"Graffiti: Stand Between Both, Art  & Vandalism"
by Viktoria M.

Graffiti is a big concern in todays society. Those out there who are doing it feel that graffiti is a way of expressing their self-identity. Those, however, whose buildings, cars, or other properties get painted on a regular basis, don't share the same opinion. My stand stays right in the middle. I agree that graffiti can be considered an art because it not only reflects ones imagination and skills, but could also provide important information about our culture and lifestyle for the next generations to come. However, I also agree that graffiti writing and tagging is vandalism because it not only defaces both private and public properties, but also because it is a crime, classified as an "A-priority" under police regulations, and therefore, distracting police officers from paying attention to more serious comes.

        Graffiti, "drawing or scribbling on a flat surface", "derived from Greek grapheme (to write)", is as old as human civilization (Phillips, 1996). The cave men painted the walls with various images, Romans wrote on the buildings in towns they conquered. We view these images and writings as "art", a source of information on the ancient peoples culture and their lifestyle. Surprisingly, this ancient graffiti art did not die. "It progressed from scrawling words or phrases on a wall, to a complex artistic form of personal expression" (Tobin). Nowadays, we can often see it on public streets, private properties, even in galleries as a skillful display, lacking no imagination. It accomplishes just what ancient graffiti art did; it makes us stop, eager to decrypt the hidden thoughts and messages that it's creator intended to express. Therefore, I believe graffiti is art.

        However, illegal graffiti writing, whether an aesthetic painting or tagging, "scrawling of names, monikers, or symbols on area walls," (Schatz, 1992) is a disrespectful way of invading ones private property. Sergio Palos, a thirty-nine-year-old owner of a print shop in Southeast Los Angeles gets hurt many times a day not only financially: "In the past 4 months I have spent $500 painting the graffiti" (Quintanilla, 1993), but he also gets hurt emotionally: "When I see that crap splattered on my building at 8 in the morning, it just gets me angry" (Quintanilla, 1993). For Reggie Mullins, a property manager of the Chevy Chase Shops, the issue of graffiti became a nightmare as well: "I'd twice spent $600 repainting an outside wall" and additionally "had an inside damage to wallpaper worth  $2,000" (Murdoch, 1993). Sergio Palos and Reggie Mullins are not the only displeased victims of graffiti taggers. There are many other business, home, and car owners who can speak about youth, disrespectful behavior and ignorance to almost anything and anyone. Many wonder what happened to the days when adults had the strength, courage, and commitment to send messages to their children.

        Graffiti taggers and writers deface not only private properties, but public properties as well. Since the available, easy-to-reach space on private properties decreases every day, taggers find their way to reach the public properties, such as street signs, freeway overpasses, trains, bus stops, or mailboxes, just to gain popularity among their peers. One tagger, for example, scrawled his moniker more than 10,000 times during a vandalism rampage throughout Southern California. Officials estimated that "he caused more than $500,000 damage to public and private properties" (Schatz, 1992). Since the scribbling is disturbing to the public in their neighborhoods, "sending a message that a lawless element controls the community," (Schatz, 1992) the government officials often organize special graffiti abatement and investigation programs and hire employees just to remove them. According to Epstein, "The citys Department of Public Works spends some $2 million a year on employing 23 workers, and buying the [proper products] to remove the graffiti, and on donating free paint and brushes to owners of property that is frequently tagged" (A 22). "But where does this money come from?" It comes from us, citizens, who are responsible workers and taxpayers. "Is that fair?" I don't think so. That's why I believe that taggers should be punished more severely. Imprisoning them for a couple of days or forcing them to participate in paint outs will not stop them from doing the graffiti illegally. Perhaps, they should be responsible for paying off the entire cost of damages they cause.

        According to Deborah R. Rutledge, a police officer in San Francisco, graffiti writing and tagging is a crime when it is done on property without ones consent. Also it is a "crime in progress", receiving an "A-priority" (Barroca, 1999). This means that police officers are required by law to give "tagging" priority over any other "not in progress" comes, involving perhaps more life threatening situations. For example, if a victim of abuse or robbery calls after the incident, and at the same time an observer of tagging calls to the police station, the tagger will be stopped first because he/she is committing a "crime in progress". This fact calls for many questions like, "Why then bother with tagging or pointing out taggers if more serious juveniles are getting free?" Though my goal is not to change the law, I believe that taggers should be aware of these consequences. And I really think that they should try changing their behaviors because getting an "A-priority" over the victims who need more help is not only immoral, but also harmful.

        Graffiti may be a valuable source of information for art historians and social scientist in the next millenium, but today illegal graffiti writing or tagging is a disrespectful and provocative way for youth to invade and deface private and public properties. Ironically, it is putting responsible citizens, who are willing to pay more money in taxes just for removing illegal graffiti from their neighborhood, into interior positions if they become victims of "not in progress", but perhaps, more serious comes. Therefore, I agree with Michael Quintanilla that "people who show their pride by defacing someones property, show the lowest form of manhood" (1993). Unfortunately, I also believe that no abatement programs, art competitions, or government laws can solve completely the problems around illegal graffiti writing or tagging. Excitement from being chased and getting away with law, expression of self-identity, and gaining popularity, are all important aspects that today's youth strive for.

Work Cited:

Barroca, Loren. "Graffiti: Art or Vandalism?" ENGL 414:05. 1999.

Epstein, Edward. "San Francisco Takes on Urban Scrawl." San Francisco Chronicle, Apr. 1, 1991. A 17, A 22.

Murdoch, Joyce. "New Role for Graffiti: Suburban Eyesores, Montgomery's Epidemic Gets More Virulent."
        The Washington Post, May 7, 1993.

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

Quintanilla, Michael. "War of the Walls (in two parts)." Los Angeles Times,  July 14, 1993.

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

Tobin, Killian. "A Modern Perspective on Graffiti." Art Crimes. 1995.
        @hftp://ftp.icm.edu.pl/graffiti/faq/tobin.html:-hftp:Hftp.icm.edu.pi/graffiti/fa q/tobin.html


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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
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