Experts define graffiti as ‘writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.’ (Uschan, 2011) These drawings can be seen in most major towns all over the world. There is no threshold as to how big or small a drawing in the street can be in order to be classified as graffiti. More often than not, such drawings are intended to communicate good information or address challenges in the community. Graffiti is often made using spray paints available in cans. Despite this, other paints and materials can be used to make graffiti.
In practice, graffiti varies from large and mural drawings on walls to small tags such as the name of a person, a picture or any other form of drawing. Graffiti is common in urban areas as compared to the rural areas (Keegan, 2007). However, not many jurisdictions encourage the culture of graffiti for various reasons. Most jurisdictions have laws against graffiti, classifying it as a form of crime which should be punished by law. Such threats of sanctions have, however, failed to prevent artists from engaging in the practices. Graffiti is a practice that is common with the youth. Most old people are against the practice because they do not see any value of it. Such a difference in opinion between the youth and the old people has led to a major debate as to whether graffiti should be considered as a crime or a talent. Whereas the opponents of graffiti argue that the practice brings bad shape and image to our cities and towns, proponents argue that graffiti helps reduce the boredom and dullness of the cities (Keegan, 2007). Whichever position one may decide to adopt, it remains that graffiti is considered illegal. Most people have also previously linked graffiti in the streets with gangs and anti-social behavior. This paper analyzes the debate on graffiti so as to understand the correct position.
During the last fifty years graffiti has been evolving from the underground culture in the US to the accepted form of art that is well spread and commonly used today. It is the part of our culture now, like jazz music, craft, or photography, and that is why we should not look on it only from the judging side. Now let’s come closer to this topic and improve our knowledge about it.
I should probably start with mentioning some history. It may come as a quite surprise, but graffiti has a long history. It may be interesting for you that the first “graffiti” was found in Italy. These were some inscriptions and figure drawings on the walls of ancient sculptures and monuments that generally were thought to be vandalism. But that is not the kind of graffiti that we are used to. The modern style graffiti was supposed to be an advertisement type in one of the Greek cities (Ephesus, to be sure). Later, some ancient graffiti that were carved on some monuments were also found in Egypt and Pompeii. They included different poems, political slogans and famous quotes, mostly in Latin.
III. Modern Stage
The graffiti of nowadays always associates with the hip hop culture. This type of paintings was born in New York City’s underground in the late sixties. There is a narration about a man who worked as a messenger and, traveling throughout a city, he wrote his name at subway stations and on the subway cars. This case became famous, and all the kids of New York wanted their names to be on as many places as possible.
- Arguments Against Graffiti/Graffiti as a Crime
The opponents of graffiti do not argue against the artistic merits of the vice. They have not denied or ignored the immense talent of artists to make such beautiful drawings. However, they argue that doing it in public places is a crime which should be thoroughly punished (Keegan, 2007). The origin of graffiti has raised several concerns about its culture and acceptability in the society. Graffiti was promoted as a result of the development of the pop culture. Most pop artists end up engaging in anti-social behaviors such as drug abuse, robbery and murder cases. The connection between graffiti and pop culture portrays the otherwise special talent as a practice for the criminals and street gangs. In America, the rise of popularity in the pop genre of music was characterized with graffiti. This was one way through which illegal street gangs used to communicate their resistance to various issues in the society. From this, there was a conclusion that graffiti promotes violence in the urban areas (Walde, 2011).
The government and other relevant authorities criminalize graffiti for various reasons. Most states of America have criminalized this activity. The argument is that graffiti increases the costs the government and other authorities use to clean up the cities and other towns. Although the cleanup cost in America cities has never been documented, there is a consensus that such costs are increased while cleaning graffiti. Most of America’s large cities set aside billions of dollars in their budget to facilitate graffiti removal (Walde, 2011). This is a source of concern because this money could be channeled to other sectors to boost development. According to available statistics, the city of Chicago set aside a budget of $6.5million to be channeled towards graffiti removal. Omaha Neb, on the other hand, spends up to $10 million in every year to clean the city and remove gravity. This means that a lot of money is channeled towards graffiti removal. Prevention, opponents argue, is the only way through which this move can be minimized. Illegalizing it serves the role of reducing it in the streets.
