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Why Graffiti Should Be Considered Art, not Vandalism

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Contemporary art is the art of today, produced in the 21st century. It differs from the modern art, which is art of a style marked by a significant departure from traditional styles and values. Contemporary came after the modern art. Contemporary artists work in a globally influenced, culturally diverse, and technologically advancing world. Their art is a dynamic combination of materials, methods, concepts, and subjects that continue the challenging of boundaries that was already well underway in the 20th century. Diverse and eclectic, contemporary art as a whole is distinguished by the very lack of a uniform, organizing principle, ideology, or ‘-ism’.

On the other hand, graffiti has been there from the first century BC and has gradually evolved with time. Graffiti is still everywhere. You can’t walk the streets of New York without finding a few works of graffiti on the buildings or construction walls. You can’t walk through the streets of most cities around the world without finding graffiti anywhere. In modern time, spray paints and marker pens have become the commonly used graffiti materials, and there are many different types and styles of graffiti. It is a rapidly developing art form. In most countries graffiti is a controversial subject. Painting and marking of property without permission is considered by property owners and civic authorities as defacement and vandalism, which is a punishable crime, citing the use of graffiti by street gangs to mark territories or to serve as an indicator of gang-related activities. Graffiti artists have resisted this viewpoint to display their art or political views in public locations.

Contemporary art in some ways have change the notions about graffiti. In recent time it has gained popularity to an extent of being adopted by some corporates. Youths have used graffiti to creatively express their sociopolitical discontent and satisfactions. For instance, street artists in the East End frequently mock political figures and societies. Shepard Fairey also used graffiti and street art to send out messages regarding politics, human rights, issues of war and ecology. His popular art, “Obama Hope” poster brought him a lot of attention since the message created a promise in people’s mind during the 2008 elections in the US. He also created another poster years later titled Demagogue which had a different meaning from the first poster. This image Fairey created clearly depicts everything he wants it to say with one simple word and a vague nod to Trump.

Graffiti is a tool artist have been using for communication over the years. Infamous street Banksy reminds us how graffiti is simply another tool for communication in saying, “Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing. And even if you don’t come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they’re having a piss.” Banksy’s quote highlights the positive side of graffiti and why the art of graffiti should be validated. Graffiti has the potential to encourage diversity, bring color to dreary places, and allow individuals to express themselves artistically and make political statements. Graffiti and street art have always had a history of being influenced by political and social issues; a lot of people who may have felt powerless took this art form and turned it into a form of anonymous political protest. Having this ability is extremely powerful, as it can make the artist feel heard and allow them to challenge society’s thinking patterns, which could lead to change.

Graffiti artists have also taken advantage of the decaying, economical spaces as a platform to showcase their creativity and make a living from it. For instance, in East End, street artists can simply ask building owners if the can paint on their buildings. Most owners usually agree since it add a unique sight to their buildings hence attracting customers. Some street artists are also hired to put up work to make the street appealing. According to Carron, some artists are moving away from the illegal work. The artists are looking for creative ways to express themselves on the right side of the law. The do this by taking the property owner’s permission, or by taking commissions.

Graffiti art has been an underground activity and graffiti artists are not usually popular when they paint the streets. Cities like Portland, Chicago among others have spent a lot of time, money and effort on doing away with everything considered to be graffiti on their streets. For instance, Chicago’s graffiti blasters have destroyed both commissioned and historic murals, including a mural by JC Rivera that was erased just two weeks after completion. Some cities have also restricted the access to spray paint citywide. In Chicago spray paint sale is banned within city limits whereas in Portland, all vendors of graffiti materials are required to keep records of purchasers and is subject to inspection by the police’s department in the city. New York and Los Angeles too have special laws governing the sale of spray paint. There are also fines, volunteer work and sometimes jail time as a penalty for graffiti.

Death has also been a consequence of graffiti. Michael Stewart was graffiti artist who met his death following an arrest by the New York city transit police for writing graffiti on a New York city subway wall at the First Avenue station. His treatment while in the police custody and the ensuing trials of the arresting officers sparked debate concerning police brutality and the responsibilities of arresting officials in handling suspects.

