Friday, January 30, 2009


The other day in my hip hop social justice class, we got on the discussion of graffiti. I thought that I would rant about this discussion on this blog because its an art discussion so.... Here I go.

So my teacher posed the question: “Is graffiti art or vandalism?” The answer was pretty obvious to me. Graffiti is a form of art utilizing spray paint and grease pens that can be, at specific times, illegal. Whenever someone defiles or vandalizes another person’s property is it most certainly illegal and it is an act of vandalism. Graffiti is, most famously, done on buildings and train cars that are not owned by the artists. The graffiti can still be art while being vandalism and that’s exactly the case.
Then the class moved on to another topic. The class argued as to whether graffiti is still art or if it still graffiti at all when taken out of its natural habitat. Many members of the class argued that graffiti is an act of defiance and that the act of graffiti includes breaking in and defiling someone else’s property. I found this to be both appalling and ridiculous. Basically, these students think that graffiti is strictly vandalism. They do not even think of graffiti as a legitimate art form. I believe that talent is still talent no matter the setting or circumstance. I also believe that graffiti is still graffiti no matter what medium it is on. Artists and writers are still incredible even if they are in a gallery; it is still the same artists with the same talent, just a different place. On the topic of the meaning of graffiti, one can still send a message at a gallery and graffiti can still be potent without being illegal.
I couldn’t believe what the class thought about graffiti and I couldn’t believe that they reduced it to beneath art.

On top of everything else, two members of the class said that the 337 art project was dumb and fake. They said it was just "white power taking advantage of the next big thing." I felt like that was so ridiculous because the 337 project was just a great way to get publicity to urban art. Also, I can't believe that the class thought it was stupid or not important because it was temporary, it was powerful even if it was torn down. Tons of art exhibitions are temporary, this one just happened to let urban art be in its natural habitat.

What do you guys think about graffiti? Is it art or vandalism? Is it still graffiti if it is in a gallery, can it still send its message


  1. It sounds like a false dichotomy (false choice, like you're either for us or against us). Paintings on walls are important in the history of art - frescoes, murals, etc., so we might ask if its status changes when someone pays for it. It also sounds like there's a suppressed premise -- that calling something "art" is a term of praise, which it sometimes is (as in, "This chili is a work of art!"), and it can't be praiseworthy if it involves breaking a law. (some people!) Maybe some graffiti is art, but some isn't. And just like any form of expression, I'll bet lots and lots of different things are expressed in graffiti, not just defiance. Ask them if Mt. Rushmore is vandalism.

  2. Yeah, I agree with Doug, a false dichotomy. Graffiti is all those things, which doesn't exclude it from any of the other categories. Depends on your point of view.

    Check out this video by Shepard Fairey, arguably the most famous Graff artist beside Banksy:

    His definition is simple: People see art on the streets, and the idea that advertisements have primacy over art because they paid someone for the space is bogus. I like that.

    Also, I think you're doing your presentation on Bansky, no? His book "Wall and Piece" has a ton of neat little quotes about his views on vandalism/graffiti/street art, all of which are more articulate than anything I could come up with.

    I think racializing the 337 Project is hilarious. The 337 project turned out the way it did because of the neighborhood it was in, sad to say it but downtown Salt Lake is predominantly white. If the same project had taken place in Watts a different set of people would have painted it, and it would have been representative of their community. Having said that I can think of 3 Graff artists who were non-white who worked on that building off the top of my head. I think what your class was getting at was the 'class' of the project, not the race. That's a whole other aspect, but I think its safe to say that there's a lot of inequality in the world, and anything that empowers the disempowered is a good thing, and I can make a very strong and specific case for all the ways 337 empowered many different people.

    Oh, and anyone who thinks Graffiti is legit, but 337 was unimportant because it's temporary, doesn't know a thing about Graffiti. It's all temporary.

    Your class is full of haters, methinks.

  3. Exactly Davey! You basically nailed it.

  4. To me this begs the question, who gets to determine what is art and what is not? The artist? The viewer? The majority? The individual?