Graffiti: Vandalism or Art?

From a very young age I remember walking down the streets of San Francisco and seeing graffiti of all different kinds, from big bubble letters to drawings. I was in awe of all the colors that surrounded me. I enjoyed seeing pieces of other people in their work on the walls. It amazed me at how creative and artistic they were, but not everyone agrees. I’ve often heard people around me say, “It’s vandalism! There’s no meaning in it.” But to me, graffiti is beautiful and just a form of harmless modern culture.

If you’ve ever been to San Francisco, New York, or practically any major city around the world, you would have probably seen graffiti in the streets, covering the outside walls of buildings, storefronts, or subways. Graffiti has often been associated with vandalism and gangs ever since street art began in the 1960s after gang signs were painted on subway walls. While that may be true in some cases, for the most part, it has become a way for people to express themselves artistically and I’ve learned to appreciate it as art.

Graffiti has helped color and brighten the walls of our world. But what really differentiates graffiti art from vandalism is the intention that the artists had, if they’re doing it purely to claim a territory or as a way of expressing themselves artistically to the public. For example, Morley is a graffiti artist and author from Los Angeles who goes around putting up graffiti posters about his perspectives on the world. On the difference between his art and vandalism, he said, “If you want to create property damage for the sake of doing damage that’s not expressing yourself creatively.”

Tagging, graffiti writing of an artist’s name, is what usually comes to mind when people say graffiti, but over time it has become street art, murals spray painted for a public audience to see. I realized this after I discovered Banksy a couple of years ago and fell in love with his art. Banksy is one of the world’s most renowned graffiti artist and is known for his works that usually carry political or philosophical messages. His work is a perfect example of why graffiti is art, not just tagging, it’s art that depicts his perspective on important events occurring around the world, such as poverty and war. I admire his work because it connects to me in a way that is different from other art; his works shows the harsh realities of life.

Graffiti has always been a very controversial topic in our world because of the different interpretations we all have on it. But at the end of the day, art is art, and a stigma from the past shouldn’t separate graffiti from it. Like all artists, graffiti artists just want their art to be seen by others; they want art to be free to everyone, not just those who have the time and money to go to art museums.

“If someone walks past something I’ve created and it gives them just a little strength to get through another day, then I feel like I’ve created something of value for the world,” said Morley. And isn’t that the purpose of art?

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