Graffiti; is it art or vandalism? The line between the two seems oh so slim. When questioned, multiple people from multiple age groups all responded to the question in the same way, “It depends.” But depends on what? After gathering a pool of answers which came from ages 9 up to 50, the “depends” seems to be one of two things, where the graffiti takes place and what graffiti is of. Interestingly enough nearly half of the people of the people to mention their property in their responses are property owners themselves. Mr. Halperin, a proud owner of two homes and father of 4, stated, “On a person’s property, it is vandalism without permission.” Mrs. Bilodeau, a proud owner of two homes and mother of 3, had a similar statement to her peer. “It depends which side your on. The artist thinks it’s art, but the property owner thinks it’s not. It’s vandalism if you don’t have the property owners consent.” Sean, a 3rd grader at McPherson Magnet, -answered directly after his father, Mr. Halperin which may have swayed his answer- says, “If graffiti is in public, then it is vandalism. But if the person who owns that part of the town or city asks the person to graffiti then it isn’t vandalism.” Not surprisingly there are few opinions that countered the viewpoint of Mr. Halperin, Mrs. Bilodeau, and Sean. However in this article, Graffiti is Young, Cool, Creative – Let it Happen by Lady Pink, an artist and muralist, states “My husband and I have to clean graffiti off of my property from time to time, but I see it as a price we all have to pay for urban living.” However her viewpoint may be biased because of the fact she may have been the one painting the graffiti on another’s home.
The other depending factor on whether graffiti is art or vandalism is what the painting is of and how much effort is applied. 7th grade Cerro Villa student, Naomi, says “Graffiti is art because they are taking the time to do it and are paying for the spray paint.” Tim, a junior at Villa Park, agrees that taking the time to think out what the person is going to graffiti does make it an art declaring, “It’s not a black or white situation. There’s people who just tag walls with their crappy signatures for the heck of it. But there are people who create real art. They actually take the time to create something that’s worthwhile.” Interestingly enough, Elisa, junior at Santiago High School in Corona, is on the same side as Tim. “If you’re only signing your name and there’s no meaning behind it, then it’s vandalism. But if you thought it out and it’s pretty then it’s art.” Nicole, a freshman at Canyon High School, asserts that, “If it’s just cuss words or gang names and stuff, then I believe it’s vandalism but if it’s certain like art pieces like what Bansky does then I consider it art.” Johnny, a junior at Oxford Academy, believes that graffiti “…depends on what the viewers think of the specific image. Like if someone meant for it to be art and it was offensive to someone else, that other person would call it vandalism so maybe it depends on the individual who made it and their intentions.” In regards to Bansky, many people find his satirical street art to be offensive and untrue whereas there are those who appreciate the meaning behind it. “It’s an eye of the beholder thing,” says South Pasadena, sophomore, Kanak. “If it’s random that looks terrible that says Compton or whatever, its vandalism. If it’s like legit art, it’s art.” “After trauma for a city, like a mass shooting, then I would think it’s art,” states Jessica, a junior at Foothill High School, alluding to the powerful street art created after 9/11. “However if it’s someone writing cuss words all over the place, then I think it’s vandalism.” Lia, a junior at Villa Park High School, may argue against Jessica’s statement by saying, “… some graffiti is just gangs trying to mark their territory and other pieces represent struggle and beauty.” Rosie, a senior at Santiago High School, responded to the question by quoting Widewalls: Graffiti and Street Art, written by Angie Kordic, “Graffiti became the means of communication and identity for young people in New York city in the 1970’s.”
There are few people who had an opinion to support both sides of the argument, referring to both where the graffiti is placed and what the graffiti is of. Villa Park High School sophomore, Stacy, states, “If graffiti is on the front of someone’s home or car that would be vandalism because the owner of the property would be the one who has to deal with getting rid of it. However if the graffiti is somewhere inconspicuous, for example under a bridge, then the graffiti should be considered art. Art should be defined by how much effort one puts into it. For example my sisters and I went hiking this weekend. The underside of a bodge was completely covered with graffiti. However I found it to be aesthetically pleasing. It was evident that the painters put a lot of effort into getting their words to look beautiful and because it was in a spot that wasn’t very noticeable to the everyday public, I consider it to be art.” “Graffiti is an art in itself,” asserts Alek, a high school junior, saying that “…its originality can deliver very powerful messages. Graffiti can be seen as art along the lines of people like Banksy, but it’s because he creates in ways that isn’t harming anyone. But when it’s on public property the artist doesn’t own, it’s vandalism.” Michael, a freshman at California State University Long Beach joked, “I think drawing inappropriate things on public spaces can be considered art.”
Overall I found it interesting to see how the different age groups and maturity levels viewed graffiti. The property owners focused on graffiti as if it were being placed on their own homes and therefore frowned upon it because the property owner is the one who has to get rid of the unwanted vandalism; with the exception of Lady Pink who herself is a muralist. Whereas the high school students focused on what graffiti was of. The – for lack of better words – less matured students looked at graffiti purely on the surface; if it is just a simple tagging of one’s name, gang name, or cuss word, then it is not art. However if the graffiti is “legit art, it’s art.” The older more critical thinking students looked at graffiti for its meaning. They viewed graffiti as an outlet for emotion, “a means of communication”, a way to have their voice heard.
The answer to the question ‘Is graffiti art or vandalism?’ remains a mystery to the world. As said by Kanak, “It’s all in the eye of the beholder.”
Photo Credit: http://www.creationtips.com/graffiti.html