Is Graffiti a Form of Art or Practice of Vandalism?

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The definition of art by Leo Tolstoy is a “”human activity consisting in that one man hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that others are infected by these feelings and also experience them”” (Leo Tolstoy, pg. 123). The argument of whether to constitute graffiti as art or vandalism is a widely debated topic. Art is one of the best forms of self-expression, but what dictates art and who determines? These very issues torment society as it tries to describe the official status of graffiti – is it art or vandalism? Since graffiti has gradually made its way into art galleries, and it inspires artist in this community, graffiti should be recognized as a form of art and as a way for an artist to express oneself. Although graffiti has endured many forms, such as in caves and ancient civilizations, the modern form of graffiti art began in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the late 60’s with writers such as Cool Earl and Cornbread. The movement emerged rapidly in New York City and names and nicknames started to appear on “”buildings, post-boxes, phone boxes, underground tunnels, busses and finally on subway cars”” (“”About Graffiti and Street Art””). The growth of tagging on subway cars spread fast, increasing the reputation of graffiti, and painting the country. Graffiti was one upon many forms of public protest during the 1960s, and the movement promptly grew with the youth during the 80’s, who used their “”political frustration and artistic ability to communicate with the government and their fellow citizens to start conversations that were once silenced by dictatorships”” (Patino, Ana).

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The intrusion of graffiti in cities presented some concerns with residents in the area; city representatives were the main challengers. The disturbance of graffiti was so great that the mayor of New York created “”Executive Order No. 24, that formally established the Mayor’s Anti-Graffiti Task Force as a vital part of the City’s effort to improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers”” (“”About the Task Force””). A majority of cities consider graffiti as trashy and worthless; for instance, the city of San Antonio, Texas, has created a campaign entitled Graffiti Abatement Program (GAP), which is against graffiti and states it is a program “”to rid the city of ugly graffiti”” (Ripot, Mi). This outlook towards graffiti and the desire of eliminating it from cities evoked the persistent negative attitude on the art, ruining its decorative quality. This opposing attitude on graffiti has generated the decline of the graffiti evolution. As some have anticipated, “”graffiti may someday disappear”” (“”The Writing’s on the Wall””). Graffiti has already started to diminish from what was before a thriving art development, to an almost despised craft. However, a bad repute is not the only concern in the abolishment of the art. The control of the present generation with social media and technology has led to many graffiti artists to concentrate purely on selling their art and getting attention through social networking. An additional, possibly more common, explanation for the decline is the advancement of police force and penalties for those engaging in the prohibited act. As a result of this decline in genuine and banned art, graffiti artists have directed their work into new designs and created their own artistic community.

As graffiti recently developed into a farther respectable art form, it established a more appropriate title: street art. Street art, now known as a form of art in which artists convey views through words and murals, has endured its obsolete “”tagging”” phase and has demonstrated itself a much more preferred form of expression. Many recognized street artists, Banksy for example, have stimulated audiences with thought provoking pieces. One of the primary reasons graffiti has taken a more socially acceptable form is because of the artistic community supporting it. This constituent existed since the creation of the movement, and persists to show itself in that, like other artist within a community, “”they were consistently motivated and challenged by each other’s creations”” (Prahlad, Anand). Graffiti has every feature of art. It offers a way for individuals to express themselves, despite the medium. Graffiti is continually being developed, with new methods and approaches being found. The backing of the community supporting the art form improve upon each other, as any art association would. Then what labels graffiti to be so different? Why should artist’s opinions be restricted by the medium on which it is conveyed? The solution is clear: it shouldn’t. Graffiti is a flourishing art that has a fascinating back ground. It is its own admirable form of art, and should be supported in cities. Opponents of graffiti believe “” it drives away business, hurts property value, and sends the message that nobody cares about the community”” (“”Graffiti Is Everyone’s Problem””). This can, in certain circumstances, be looked at as true. Though, doesn’t a neglected house do the same? City administrators react as if one painting on a structure or wall will cause citizens to sprint in the other direction. An additional problem that challengers have with graffiti is its connection to gangs. Gangs utilize graffiti to identify their territory and spread messages. However, due to the new era’s shift in concentration, a new method of gang tagging has developed termed ‘cyber-tagging’. Gang tagging has evolved to Facebook walls, granting gang members to tag websites with material that is offensive and provokes violence (Perez, Gabriel). Therefore, why has the use of social media not yet been prohibited? If it was characterized to the same punishment as graffiti, it would’ve been banned by now. The disagreements presented by the challengers of graffiti are simply incidental. Individuals condemn graffiti without accurate, finite evidence of its damage. Graffiti improves the artistic society within a community and encourages the right of expression. Then how does a city harmlessly advocate graffiti without weakening its judicial foundation? In West Dallas, Texas, authorities recently developed “”free walls which provide a place where taggers have free rein to express themselves”” (“”At Dallas’ Only Free Wall, Graffiti Taggers Can Spray to Their Art’s Content””). Such walls would help cut down on illegal street art and provide a healthy outlet for at risk teens (“”At Dallas’ Only Free Wall, Graffiti Taggers Can Spray to Their Art’s Content””). The idea of “”free walls”” is an excellent resolution we all need to come to, if only, city officers can accommodate. Free walls are the best solution to promote meaningful, stimulating, respected art on an accepted area without chance of penalty. Law enforcement officials should control these walls to assure that no gang-linked tags get added, but that the space gets painted in beautiful pieces of art instead. If we can demonstrate to the youth that voicing one’s ideas in a way such as graffiti is acceptable, and is monitored under the right environment, cities will begin to resolve the difficulty of illegal graffiti and promote legal street art. Graffiti has importance and improves a society by supporting art and generating an encouraging artistic community. It has an intriguing history, and was conceived during a significant period in the United States. Graffiti is a product of self-expression and civil disputes throughout the 1960s, and should then be further promoted as testimony to the creation of the freedom of the people.

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Is Graffiti a Form of Art or Practice of Vandalism?. (2020, Mar 31). Retrieved February 6, 2023 , from

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