Art or property damage? Both? What should we make of the graffiti we encounter in our day-to-day lives? Are graffiti artists bringing to life sterile urban environments, adding creativity and colour to otherwise run-down areas? Or are they making cities appear dangerous and crime-ridden, unwelcoming and ruled by street gangs?

When it comes to graffiti, two fundamental rights are in conflict with one another (as is evident in the various court cases against the artists). The courts must weigh the freedom of expression against the right to own property. The damage caused should not be underestimated; the Federal Association of German Housing and Real Estate Companies has estimated an annual price tag of 500 million euros to remove unwanted graffiti daubed across Germany in just one year. On the other hand, a 2016 study suggests that street art can raise property prices in a neighbourhood (and having the famous graffiti artist Banksy doodle on your wall is apparently the “jackpot”).

What do our readers think? First up, we had a comment from Karolina, who is convinced that art is always an expression of a culture’s identity. So, what is graffiti saying? What kind of identity is it expressing?

To get a response, we spoke to Alessio B., a graffiti artist from Italy. What would he say to Karolina’s comment?

It differs from artist to artist. Speaking for myself, it is definitely an extension of my person. I do graffiti for the desire to communicate and because it makes me happy, and I think of making other people happy when they see my art (and distracting them from their everyday problems for just a moment). This inspires me to continue painting walls.

To get another perspective, we put the same comment to Yasha Young, director and curator of URBAN NATION, a museum for contemporary urban art in Berlin. What did she think?

Every artist always has their own individual approach to their work. Graffiti is always an expression of the individual artist, and individuality is always in the foreground; the ‘tag’ – the name or pseudonym of the artist – is central to this. On the other hand, passersby often cannot read the graffiti; they perceive it as graffiti or a work of art, but they cannot recognise the individuality, because they cannot read what is written. Graffiti has its own language, which is used by those who work in the scene. At the same time, however, individuality prevails in graffiti as well as in all art forms, and that must self-evidently be so.

Next up, we had a comment from Milen describing how graffiti in his hometown of Sofia is often used to spout hate speech and discrimination against the Roma. Many people would, unfortunately, recognise Milen’s description of crude, abusive graffiti in their own town or city. What should we think of this, and does it have an impact on whether we view graffiti as art?

I know that in Sofia there is a diverse graffiti scene. With art, it’s generally the case that one cannot dismiss an entire form as standing for hatred or not. Art stands for the feeling and expression of the individual, whether or not the artist really speaks for the masses. It is the expression of an opinion and perhaps also the situation in which the individual or group is in.

Also, this form of expression has been around for a long time. For example, in ancient Rome, graffiti in the form of spells against Caesar were found on walls. We should not think that all graffiti is the same. Graffiti has much more to do with a community than with hatred or violence. Just as with everything in life, there are individuals who use certain things to spread their hateful slogans… We should consider very carefully whether individual expressions of creativity are really representative of more than one person, let alone a particular group or an entire art form.

What would graffiti artist Alessio B. say?

Unfortunately, because street art is highly visible and therefore accessible, it can be misused as a propaganda tool, and in some cases to discriminate or advertise hatred. This is certainly not street art.

Is graffiti art? Or is it vandalism? Are you happy to see urban environments transformed in colourful and creative ways? Or does it make a city look run-down and dangerous? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) / Alessio B.
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31 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Luís

    Depends on the work and the place.
    A good graffiti in an authorized or free space can be art.
    Only basic tags or a graffiti in a non-authorized place it’s vandalism.
    Sometimes, a great graffiti can be art (by the qualiti of work) and vandalism (because of the plave where it is).

    • avatar
      Virginia

      What does it mean “in an authorized place”? Street art has to be free art, is about transgression and breaking the rules. If you have to get the permission to paint a wall, is no more free art and no more real street art.
      Since ancient times, human existence has been recorded on murals. From cave painting to street art, people have been using walls as a means to communicate and leave a sign of their own existence. Graffiti can be considered as a mirror of our society.
      So, if a society demands a ban on graffiti, is like demanding a ban on free communication and expression. Will you accept to be forced to ask permission and to be denied permission to speak? Would you call it democratic?

    • avatar
      Luís

      To me, Graffiti is one thing, free art is another. Sometimes can be both.
      When I said “authorized place” I meant “not explicitly forbidden”.

