"The Art of Vandalism"
by Michael (San Francisco)

Graffiti is one of the most controversial problems existing in our society. While graffiti artists consider it as a form of art, many people - property owners, government, concerned citizens, police - consider it as vandalism. There is validity to both sides of the argument. Although graffiti artists consider graffiti as a form of self expression and modem art which reflects problems existing in our society, property owners and the government consider it as vandalism because they spend a lot of money and effort cleaning up after taggers.

        In order to fight against graffiti, we need to fully understand what is graffiti? Graffiti is considered as a form of modem art which expresses the artist's points of view toward certain issues in our society and associates people with the same values together. "Graffiti are cross-cultural phenomena common to every literate society. Within the variable contexts of their production, graffiti personalize de-personalize space, construct landscapes of identity, make public space into private space, and act as promoters of ethnic unity as well as diversity " (Phillips ). Graffiti artists use pictures as a form of communication between people usually instead of verbally, which represents how people deal with certain kind of issues in the society. By examining graffiti art works, we are able to see the graffiti artists' concerns and hardship they have been through. "The way words are spoken define generational and cultural priorities, moral values and ultimately wants and needs. A voice describes an identity. For artists, their "voice" is their artwork, expressing a vision of their world" (Bojorquez ). Even though human beings have been using pictures to represent their feelings and ideas for thousands of years, graffiti artists claimed the government and society try to take something they really love away from them.

        In the movie "Graffiti Verite',"  taggers and graffiti artists claimed that graffiti art is a way of expressing  their  feelings, but none of the  taggers had any of graffiti in their houses. Why didn't they tag in their own houses? They understand the graffiti can ruin the way their houses look and I don't think they would appreciate it if someone else tagged in their houses. Graffiti artists also claimed the government is taking an interest they really loved away from them, something that represent their crews and identities on other people's properties, something they can rely on to stay away from trouble. Although graffiti artists might think property owners may enjoy the colorful pictures and complex designs of graffiti, they are spending a lot  of their own time and effort to clean up graffiti.

        Increasing crime rates, reducing property values, graffiti is ruining many of our neighborhoods. Since there is a close relationship between gangs and graffiti, gang members can be found lurking around defaced property. Traditionally, gang members associate themselves with their gang name (i.e. 33rd St., Bloods, Crips, etc.) so usually they like to vandalize on public/private property with their gang is name. This creates tension between other gang members who in turn rebel by crossing out the other crew's name and writing their name beside it. "As the presence of gangs increases in cities nationwide, so does the problem of graffiti... Left unchecked, graffiti breeds crime, erodes community confidence, and substantially reduces property values" ( Schatz 1 ). Because tagging is often gang related, there has been incidents of taggers killing each other because other taggers are tagging in their territory. "I guess tagging can be a crazy life. Like with some crews, it's crazy. We don't like each other, you know. We shoot them or they shoot us. I'm gotten jumped a few times. During the day I carry a screwdriver or knife for protection. But at night I carry a gun" (Quintanilla ). I grew up in a graffiti infested neighborhood where graffiti art is part of the landscape, garages are thrown everywhere on the street and people in the neighborhood no longer want to live there anymore. Sometimes I'm afraid to go home after dark because there are so many gangsters hanging outside of the store across the street from my house. Drunk people get into arguments and fights often breaks out. I don't think anyone would like to live in a neighborhood like the one I lived in for ten years. Fortunately my family were able to move away from this decomposing neighborhood.

        Many people discredit graffiti because it defaces public and private properties. The city of San Francisco spends more than a million dollars each year trying to get rid of graffiti. "The city's Department of Public Works has already undertaken a huge and growing effort to combat graffiti. It spends some $2 million a year for its crews and volunteers like Mabel Teng to repaint 1.3 million square feet of walls, garage doors, lamp posts and utility, mail and Ire boxes on public and private property that were scarred by graffiti  scrawlers" (Epstein). We waste a lot of time and budget cleaning up after taggers, time and money which can be invested in education or used to improve many peoples living conditions.

        Therefore law makers are proposing more harsh punishment for convicted taggers and new ways to prevent graffiti. Law makers are imposing many new ways: volunteer surveillance teams, extension cords on a spray can, and paddling, -to prevent graffiti. The city of Los Angeles is hoping reserved police officers and civilians can spare a little of their time to form a surveillance team, watching over structures that are frequently tagged. A state senate proposed a bill that will require spray cans to work with extension cords or radio waves. Michael Conroy, a State Assemblyman from Orange County, is hoping to introduce paddling for convicted taggers. "Judges would be empowered to sentence teen-age graffiti vandals to as many as 10 whacks on the clothed buttocks, in addition to whatever other penalty was imposed the name of the vandal would be made available for publication, in the hope that humiliation of either child or parents would be a deterrent" ( Gross 22 ). These proposals prevent graffiti by force which might not work in the long run.

        These are legitimate suggestions and proposals to prevent graffiti, but it's only dealing with the surface of the problem. We are anticipating graffiti to happen, instead of trying to deal with the real part of graffiti, taggers. "Paint Outs" - a community service which convicted taggers complete by painting over graffiti found in a certain area  is the most effective way of dealing with taggers. The L.A.P.D. has created a program called P.A.C.E. (Police-Assisted Community Enhancement Program ) to fight against graffiti. This team often works with the community and " at risk "juveniles to paint over graffiti. Many juveniles in this program are convicted taggers who are serving community service time by painting over graffiti that they have left behind. "The Graffiti Abatement Program works well for both the citizens and the offenders arrested for graffiti violations. The department received numerous letters of support from citizens who benefit from graffiti removal from their areas. In addition, citizens get a sense of security from the sight of officers directing youths to paint-out areas" ( Schatz 3 ). Besides removing graffiti, they will also receive counseling provided by police officers and professional counselors. The main goal of this program is to redirect juveniles in the right direction.

        Although graffiti should be considered as a form of art, it actually defaces many public and private properties. Graffiti artists express their feelings to the public with pictures and we can learn a lot about what's going on in our society from their work. On the other hand, our government, property owners and volunteers spend a lot of time cleaning up graffiti, which graffiti artists left behind. Simply painting over graffiti will not keep the problem away; we need to go deep into the problem by working with teenagers and trying to correct their mistakes, so the problem won't come back again. We tried to find ways to prevent graffiti from happening surveillance teams, extension cords on spray cans, and paddling - which don't seem to be effective. The L.A.P.D formed a P.A.C.E. program which helped teenagers to understand why graffiti is not appreciated. The most important concept teenagers will learn from this program is treat others the way you would like to be treated. Graffiti should be considered as vandalism.


Works Cited

Bojorquez, Chaz. "Any Drawn Line That Speaks About Identity, Dignity and Unity Is Art." http://www.graffitiverite.com

Epstein, Edward. " San Francisco Takes On Urban Scrawl." San Francisco  Chronicle, April 1, 1999. A17, A22.

 Gross, Jane. " California Contemplates Paddling Graffiti Vandals." The New York Times, August 7, 1994. 22.

Phillips, Susan A. Graffiti Definition: The Dictionary of Art. London: Macmillan (In Press ), 1996.

Quintanilla, Michael. " War of the Walls. " Los Angeles Times, July 14,1993.

Schatz, Daniel. " Graffiti Paint Outs. " FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, June 1992. 1-3.


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SFSU Student Essays reproduced with permission of the Student(s).
All Student Essay(s) were submitted by Professor L. Barroca, San Francisco State University.
Copyright, 1999, All Rights Reserved
Graffiti Verite' / GV2, International Graffiti Art Competition