Graffiti: Art or Vandalism?

Or maybe it’s both. Some graffiti can actually enhance an area, turning blank, dingy grey walls into Picasso-esque art motifs; but there is also graffiti that merely intrudes and ruins a once clean, serene well-kept area, look dirty and unkempt.

Maybe it depends on where it appears.

Graffiti in slum and lower income areas can often distract attention away from the squalor, adding an element of serenity and often beauty. But the same graffiti seen in “upper scale”, affluent areas gives an entirely different impression: one of slow decay, vandalism and a lowering of values and order. So often it really not the graffiti itself that is the problem, it’s where it shows up, and why, that make it a problem.

“Graffiti” has been around ever since the Neanderthals scratched depictions of animals on cave walls, and some graffiti can be but strikingly unique, inventive, evocative and even beautiful. Some art galleries and museums have sponsored “Graffiti Art” shows.

But graffiti also can reflect anger, protest, a lack of order and a rejection of values and laws. Graffiti is vandalism when it is in a place where it doesn’t belong, but when applied to a canvas or a blank wall rather than in a poor or derelict neighborhood, it could easily become “art”. Some of Picasso’s works would pass as “graffiti” if it was painted on a wall of a building rather than on canvas.

The real problem with graffiti is that it isn’t “controlled”, and that is disturbing to a regulated society. “Art” has rules, “graffiti is free form: nothing is sacred, and anything is allowed.