti is art, not vandalism. The Temple News. https://temple-news.com/graffiti-is-art-not-vandalism/
- The Guardian. Is urban graffiti a force for good or evil?. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jan/07/urban-graffiti-force-good-evil
- Ferris, M. 2002, September 8. Graffiti as art. As a gang tag. As a mess. The New York Times. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jan/07/urban-graffiti-force-good-evil
- Government Innovators Network. 1991. Philadelphia anti-graffiti network. Government Innovators Network. https://www.innovations.harvard.edu/philadelphia-anti-graffiti-network-documentary
- H. G. Legal Resources. Laws regarding graffiti and art. HG.org. https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/laws-regarding-graffiti-and-art-31311