Street Art(form)

Evelyn Streit, Columnist

Graffiti has been around for a long time. Think back to before there were any cities or even buildings to draw on. Think back to the Stone Age, where cavemen would paint and scratch at cave walls to create images. What other purpose could these pictures have served other than a way to convey emotion and communicate with others? Believe it or not, modern-day graffiti isn’t much different from back then. It is still used as a way for people to vent, and allows them to express themselves through art.

Although the overall goal of graffiti hasn’t changed much, the way it is made and where is is located are two very important factors that have changed and impacted how people look at it. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, when graffiti was still relatively new to the United States in 1900s, it was generally associated with gangs, and could usually be found in subways or on street signs. Later, however, in the 1990s, “tagging” appeared. This was a new form of graffiti where symbols, like the artist’s name, were used over and over again to try to attract the most attention. And attract attention it certainly did. Not long after tagging was introduced, people started to become interested in these unconventional artists who worked outside of a regular gallery. This new interest sparked careers for many street artists like David Choe, who, according to MNN, painted a mural for the headquarters of Facebook and during former President Obama’s first run, he created a portrait of the president.

Moving on, communities just like Los Angeles have begun to recognize graffiti more and more. Recently, it has been thought of less as an act of vandalism and more as a type of art. In fact, according to the University of Florida, graffiti has even been displayed in galleries of London and New York. Also, various artists have been hired to legally make murals and other pieces to be shown in art exhibits all around the world. These art shows help to bring more popularity to the world of graffiti art. According to the University of Florida, celebrities like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have spent great amounts of money to collect work from Banksy, one of the most famous, anonymous, graffiti artists.

There is no reason that graffiti shouldn’t be considered art. According to Merriam Webster, the definition of art is a visual form of expression that shows creative and inventive skill. Obviously graffiti is visual, because sight is needed to experience an image, and it is definitely a form of expression, at least for the maker. Furthermore, there is no limit to the creativity and pure skill put into many of the murals that can be seen just by driving past them on the road. Yes, while more simple forms of graffiti like basic tagging don’t show as much skill, the more intricate pieces from more well-known artists definitely count as a form of art even if they don’t exactly reflect your personal style. So, if graffiti completely fits art’s definition, why might it not quite be considered a type of art?  

However, the reason that graffiti art is so controversial is because it’s technically vandalism, and therefore illegal. Just think, how would you feel if, while you were away at work, someone came and tagged your house without permission? Clearly, defacing or causing damage to a structure that you do not own should be a crime and should come with consequences. According to the New York Times, monitoring graffiti is also important because of the “broken windows theory.” This theory basically states that when there is already disorder and crime in a community, there is a greater risk of the same thing to happen again and again until it becomes consistent. The theory implies that, if there’s graffiti, someone will make their own. Even though it is not allowed, that has nothing to do with if it is art or not.

While some graffiti is done illegally, a lot is also done legally. Graffiti isn’t usually done as an act of vandalism, but rather to make a statement. Some common ideas portrayed in graffiti have to do with world peace, politics, and other current social issues. Following this, graffiti can also be used as a way to provoke change and bring people together. According to Odyssey, a youth organization teamed up with the Mexican Ministry of the Interior to paint graffiti all over a town in Mexico called Las Palmitas, Pachuca. This town was chosen because it had been facing terrible amounts of violence. This project, with the help of residents living there, took two and a half months. They painted 209 houses, and it was shown that the crime rate decreased and the community felt safer and more at ease with their living conditions.

Graffiti has come a long way from ancient cave paintings. It has evolved into a way for people to express themselves and share their ideas with others. Even though some graffiti is done illegally, separate projects have been done with the consent of others and have changed people’s lives for the better. Just because you don’t enjoy a particular picture does not mean that you should ignore it, and there is absolutely no reason that it should not be considered a form of art. Graffiti is just like any other painting, drawing, or sculpture, and should be treated accordingly.