Most states in America associate graffiti with vandalism. It is also considered as a form of vandalism which ought to be discouraged. In most cases, vandalism is considered as an issue on the quality of life one lives (Uschan, 2011). Areas where graffiti is common are always considered and branded as bad neighborhoods. Most graffiti artists are considered to be idle, and that their survival is based on illegal activities such as drug peddling and robbery. Regions where graffiti is in plenty portray a bad picture to potential investors. In a way, the value of the property which surrounds the region may significantly decrease because of fear of illegal gangs and criminal activities. Most people consider graffiti to be an eyesore. Its presence causes a lot of unsettledness. The fact that most graffiti express sentiments that are hateful and gang-related may portray an area as dangerous place to live.
In the streets, graffiti has a wave effect. Areas that are heavily vandalized are likely to experience an increase in the rate of crime. Graffiti is always related to violence and gang-related crimes.
- Graffiti as a Talent
As already argued, graffiti is very common among the youth as compared to the adults. Despite the above negative impacts it has in the society, artists argue that this is a God-given talent that the governments should promote and encourage. To the youth, graffiti is a culture; it is a tradition that should be nurtured and be promoted because of the immense role it plays in making the cities and towns beautiful with wonderful drawings. In one way or the other. Without it, most people argue, cities would just be boring places. Gravity also communicates the culture of the people living in a specific place. To the youth, graffiti should be promoted.
Graffiti artists also argue that graffiti plays a big role in explaining their inner feelings much better than words. They use the phrase ‘sometimes a picture can deliver emotions better than a 1000 words’ to communicate the impact graffiti has in their bodies and lives. Artists consider it as a major way of expressing one’s opinion on contemporary issues in the society (Takao, 2002). Denying them this opportunity to make such drawings of art would limit them their right of expression. Because of this, they argue, graffiti should not be criminalized.
Graffiti artists argue that there is a line between vandalism and graffiti. Associating graffiti with crime is wrong. To them, graffiti’s implications and social motives are legitimate: to make the city look less boring. Its esthetic qualities validate it as a form of art. Like any art, graffiti communicates the culture of the people. It gives more information about the way of living, the beliefs and the practices that people engage in. In essence, graffiti promotes culture. The youth and graffiti artists argue that this form of art should be promoted instead of being criminalized.
Most people argue that graffiti promotes creativity among the youth. The free will to express oneself through drawings of objects and the surrounding give them a perfect platform of portraying their skills. Knowledge and skills are required to create pictures that incorporate aspects of shading, proportion, geometry and patterning. As such, writing off such work as vandalism kills the motivation and the creativity of the artist. In most cases, the artists take a lot of time to come up with these pieces of art. Because of this, it would be very unfair to illegalize the practice. In general, there is every reason it should be promoted (Leet, 2000).
The above arguments contradict each other. The fact that there are two groups with different opinion about graffiti mean that no position will satisfy both sides. However, going by the above arguments, it is very clear that graffiti plays more positive roles than negative ones. The creativity it portrays and the fact that it gives the youth to express their feelings should never be taken for granted. Encouraging the youth to be creative is one of the ways through which the youth will be motivated. As such, gravity should be considered more of an art and talent, as opposed to crime.
Keegan, P. (2007). Graffiti in antiquity.
Leet, D., & Rush, G. (2000). Gangs, graffiti, and violence: A realistic guide to the scope and nature of gangs in America (2nd ed.). Incline Village, Nev.: Copperhouse Pub.
Takao, N., & Shi, J. (2002). Tele-graffiti. Pittsburgh, Pa.: Carnegie Mellon University, The Robotics Institute.
Uschan, M. (2011). Graffiti. Detroit: Lucent Books.
Walde, C., & Walde, C. (2011). Graffiti alphabets: Street fonts from around the world. New York: Thames & Hudson.