Guest Post: Is Graffiti Art?

When it comes to graffiti people are generally split into two camps – those who see it as art and those who see only an act of vandalism. Which group are right? There can be no denying that some graffiti artists are extremely talented, and their work may even raise the profile of a particular area, but there are others who indulge in graffiti that does little more than destroy whatever they are ‘tagging’. Let’s take a look at the pros and the cons of graffiti in order to determine whether or not it can be called art.

Graffiti As An Art Form

Every city in the world has its own examples of graffiti art, but few can boast a graffiti artist as famous as Britain’s infamous Banksy. He is a very reclusive figure and not much is known about the man behind some of the world’s most famous graffiti – not even his real name. Authenticated pieces of his artwork can sell for huge sums, although the artist prefers not to profit from his work, instead seeing himself as a public activist.

Banksy is, whether he likes it or not, a famous artist. However, many graffiti artists are relatively unknown, but their artwork is no less impressive and can often be very elaborate. Graffiti is increasingly becoming known as ‘street art’ and it will often include some form of political message. Many people feel like art of this nature actually contributes to a neighbourhood by injecting some color into an otherwise drab area. In fact, graffiti is becoming so widely accepted that many towns designate certain areas as graffiti walls and art supplies retailers like are stocking supplies including stencil materials and spray paint.

Graffiti As An Act of Vandalism

Unfortunately, not all graffiti can be considered street art. When most people think of graffiti, the style that comes to mind is the anti-social variety which consists of tagging walls and other structures with names and gang symbols. This type of graffiti destroys property and is generally considered to be an eyesore rather than a work of art. Yet, even this form of graffiti has its own set of rules and hierarchy! For example, if you tag your name overlapping an existing tag you are exhibiting your dominance over the original person.

Those who see graffiti as vandalism, regardless of its form often offer up one of three main arguments against the art form:

  1. Graffiti gives the area an overall look of being run down.
  2. Graffiti is illegal and no one has the right to deface public property.
  3. Cleaning up graffiti wastes times and public money.

This was recently highlighted during, a month long visit to New York by the notorious Banksy. Mayor Bloomberg wasted no time in having several of the artist’s pieces scrubbed away stating that graffiti was not his idea of art and that all graffiti on public property would be cleaned away.

So Is Graffiti Art?
 Graffiti as Art
Graffiti as Art

The general consensus seems to be that whether or not graffiti can be considered art depends largely on three factors: content, style and its message. However, the lines are blurred. While it is generally accepted that graffiti that consists of tagging a name on a wall is on the vandalism end of the scale, it seems perfectly acceptable for famous graffiti artists such as Banksy to do the same!


Alison Lansky is a blogger with an interest in various topics including art and parenting. She is the mother of two fantastic children.

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