Should Grafitti be considered art?

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-Back in the late ‘70s, when I was growing up in Philadelphia, I had an eccentric aunt who lived in New Jersey but kept an apartment in Greenwich Village. She would periodically send me postcards and packages that were emblematic of the freewheeling and sometimes downright odd nature of the community in the Village.

One of the postcards, which I still have, showed the side of a subway car painted with intricate care with multicolored letters spelling out “REVOLT.” Revolt was the street name for a graffiti practitioner who left his mark on innumerable spots throughout the boroughs. He gained a minor amount of fame (although in the internet age he’d probably be a huge star), and was never caught.

I do believe that graffiti is art, but I make a distinction between traditional graffiti and “tagging,” which is the specialized symbology gangs use to mark their territories, convey threats and otherwise communicate in a semi-public manner. These tags can be loaded with racist iconography if not outright homicidal threats, and should simply be washed off or painted over as quickly as possible.

True graffiti, however, is very often ethnographic, with different cultures using vibrant paint colors and differing styles to create murals and minor masterpieces that cleave to their cultural conventions while opening the door to discussion and enlightenment. If you admire someone’s art, you’re taking the first steps toward embracing them and their culture.

Let’s face it: Most true graffiti isn’t done on the sides of upscale buildings in wealthy areas. Most of it appears in places where blight and neglect has long ago led to a lack of regular cleaning and structural decay that makes the colorful applications of several coats of spray paint a welcome brightening and a candle in the darkness of urban decay.

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-Since graffiti is illegal, it shouldn’t be considered an art but if it is done under lawful circumstances, it can be considered a graphic, visual or street art. If a graffiti artist is interested in doing their handiwork on buildings and other property, they should transfer their work to murals, paper, canvas or another medium and find interested galleries that deal in visual or street art, or go to art school and perfect their craft.

With the greater part of graffiti consisting of vengeful, trashy, and inappropriate wording and graphic representations, the art has become an outlet for vandals, gangs and so-called budding artists taunting the law. Self-expression has swung from being a petty crime to expressions of rage, hate and threats with further implications and innuendos for other crimes.

The defacing of any property without the full sanctioning of a city government, building owner or transportation authority should not be tolerated, and many cities have run out of funds to continually remove graffiti from public places such as train cars, subways, tunnels, city streets and other areas. Graffiti is costly.

Lawlessness has intensified the graffiti problem as many who are participating in defacing buildings and other property are doing so out of a refusal to obey laws because of the general laxness in enforcing laws. If graffiti is going to join the ranks of legitimate art, graffiti vandals need to be made accountable for their actions. If anyone should be responsible for cleaning up vulgar graffiti it should be the main suspects who perpetrate the defacing in the first place. Most graffiti vandals always assume that there is someone else to clean up their messes under the guise of self-expression and their inner self.

Graffiti simply cannot be considered an art when it is done under illicit circumstances. The manner in which the lettering, drawings or figures are presented is considered a technique that a graphic artist would acquire, and many graphic artist programs incorporate the process of letter formation, but doing something illegal should not be considered artistic, even if a graffiti artist knows graffiti techniques from top to bottom. If a graffiti artist wants to go beyond defacing someone’s property, then he or she needs to find a way to do it legitimately.

Graffiti can be meaningful like any other artistic expression, but when it is done in an unlawful and vulgar manner it loses its appeal and carries an “underground art” stigma that hovers over its value. It will take legitimization and the right circumstances to consider graffiti a true art.

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-The Oxford Dictionary defines graffiti as: “writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.” Synonyms include defacement and vandalism. By this definition, it’s hard to consider graffiti to be art since we don’t characterize any other crimes as having anything to do with art. Yet the definition includes drawing, writing, scribbled, and sprayed. All techniques that may be used by artists to create art. Graffiti at least contains an artistic element despite its illicitness.

However, today graffiti has become more mainstream. Some artists create art in their studios based on graffiti techniques (spray paint, vibrant colors, symbols and words instead of pictures). Some municipalities are striking pre-emptively by inviting graffiti artists to intentionally decorate public walls with graffiti to spruce up blighted neighborhoods. They hope to give would-be vandals an outlet for their urges so they will be less tempted to deface public property. Graffiti competitions have been held in some locations. It seems that the question of whether graffiti is an art form depends entirely on context and permission.

If an artist were to paint a portrait of an idyllic landscape on my brand-new car without my permission, I would not consider that portrait to be art because it diminished the perceived value of my car and altered its appearance in a way I may not like. Likewise, if a graffiti artist used my car as a canvas, I would not consider that art. But if I invited each artist to use their skills on my car to do what they do, I would consider both results to be art. The underlying issue becomes one of consent.

The quality of graffiti doesn’t influence the debate because of the cliché beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A five-year-old’s finger painting is considered art by mom and dad. Jackson Pollack creates art that entails dripping or splashing paint onto a canvas in a seemingly random manner. Graffiti is no less artistic than those two examples, so it must be considered art, whether or not it is legal.

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