Graffiti: Art or Vandalism?

A look at the different forms of graffiti, and what constitutes as art, or mere vandalism.

Modern Graffiti comes in many different forms, from the scrawled message in a public bathroom stall to the spray-painted murals boasted on subway walls. The simplest form of graffiti is scrawled message; “Sally loves Peter” or “James woz here.” Many regard these impromptu writings as vandalism, as they lack artistic merit, yet the point of graffiti is to send an expressive message to the reader, whether it is a political, social or personal view.
Some graffiti is used as a territory marker, called “tagging”. These can often be seen on street corners, street signs and suburban walls. It is simply a signature of the person who is laying claim to that area as being in their territory.

Stenciling is a popular form of modern graffiti, and is often used to convey political and social messages to the viewer in a pictorial form. A famous stenciling artist is Banksy, with his provocative and thought-provoking work that can be appreciated as more than just mere vandalism, as seen below.

Graffitti artists commonly utilize spray paint as their medium, using different size nozzles to achieve broader or more precise lines. However, some graffiti artists choose to use brushes or sponges, sometimes combining all three in their artwork.

Modern graffitti does not require that a certain style is used. Cartoons, caricatures and portraits are often used to convey a message, with decorative text styles and interesting uses of perspective.
Modern graffiti is true street art, appearing overnight on walls, in subways and on buildings. Graffitti artists often paint their murals illegally, working under cover of darkness with a team of sentries to watch for law enforcers or pedestrians. Because of the controversial material contained in many murals, graffiti is now considered to be a form of resistance art, in rebellion against common public beliefs and government laws. This example is of a statement made by Barack Obama, as expressed by the graffiti artist.

The ultimate achievement for many graffiti artists is to create their work in places that are dangerous to get to, or difficult to paint on. Spraying a piece on the side of a train, for example, is quite an achievement, as trains are often under close guard, and have a slick surface which causes the paint to run.

As with all genres of art, there are amazing graffiti artists, and those who attempt to be amazing, but fall far short of their goal, and end up being mere vandals.

However, there is a lot of amazing graffiti out there, and many graffiti artists are now being commissioned to decorate buildings and offices. As an art form, it requires not only technical ability, to use the tools required, but creativity and personal opinion.

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