Graffiti: Art or Vandalism?

Imagine you drive past a building covered in graffiti paint. Would your first thought be, “That’s a great piece of art.”, or are you more inclined to think, “That building has been vandalized.” Graffiti art sparks the debate between artistic expression and public destruction. 

The word “graffiti” itself, is associated with negative connotations. According to Oxford Languages, graffiti is defined as, “writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.” Simply googling the word gives one permission to accept graffiti as vandalism. Some people see graffiti as evidence of social breakdown, as an element of “Broken Windows Theory” – the idea that small signs of disorder in a community lead to more disorder. The thinking is, if the police turn a blind eye to graffiti on public property, they will permit a culture of lawlessness. When this mentality is adopted, graffiti serves as an open invitation for chaos and destruction.

Venice Beach Los Angelos, California

Against the belief that graffiti is vandalism, are those who see graffiti as a form of art that deserves its place on the streets. Graffiti is a powerful medium for people to bring forth their ideas and opinions. Some see graffiti as a benefit to society, serving as a valuable form of self-expression and bringing art to the public. Social science considers graffiti as a sign of criminal disorder, yet some graffiti contributes to gentrification and the appeal of certain neighbourhoods. 

The artist in me has always been drawn to graffiti and the creativity it offers in photos. Graffiti is one of my favourite things to shoot because the photos tell a story of self-expression. Overtaken by the unique wonders of graffiti, I have never stopped to consider that it might be vandalism. Reflecting now, I understand the controversy on this subject. After researching the topic, my opinion stands that graffiti when sprayed on public property without permission, is vandalism. Legally, one’s right to freedom of expression cannot be considered when it interferes with another person’s property rights. Therefore graffiti has no justification against vandalism on the backbone of freedom of expression. However, I cannot deny that graffiti is a wonderful art form. While it may be controversial, there is no denying that graffiti can be an artistic medium for voices of change and protest. Plus, it makes for great photoshoots!

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