Graffiti: Art or Vandalism

8 August 2016

Vandalism? Most people can argue that there is a fine distinction between what is recognized as art and vandalism. The individual is often faced with uncertainty when the topic of graffiti arises. The public often portray graffiti as a destructive act towards his or her surroundings however; graffiti can also be considered a form of self-expression. Many questions can be made pertaining to the graffiti movement, but the main question is graffiti a crime or an art? The answers lie in the complex phrase of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

Graffiti portrays contemporary sub-cultured art through its versatility and bold attractiveness on the communal grounds. In the 1970s, graffiti was blatantly acknowledged as territorial graffiti where graffitists would “tag” their anonym upon various areas to obtain great recognition from other graffitists. The graffiti era began with the simple use of characterized letterings which sooner evolved to creatively embellishing large murals.

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Its daring and unique presentation captured the attention of the competition so as the audience expanded, so did graffiti.

It has progressed from a competitive activity for street credibility to an expressive form of street art. The mastery of graffiti has become a part of subculture with its raw and defiant nature presented within the streets and the media that its legitimacy as a form of art is starting to finally be recognized by the public. First off, what is street art? Street art is considered as any art that is publicized in the “streets” oppose to territorial graffiti meant to display a message.

The following states, “It represents the desire of humans to leave traces of their existence in the public sphere. ”(Chung 25) . It was the works of early artists such as Jenny Holzer and Richard Hambleton in the mid-1970s, and later Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring in the 1980s, who have conspired with the street art movement. However, “today, the line that distinguishes street art from graffiti writing is blurred, with many artists producing works in both genres during their careers.” (252) Street artist Banksy is the prominent figure of incorporating both street art and traditional graffiti through his unauthorized wall-art, setting the foundation of a “new generation of street artists. ” (252) Although Banksy manages to stick to the roots of “tagging” by keeping his alias discrete, he continues to manifest this movement of contemporary publicized artwork through his infamous stenciling, politically inspired wall pieces. (253) “In contrast to government-commissioned public art, street art is illicit and subversive in nature.

Therefore, most street artists, including Banksy, use pseudonyms to avoid legal prosecution for vandalism. ”(Chung 27) Banksy’s street art does not focus on competing with rival artists, but focuses on engaging with a broader audience in a deeper level. He provokes his audience by deeply expressing out various social practices that helps viewers to reflect and confront certain aspects together as a community. (27) The underlying message of Banksy’s art can lead towards an active involvement of street art within the community.

“Street art is omnipresent in urban streets and is a rish source of inspiration for artistic creativity. . . It possesses the aesthetic voices of the ordinary and enables resistance for the marginalized. Banksy’s street art, in particular, can guide students to think about various social and political issues and to reflect upon the immediate, if not unjust, world in which they live, to transform that world, and to possibly initiate change. ” (Chung 32)

The excitement that surrounds street art continues to escalate through medial factors, which have given the opportunity for the street art movement to gain the proper recognition and distinction from criminality. The 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary film Exit Through the Gift Shop portrayed the vitality of street art subculture featuring the works of LA-based street artist Shepard Fairey, who is well known for his “Obey” campaigns. (253) The attributing collective pieces of artist Invader in the Space Invaders video game have also given that attention of street art towards the public eye.

The movement of street art and graffiti has not only gained acknowledgment through film, but also through a formalized setting such as museum exhibits. The Museum of Contemporary Art showcased one of the first street art exhibits, “Art in the Streets” in Los Angeles in 2011, which changed the history of the museum attracting more eyes in the public. (Mettler 253) The movement of street art has now evolved into a dignified way of expressing an artist’s purpose through the media that has embraced the rawness and uniqueness of this art form.

Before graffiti was recognized as a form of art, it was familiarized as territorial graffiti or vandalism by an individual graffitist or “tagger” to gain recognition from other graffitists. Graffitist’s motives were highly driven by the idea “of being ‘king’ of a subway line” (137) and the respectable street credit that came along with the title. It was not about the creative aspects involved in the piece or simply talent, but the quantity and location. (Powers 137) You wouldn’t call yourself a graffitist if your tag name was not displayed throughout the gritty boroughs of the city.

As the game became more competitive, so did the pieces. The pieces became more innovative and more intricate, focusing on both factors of quantity and quality while still achieving the ultimate goal of being “king. ”(138) . The art work consist of simple tags, throw ups and pieces. ( Riebe, Bernd. “Graffiti – Art or Vandalism? ” http://www. obsidian. bild-art. de/) Tagging is the most general type of graffiti as the letterings are created contrastingly with its background to make this form of simplicity stand out.

Writers often tag to “sign” up on various territorial grounds which are easily recognized. The primary motivation for graffitists to continue their work is fame, which is mostly achieved by painting pieces. This form of graffiti allows graffitists to flaunt their artistic abilities through a more stylistic expression that will bring the writer respect. Aside from being gaining respect from the public and other artist, they still strive to compete with rival writers. Throw-ups or “throwies” lie in between a tag and a piece as its complexity is designed to quickly execute a graffitist anonym.

Graffitists have their own signature tags and pieces for others to identify their intricate style. Heightening up the game, graffitists would recruit amateurs, or “toys”, to help spread the word throughout district communities to be known outside their region. It was one thing to be acknowledged in your own community, but to be recognized throughout various domains brought the graffiti game to a whole other level. By this way, graffitists formed alliances and new communities expanding beyond their own geographical areas which eventually began to capture the attention of the people.

From then on, graffiti became a mainstream movement within local neighborhoods that soon enough became a lifestyle exposed through the media as a part of the hip-hop subculture. “Of all elements of the NYC hip hop subculture, graffiti received the most media attention… Subway graffiti was then propagated by the music industry through rap music, break dancing and graffiti-styled album covers. Norman Mailer’s The Faith of Graffiti romanticized the youths as heroic young men creating art by beating the system.

In the early eighties, movies such as Beat Street, Flash Dance and Wild Style spread the image of urban hip hop culture nation wide. ” (Powers 139) Graffiti was a movement believed to progress into a form of art from the streets. Through such raw talent, it arose from a reputable competition between graffitists to becoming a widespread phenomenon acknowledged by the public. Since its extensive publicity on subways carts and communal walls in the 70s, the mainstream movement of graffiti as street art has become increasingly popular in the contemporary arts and sub-culture.

Its raw nature has continued to consistently raise eyebrows and expose several unique and intrinsic styles that has set a new high uncovered within the world of the arts. Individuals have strayed from labeling graffiti as vandalism due to its confrontation of different social issues that have us questioning what we do and what we should do. From an act of rivalry for street credibility to an expressive form of individuality for a soul purpose, the graffiti movement continuously impacts communities through the media which has given its proper recognition as street art.

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