Legal graffiti and employment have become big business, appearing with owners’ permission on everything from walls to railroad boxcars. Many young graffiti artists are keen to use their talents and aspire to achieve entrepreneurial success. Local businesses employing well-known graffiti artists are also said to enhance their credibility and business-customer relationship as well as reducing crime by employment. One prominent group in New York City is the ‘King of Murals’ which run a commercial graffiti business and have been employed to promote global brands such as Coca-Cola and M&M’s in advertising campaigns and even hired by schools, hospitals and other healthcare groups to create artwork. Still there were some resistance by the authorities over the use of graffiti for commercial marketing.

Los Angeles issued a citywide mural moratorium in 2002 to curb the growing issue of outdoor advertising in form of street art. Though the banned ended later in 2013, strict rules were put in place to prohibit commercial messages in street murals. Today, community murals are continuing to go up in inner-city ghettos, barrios, favelas and shanty-towns worldwide. This is as a result of inspirations from the earlier movements and watershed works.

Although graffiti is considered vandalism, there are those with a creative eye who will always find a message or meaning in it. Graffiti is an art. Art is expressed and shown in many forms like singing, dancing, drawing and writing. We all see art differently. My creativity makes me see a simple line as a work of art, while someone who isn’t creatively inclined might just see the line as property damage. Just because graffiti is often vandalism because the artist didn’t get permission doesn’t mean that it isn’t art. Location of graffiti often affects our opinion of it. If you see a wall that says “Art is not a crime” in the middle of nowhere, you might think it’s hideous and a sign of disrespect since it may be written illegally. Yet when we see the same graffiti at the Young Circle in Hollywood, the first thing many people think is, ‘Wow. This is so simple, yet beautiful,’ and take pictures of it. The location of the graffiti shouldn’t change your opinion. We judge what we see by what we assume instead of the truth. Just because we might think someone illegally painted on a wall doesn’t mean they didn’t get permission.

Graffiti is beautiful because it is someone’s way of expressing his or her story or dreams. One word or figure can mean the world to someone. People have their own personalities, thoughts and experiences, and sometimes a work of graffiti can be their way to show it to the world. Artists can be vandals, but that doesn’t mean vandals can’t be artists. Art doesn’t have to be legal to be art. I wouldn’t mind waking up one day with graffiti on my wall.

While pasting graffiti on private property may be illegal, I feel that this is an art form that is appropriate. Some artists make a beautiful statement in their community. While distinguishing between art and gang symbols may be difficult, this graffiti adds culture to a bland industrial landscape. There is all sorts of canvas and materials to utilize for art. Why not a blank cityscape? There is a difference in graffiti and vandalism. Wanton damage of property should not be encouraged but I have seen some fine examples that could be photographed and placed in a museum.

Graffiti has been around for so long now. And let’s face it, most of it is tasteful. Graffiti isn’t truly harming anyone, and there are more serious crimes that co should be chasing people around for, not bothering people for writing on the sides of buildings. Graffiti is not a crime!

Works cited

  • Shoenberger, Elisa “Despite Graffiti’s Global Popularity, Cities Still Criminalize It” Artsy, 18 july 2019, https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-despite-graffitis-global-popularity-cities-criminalize
  • MacDonald, Christine “Street Art Used To Be the Voice of the People. Now It’s the Voice of Advertisers.” In These Times, 11 March 2019, https://inthesetimes.com/article/21732/street-art-murals-corporations-advertising-los-angeles-muralism-graffiti
  • Lucero, Sage “Shepard Fairey and the Phenomenon of Street Art” Medium, 12 August 2018.
  • Green, Madeleynn “A Beautiful Mess: The Evolution of Political Graffiti in the Contemporary City” Journal Quest, 11 August 2019, www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/1699/a-beautiful-mess-the-evolution-of-political-graffiti-in-the-contemporary-city

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Why Graffiti Should Be Considered Art, Not Vandalism. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/why-graffiti-should-be-considered-art-not-vandalism/
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