A Debate on Whether Graffiti is a Form of Art or an Act of Vandalism

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When discussing the topic of graffiti, the main question most people have is whether graffiti is art or vandalism. Before we can answer this, there are many more questions that must be answered. What is art? What is graffiti? What is vandalism? Is there a point at which graffiti becomes vandalism, and if so, who decides where? Only after these questions have been answered can anyone accurately decide whether it is art or vandalism.

What is art? Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it as “art, such as painting, sculpture, or music, primarily concerned with the creation of beautiful objects.

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” Within these three broad categories of art, there are many more subcategories. Additionally, there are other categories of art, such as architectural, photographic, and digital art. The main problem with art is its broad scope and the general belief that it is in the eyes of the beholder, allowing for plenty of discrepancy from one individual to another. Robert J. Belton best describes this in the following passage:

“Any brief definition of art would oversimplify the matter, but we can say that all the definitions offered over the centuries include some notion of human agency, whether through manual skills (as in the art of sailing or painting or photography), intellectual manipulation (as in the art of politics), or public or personal expression (as in the art of conversation). Recall that the word is etymologically related to ‘artificial’—i.e., produced by human beings. Since this embraces many types of production that are not conventionally deemed to be art, perhaps a better term for them would be ‘visual culture.’ This would explain why certain preindustrial cultures produce objects that Eurocentric interests characterize as art, even though the producing culture has no linguistic term to differentiate these objects from utilitarian artifacts. Having said that, we are still left with a class of objects, ideas and activities that are held to be separate or special in some way. Even those things which become art even though they are not altered in any material way—e.g., readymades—are accorded some special status in a describable way. Because of this complexity, writers have developed a variety of ways to characterize the art impulse.”

Through his description, you can begin to see the vastness of what is considered art, further emphasizing the complexity of just this one issue.

What is graffiti? Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it as “an inscription or drawing made on some public surface (like a rock or wall).” The first thing we must consider is what is earmarked as graffiti? Are we merely talking about kids running around the neighborhood with aerosol paint cans? What about little 9-year old Johnny carving, “Johnny loves Heather” on a tree? Is that considered graffiti as well? And how about the graffiti artist who paints grand murals on the sides of buildings that are fifty-feet high and fifty-feet wide? One would think that such a task would require a degree of artistic talent. George C. Stowers best describes this in the following passage:

Graffiti art originated in the late 1960s and has been developing ever since. However, it isn’t as readily accepted as art works that are found in a gallery or a museum. It isn’t strictly denied the status of genuine art due to a lack of form or other basic aesthetic elements. Most of the opposition to graffiti art stems from its location and bold, unexpected, and unconventional presentation. However, its unconventional presentation and often-illegal location do not necessarily disqualify it as art.

Once again, you can see in this passage the significant discrepancy and variation of perception from one individual to another.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines vandalism as: willful or malicious destruction or defacement of public or private property. Douglas M. Smith, a reserve police officer with twelve years of law enforcement experience who served on a graffiti abatement task force, makes the following points in regards to whether graffiti is vandalism:

“Before the graffiti advocates or Art Crimes can say, ‘Graffiti isn’t so bad,’ they must visit communities covered with the scribblings of misguided gangs and taggers. They must speak with graffiti victims and the abatement volunteers who clean up the damage. They must engage with the police and the departments of public works. They must converse with the people who live in communities affected by this blight. They must see firsthand how neighborhoods are destroyed when everyone stops caring and starts trashing. Some graffiti advocates would have you believe that if my own property was never damaged, the graffiti should be none of my business. That is incorrect. Graffiti near my home, or anywhere in my town or nation, makes me a victim and therefore my concern.”

The main difference between vandalism and other visual expressions such as art or graffiti is that vandalism isn’t as controversial or debatable. It is clearly defined by the laws of the United States. People can argue whether graffiti is art, but nobody can argue whether graffiti is vandalism. Graffiti art is definitely considered vandalism if the artist willfully or maliciously destroys or defaces public or private property.

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A Debate on whether Graffiti Is a Form of Art or an Act of Vandalism. (2023, Feb 11). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/a-debate-on-whether-graffiti-is-a-form-of-art-or-an-act-of-vandalism/