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  • Arlette

Graffiti: art or vandalism?

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

Graffiti (Italian for "little scratching") has an ancient heritage. Everything from cave paintings to Egyptian hieroglyphics, to graphic depictions of sex on the walls at Pompeii, confirms a primary human desire to write and draw on walls. Even a Facebook wall.

It's been studied by art historians, catalogued by anthropologists and scrutinized by psychologists for its meanings and motives. Some so-called street artists get adopted and endorsed by the art world establishment. Some are activists who go after specific targets to make a political point (Banksy). A few are gang members marking territory. Others are middle- or upper-class kids on a rebellious lark. Most people who paint on walls, will remain, by preference or not, anonymous and unrecognized. It's the nature of what they do.

The word graffiti tends to evoke a sense of illegality. On the street a passer-by could identify graffiti as urban filth or as simple vandalism or an art form. It can also reflect the graffiti writer’s political or social views of society. Those who study graffiti and can decipher its cryptic letters confirm that graffiti tags, throw-ups and pieces contain complex and multi-layered messages.

However, since the art world accepted graffiti as a legitimate art form, more and more young people have begun creating graffiti art. Many of these young artists and designers do not want to be associated with vandalism and for that reason; new words for describing graffiti art have popped up. Today, you will hear people refer to graffiti as graffiti art, hip-hop graffiti, public art, street art, urban art or post-graffiti.

So, why is graffiti considered vandalism? In many ways the medium is the problem. Instead of canvas, graffiti artists chose train cars, bridges, telephone poles, and public walls. Anything public (and sometimes private) space is open game. Viewers are not afforded the choice of choosing when and where to view graffiti art. The artists’ seeming lack of consideration as to the placement of their work is a problem for many people – especially when the medium happens to be private property. People who view all graffiti as vandalism argue that its presence leads to increased crime and urban decay. It has also been cited as a cause for decreases in property value and loss of business and industry growth.

Perhaps the answer to the question whether graffiti is an art or just vandalism, lies in the following statement.

Art: if the "artist" has permission of the property owner. Vandalism: if the "vandal" does not have permission of the property owner.

Picture taken in Malaga - Langunillas.

Copyright © Arlette Ferber. All rights reserved.

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