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Graffiti as a Type of Art

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A multitude of questions have become enthralled within the graffiti movement, but the fundamental issue revolves around the uncertainty if graffiti truly is a crime. Modern graffiti, originating in the late 1960s, has continuously instigated disagreement not only amongst but between the public and the authorities. According to the O.E.D art is described as a ‘skill, application or expression as the result of knowledge or practice’. Alternatively, graffiti is described as a drawing or writing scratched on a wall or other surface’. Here we can see the juxtaposition between the semantics of both art and graffiti. Therefore throughout this essay, I will deliberate the differences between both aspects and how they can contribute to society for example through the illustration of self-expression. As well as how it can damage not only the community but the environment too. As ultimately graffiti is vandalism and ‘beauty is not necessarily ‘in the eye of the beholder (Hungerford,1878) as we have to think about the bigger picture and the harm that is being cast upon society.

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Amongst society, the overarching perception in regards to graffiti being sprawled on every street corner or a spray-painted immature message on every other street wall does not in fact enhance our world in any aspect. To divert individuals away from ruining city centers or family neighborhoods many councils have set up dedicated areas or so-called ‘free walls’ for graffiti artists to use without fear of punishment. Although, I believe this is not an effective method because the idea of graffiti and being malicious are two concepts that are hand-in-hand, because after all, graffiti is vandalism and therefore a criminal offense. Consequently, a lot of youths feel the need to assert themselves or show dominance within a social group as the usage of graffiti is a known way to exemplify their status within a gang. However, many individuals believe graffiti to be a vice for self-expression. The idea that the aspects of imagination, assertiveness, and individualism can be exerted through one’s creativeness. Graffiti is noticeable most often within working-class, impoverished communities and is seen as an outlet or a way for your voice to be heard or even for some of your views to be recognized. Therefore graffiti can be observed fundamentally as a personal platform. This can be epitomized through the work of Frank Shepard Fairey, an American street artist, graphic designer, and illustrator who used graffiti art as a way to make a political statement. He is widely known for his work during the 2008 presidential election for his Barack Obama ‘hope’ poster (Beer, 2008). However, here it could be argued that graffiti is now being used as a dogmatic tool to influence the public to make assured decisions therefore people end up becoming uniformed within their verdicts and not determining what is best for themselves. Subsequently, some people believe that authorities should divert their attention away from graffiti and invest their time into issues that are bringing perilous harm and peril to individuals for example terrorism or domestic violence. As a result of this factor, we have to delve into the reasoning behind why the epidemic of graffiti is being publicized in such an influential way. I believe this to be the influence of the media, which shows graffiti not to be art but as a marketing tool. In 2001, computer giant IBM launched an advertising campaign in America that involved people spray painting on pavements (Niccolai, 2001) which illustrated to a wide demographic that graffiti is acceptable. During the early 2000s graffiti was starting to be recognized as a social construct, something which was profoundly publicized. As a result of this many people reinforced this new cultural revolution and due to this, it initiated a view of graffiti as trendy rather than a criminal offense. In the modern-day, graffiti is prominent at many festivals and most notably the euro festival in Finland. Which in summary shows that graffiti is not art but used as a way to influence, inveigle and damage the individuals of society due to malpractice.

Graffiti, classified as vandalism under the Criminal Damage Act 1971, asserts that anyone caught doing graffiti can face a prison sentence of up to ten years or be fined if the damage costs more than £5,000. Therefore showing in its entirety that graffiti is not an expression of artistic creativity. While some consider graffiti as appreciated, innovative art, it is regarded as vandalism by many people. Although for many of us there is always a compulsive need to rebel against the system. I believe that this is a result of psychological self-affirmation. Internally we have a desire to announce our existence and graffiti has always been about expressing personality, uprising style, and observation. Although graffiti is a crime and an injustice to society, ‘is a debate’ website found that eighty-four percent of people believed that graffiti is art. It is clear to observe that there is an antithetical difference in opinions it is very much a duality of self-expression and defacement. Street art can be understood as an artistic evolution of graffiti and it is explicitly defined by Riggle (2010) as ‘an artistic style that makes use of the street as an artistic resource’. The concept of artistic evolution is deeply rooted in history. Conversely, graffiti in the classical world had different implications for example inscription of Novellia Primigenia of Nuceria, a prostitute, apparently of great beauty, whose services were much in demand. Here we are revisiting the idea that graffiti has always been used for advertising purposes and not necessarily an manifestation of art. Graffiti and street art can be controversial. But it can also be a medium for voices of social change, protest, or expressions of community desire.

Nevertheless, an aspect of graffiti I do agree with is the idea of community. Community is all about inclusivity, in many towns, the communities collectively come together to create an artistic expression of their sentiments. In doing so, they create viable opportunities for individuals to build and join a community-focused economy. Many people see this as an articulate new vision of society. Graffiti is seen as an effective implement for restoring humanity in a shattered communities. Bengsten (2016) proposes the question ‘How can the aesthetic aspects of these acts of creation be considered as acts of vandalism?’. On the other hand, a high percentage of graffiti is deemed unacceptable for a number of the population. The removal and prevention of graffiti vandalism are very costly to the community. Substantial amounts of money are being spent annually on cleaning and repairing the damage that it causes when this money could be used to benefit the community. However, this could be view as a positive thing as even though graffiti often has a reputation as part of a subculture that rebels against authority. In Manchester, England a graffitist painted obscene images around potholes, which often resulted in their being repaired within 48 hours. So from this perspective graffiti is dealing with bigger industrial issues. However, the environmental causes due to this cannot be dismissed. Spray paint has many negative environmental effects they contain harmful toxic chemicals, and the can uses volatile hydrocarbon gases. At a time when the environment and the climate are at such a detriment is it worth expressing our artistic creations at the risk of both our and future generations.

To conclude, it is clear to see that there is a duality of modern graffiti, is it a vandalism act or a cultural expressionist production. Some of the controversies about street art and graffiti art are apparent in the work of the British artist Banksy, known best for his critical artworks, a lot of his work is admired, although at times his artwork has simply been removed. This shows the contradistinction and the uncertainty of graffiti as art or a crime. There are many conflicting opinions and viewpoints surrounding this debate. I believe it is clear to see graffiti as a crime in terms of what the law enforces but some aspects appear revolutionary for companies, often selfishly to the environment or helpful to the community to create a sense of uniformity and divert individuals away from harsh crimes and punishment. However, there is no definite answer to the debate ‘is graffiti art?’ it is solely based on personal opinion. As Bando asserts ‘Graffiti is not vandalism, but a very beautiful crime’ (Columbini, 2019).

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