      There should be some consciousness when you paint a wall. Can be a beautifuk piece of art, but if it’s in a monument (for instance), it’s vandalism. Of course there are lots of free walls where you can paint, you don’t need to go to a specific forbidden place under a sign saying “do not paint in this wall”.

    • avatar
      Ilona

      Dead right I can demand that you don’t express yourself by writing “I was here”(tag) on my door or the wall of my house. You can write ‘I live here’ on your own house the same way as cavemen drew on their own walls. I bet they didn’t go into another family’s cave to do so… Honestly, equating free speech to scribbling on other people’s property is ridiculous.

  2. avatar
    Carmen

    Sometimes art sometimes vandalism…

  3. avatar
    Shalla

    France is interesting about it’s art

    Some buildings, walls and underpasses are allowed to be painted and rotate art every couple of months

    Some spots are randomly filled with art and left that way because it looks good

    Some towns specifically commission art, like Angoulême has a comic festival every year and walking through the town, you’ll see random comic characters here and there

    Poitiers has a couple of shops that commissioned art for the metal roll down thing that indicates the store is closed up tight … One has to do with chocolate, another to do with time and watches

    I love it

    You still get the idiots tagging anything and everything, those are obnoxious and disrespectful… They are there just because someone could and did, there’s no art to them and take away from the surrounding area or make road signs difficult to read

    In Paris there are areas where random art shows up, it adds something vs the negative association I have with taggers

  4. avatar
    Ham

    Real art which is thought provoking often stems from a rebellious fire so Graffiti can certainly be more awe inspiring and stirring than a commercially painted work painted to merely cover a bare wall space

  5. avatar
    Julie

    It is vandalism, and should be penalized. Large majority are ugly and without any artistic value. Is it to the “artist” jugement to decide which facade deserves being vandalized?
    How much toxic chemicals in the painting and in the products to clean the facades?
    There should be concrete wall deserved to this, or specific (well structured) projects.

  6. avatar
    Natalie

    If it was put there without permission of the owner of the building it is vandalism.

  7. avatar
    Alessandra

    Arte sicuro… visti dal vero ancora più belli !!! Questi in Padova è davvero carino !!!!

  8. avatar
    Nuno Viegas

    I think people should start separating the waters and stop mixing up graffiti with street art! One has nothing to do with the other. For a moment they have crossed paths but one thing is graffiti which most of the people simply hate because its close relation with vandalism. Another thing is street art which everybody loves. Only after you separate these 2 and define them properly you can start over this debate. People is to confused about what is what and what I see is graffiti’s history bieng written wrong.

  9. avatar
    Ada

    Depends on the graffiti, if it has any artistic value or not.

  10. avatar
    Karolina

    It is vandalism unless it has been commissioned officially.

  11. avatar
    Robin

    Grafitti is a means of expression. It can be both, just as plain text can be art or foul language.

  12. avatar
    jthk

    Freedom of expression of one cannot infringe that of the others.

  13. avatar
    Paul X

    One persons art is another’s eyesore….
    Appreciation of art is a personal thing, some like classics & some like contemporary and each is free to go and view what they like and ignore what they don’t. So someone forcing what they personally consider art onto the whole population of an area will never be appreciated by everyone so should not be allowed

  14. avatar
    Karolina

    I didn’t realise that a previous comment of mine was quoted above. Well, in terms of cultural identity what graffiti means is that big cities across the world where graffiti is found share a common identity. From then onwards you can analyse it in terms of themes, colours it uses etc… However, the mode is graffiti basically. It is not embroidery and it is not oil on canvass.

  15. avatar
    Gustav

    If it is sanctioned by the owner of the property it is art.

    If not, it is art and vandalism.

  16. avatar
    Marijus

    Depends. Some people can cook and some people are shitty at that, same goes for graffiti artists.

  17. avatar
    MO

    It can be identified as a art but can also be indemnified as vandalism. I personally think it is not vandalism.

  18. avatar
    Cristina

    In this picture, it’s portrayed a glimpse of my town (Padova, Italy). We have paintings like this all over the city center and, trust me, it’s art. Instead of having bad words on walls, it’s better seeing paintings like this. Come and see these paintings around my town!

  19. avatar
    khalik

    I think graffiti is a form of beautiful art and can even improve a boring old wall.

  20. avatar
    graffiti artist

    I am a graffiti artist myself and i think it is art not vandalism

  21. avatar
    Masturchyf

    Depends on if it’s a painting, som squiggles, some swear words or a representation of a mans genitalia.

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