Culture Wars: Art or Vandalism?

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Art is the most powerful form of self-expression. But, what distinguishes art? And who defines it? The majority of the American population can argue that there is a fine distinction between what is recognized as art and what is considered vandalism. Confusion and uncertainty often arise when the topic of graffiti is introduced. Prevailing social stigmas often portray graffiti as an incentive for issues such as corruption, increased criminal activity, and the defacement of public and private property. Furthermore, many feel that graffiti removal and prevention efforts are a complete misuse of taxpayers’ money. Michael Pernar, a notable adversary of graffiti, believes graffiti is indicative of decay and should be more heavily criminalized, according to his article “”Graffiti Taggers Are Just a Pain in the Arts.”” Additionally, his proclaimed solution to the controversial art form is to outlaw all graffiti and to punish its creators to ultimately discourage recurrence. Despite such a stance, many view graffiti as a form of artistic self-expression, and a means of communication and conversation between designers and the general public. Proponents of graffiti more carefully differentiate between the various types of street art, and recognize that some pieces have remarkable merit and deserve such recognition. Some even believe graffiti should be included in school education systems as a way to cultivate individualism. Graffiti has remained a popular topic of debate in America since before the 1970’s, and both individuals for and against graffiti have admirable arguments that need to be addressed.

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Section II: Findings

Most argue that in order to prevent vandalism, people must recognize that there are many different types of graffiti, each with different motivations that drive graffiti’s creations. There is a public need for further education about the significance of street art, and exposure to graffiti in its raw form could sway the opinions of those who still oppose it. For example, gang graffiti is the most notorious type of graffiti and the category into which most observers incorrectly classify all graffiti, where gangs seek to be deliberately destructive and instill fear. This specific form of graffiti typically incites fear because its opponents believe that gangs use graffiti as a means of symbolism and representation, and so any graffiti has the potential to bring about increased rates in gang activity, violence, and crime (G??mez 655). However, the majority of graffiti in cities is something completely different, where artists not only seek notoriety and respect, but also use it as an opportunity for artistic or social expression. Furthermore, because the origins of graffiti are rooted in the ghetto, opponents too often cite graffiti as a sign of urban decay (Hughes 34). Neither of these beliefs are true, as much of graffiti is done by non-violent individuals in wealthy neighborhoods or to successfully revitalize ghetto areas.

Although there have been many efforts to help eradicate vandalism, most comprehensive legislation and policies have been unsuccessful, by failing to account for the motivations behind graffiti. The National Graffiti Information Network estimated that in 1990 alone, municipalities spent four billion dollars to clean up graffiti and replace vandalized material. (McDonogh, 2013). Others believe that simply cleaning and repainting the graffiti is not enough “”bang for their buck”” so to speak, and believe that people should think more creatively if we want to see any direction. Carol West allocates for the implementation of mural arts programs in cities, such as the one Philadelphia founded, “”The Philadelphia Mural Arts Advocate.”” These programs require necessary job skills such as teamwork, personal responsibility, respect of self and others, and creative problem solving. She states, “”Our community would be able to save money in the long run if graffiti is eradicated in favor of creative art. It would also save dollars if police officers don’t have to pursue those indulging in destructive graffiti”” (West, 2012). Graffiti has become more costly to remove than it has been in inflicting damage to society.

While some people believe graffiti should be abolished as a whole, others stand by the idea that with additional education and greater social censure for unsanctioned graffiti, it can ultimately turn out to be beneficial for communities. As explained by the author of “”An Unselfish Act: Graffiti in Art Education,”” Laurie Eldridge,””Art teachers often ignore or refuse to acknowledge the pedagogical importance of pop culture which devalues students’ knowledge and overshadowing their own lived experiences”” (Eldridge 21). Eldridge believes that the public perception of graffiti could be repainted to reflect a more positive message, rather than the taboo definition to which it is currently bound. She also underscores that it is important for the youth to find their voice and identity, and by adding graffiti into school systems, it encourages individualism through the development of their own styles. Similarly, in “”Street Art & Graffiti Art: Developing an Understanding,”” Melissa Hughes agrees that art education should not simply be teaching students about the formal and technical qualities of their production, but instead it must highlight the evolving social worlds of visual imagery as they constitute important attitudes, values, and beliefs of the forthcoming generation. She states, “”Street and graffiti art are occasionally avoided in the secondary curriculum, yet they have the power to foster new and different ways of learning for all students by encouraging students to explore notions of creative expression in urban, public areas including spaces not traditionally reserved for public art”” (Hughes 11). Essentially, she believes that by introducing non-traditional forms of art into the secondary art curriculum that adolescent students are able to engage with, street art and graffiti can help students become more aware of current social, visual, and cultural principles in their own perspectives.

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Culture Wars: Art or Vandalism?. (2021, Apr 10). Retrieved June 29, 2022 , from
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