by Miral Bhakta

There is no set definition of art. Every culture throughout history has produced art in many forms, from the Romans writing on walls to the modem culture of applying make-up. Art encompasses a wide range of appeals: for religious devotion, to commemorate leaders and events that have been marked in history, and for personal satisfaction. There can never be a fine line drawn to differentiate what is considered art and what is not. For every viewer the image or words of the art form appeals differently to them, depending on how they define art. In modem society this dilemma of defining and drawing a fine line to the different spectacles of art has caused a never ending discussion on graffiti, whether it is considered art or vandalism. Graffiti has become ubiquitous. It can be found on: buses, walls of houses, rest rooms, highways, bypasses, and any other place where graffiti artists have access to display their work. The position society has taken on this growing art form, graffiti, has been mixed and controversial. Some of society feel that graffiti is a form of art that lets one express his/her feelings on a wide range of issues, while some of society feel that graffiti is vandalism, destroying public and private property and contributing to gang activities and violence. I am pro-graffiti in some aspects when it denotes some personal expression; on the other hand, I am anti-graffiti when artists violate other peoples property or rights.

        Graffiti first originated from the Romans when they started to write on the buildings of the towns they conquered, and even before words were used, the cave men painted on walls (Tobin 85). Though graffiti has been in existence for a long time now, it is evolving to an art form in which very few artists get recognized. It is a competitive game, in which individuals strive to be the "best" artist, having the best looking mural to gain recognition and respect for their artistic ability.

        Graffiti artists have noted that graffiti art originates from tagging, a form of scribbling names that looks like chicken scratches on public and private property. Every graffiti artist goes through the phase of tagging to graffiti art. Artistic graffiti is a modern day offspring of traditional graffiti that has elevated itself from just scrawling words or phrases on a wall, to a complex artistic form of self
expressions (Doug 1). Taggers should not be considered untalented because scribbling on walls is not art; but rather it is unappealing and ugly. Society should note that it takes time to develop artistic ability. In the business world this is called moving up the career ladder.You start from the bottom and as your experience builds up you start moving up the ladder. This philosophy can be associated with taggers as well. Taggers need to get experience and build up their talent before moving up the ladder to become graffiti artists and eventually to artists who can be recognized worldwide. If this concept of moving up the ladder is encompassed and accepted within the business world, it should be accepted and embraced for graffiti artists as well. This is a double standard that society has developed. If businessmen are allowed to develop their skills to reach an optimum level, shouldn't taggers be able to develop their skills and reach their optimum level?

        Graffiti can be considered art because it denotes meaning for the individual and the people that are viewing it. "Graffiti is a language, an image, a voice, and a vision. Engaging the spirit of a vision is when the soul of art is discovered" (Bojorquez 83). There are so many hidden meanings in murals that it is hard for some people to grasp because they can not relate to it. But for those people who can relate to the murals/graffiti it considered art. Graffiti gives people, both young and old, males and females, an opportunity to express their opinions through an art form. Graffiti is a form of art that has no cultural barriers because all races in some way relate to the art that is displayed. Everyone has access to the art because you do not have to pay to see some of the most artistic pieces of art. Some graffiti artists would argue and say that they spend their whole paycheck on buying paints and cans so they can graffiti. Then there are people that would spend their whole paycheck on fixing their cars so they can race around the block. What is more dangerous, people graffiting or people speeding down streets? I would argue that it is more dangerous speeding down the street because you are putting other peoples life in danger. One would oppose and say that graffiti puts lives in danger, but that is not necessarily true because it is not proven. So, why not let graffiti artists spend their time and resources to make murals and paint a work of art!

        When artists do not get permission and/or consent from property owners to graffiti on their property it becomes vandalism. It is not right for someone to go around and graffiti on property that does not belong to them because they do not have the right to do so. If graffiti artists want to paint on walls they should look for a place where they are not vandalizing someone's property. Why not go to an organization and ask them if you can paint a mural on their wall representing some aspect of their business for free? The worst thing that can happen is the organization saying no, but this would save more money and time then going to jail and paying a fine for vandalism. Constantly competing with other graffiti artists to get the best and the most pieces of their art displayed on walls encourages the artists to vandalize on any property where there is a place to display their work. The competition and having the state of mind of being recognized causes graffiti artists to paint on property without thinking twice about whose property they have vandalized. Graffiti artists need to be aware of the consequences that are underlying, if they do violate someone's property. They can be sentenced to jail or pay a fine. Do they want to spend their money bailing themselves out of jail or do they want to use it wisely, using it for something that they love to do (legally that is). lf this competition is constantly going on for space artists will continue to destroy property without consent and eventually can lead to possible gang activities.

        Artists need to recognize that property owners can be fearful for their lives because they feel that graffiti and the artists are associates with gangs. "Graffiti often broadcasts the activities of street gangs, such as whether the gang deals in drugs, whether they plan to kill, or whether they have already killed" (Schatz 78). Gangs are always associated with claiming "turfs," a particular street to a whole neighborhood letting their rivals know that their streets are off limits. If a rival gang was to graffiti on any property Within their turf, it will cause a lot of disruptions in the neighborhood. This can lead to a confrontation between both gangs that potentially will lead to violence and perhaps death. Property owners do not want to live fearful, thinking that any moment they will be attacked by a rival gang, because the opposite gang has graffited on their property. Homeowners should not live fearful in the comfort of their home because that is the one place where homeowners can go to escape the violence that lurks on the streets on a continuous basis. If graffiti artists want to be recognized they should not graffiti on someone elses property because by doing so, they are losing a lot of respect and admiration for their artistic ability from the residents of those homes.

There is no definite way of solving this graffiti problem to make both sides happy. One thing that can be done is to have programs fro these graffiti artists to join. Many artists come from poor neighborhoods so they do not have access to join programs with a fee. These programs should be free so there will be no financial barriers. I feel the program will benefit both the property owners and the artists themselves. Graffiti artists will benefit because they will have an opportunity to do something they love, which is to paint. They can also have the opportunity to share their work with other artists and network to exchange ideas and even collaborate to make one piece together. Property owners can benefit because the rate of graffiti artists graffiting on their property will decline. This is due to the fact that the graffiti artists will be in these programs and producing art in other mediums so they do not have to paint on their property. This may seen unreasonable and doubtful to occur but the outcome can not be predicted without ever taking the steps to initiate this process.

        Art comes in various forms; therefore, it is hard to differentiate what is considered art and what is not. Though art can be grasped and produced by every culture, people will still define art differently because it is abstract and it has different appeals for everyone. What I consider a work of art can be considered gruesome or horrific to someone else. There has been mixed emotions on whether graffiti can be considered art, or if it is a form of vandalism. This question can never be answered because there is no right answer. I feel that graffiti is art when it denotes some personal expression, but it is vandalism when it destroys property owners property without their consent.

Works Cited

Bojorquez, Chaz.,  Any Drawn Line That Speaks About Identity, Dignity and Unity is Art.S Graffiti is Art.
        Online. Available hftp://www/graffitiverite.com.

Doug. RThat Tired Old Graffiti Advocate Strategy.S An Anti-Graffiti Web page.
        Online. Available http://www.dougweb.com/pgrafhtml.

Schatz, Daniel. RGraffiti Paint Outs.S FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. 1992

Tobi, Killian. RA Modern Perspective on Graffiti.S Art Crimes Front Page.
        Online. Available http://ftp.icm.edu.pl/graffiti/faq/tobin.html. 1995


Home Page  |  Graffiti Art & Culture  |  Documentary Videos  |  Contact/Email

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