The Misunderstandings Of Graffiti

Bryce Tabb

The Misunderstandings of Graffiti
To the untrained eye, graffiti can be vandalism of public or private property, arbitrary and useless unlike the framed works of arts in galleries or just lunatics who want to put their names on walls. Graffiti often times can be a largely misunderstood art form, which to some people could never even be considered art. Two main questions conform when considering graffiti, what graffiti can be to a society and whether or not it should be considered a crime? “Graffiti art transforms a person’s mood into an image generally on a large surface in the region of public or private buildings, bridges or overpasses, recreational facilities and public transportation” ("Writing on the Wall." Patel, Samir S). Graffiti, which can be done with materials such as spray paint, crayon and any permanent ink, conforms two general views. The first involving the general public stating signs of disorder, meaning graffiti can open the door to individuals breaking other social norms and rules (Graffiti triggers crime, littering, study shows, pg1). The second view refers to the graffiti as art, considering the art as making the city a brighter and more attractive place to live (Graffiti: Art and Crime, IV).

Different types of graffiti can cause the misunderstanding throughout society. The five major types of graffiti include gang graffiti, tagger graffiti, conventional graffiti, ideological graffiti and oner graffiti. The first main type of graffiti called, gang graffiti is often used by gangs to mark turf or convey threats of violence (US department of justice, pg.3). Then there’s tagger graffiti, generally done rapidly with the intention of complicating street art and having no intention of making it look like a piece of art. Conventional graffiti when done, often isolated or consist of spontaneous acts of "youthful exuberance," and even sometimes malicious or vindictive (US department of justice, pg.3). Ideological graffiti conveys political, gender, race and religious messages. The last main type of graffiti would be, Oner graffiti, which uses an in-depth thought process, tremendous amount of colors, and needs an extreme amount of talent, also done individually without any affiliation to a crew (Tagging as a social literacy practice, Pg.358). This generally takes a lot of time because it has the intention of becoming a masterpiece or to be viewed by the public as a piece of art.

Graffiti artists, such as a well know artist named Bansky and Pixnit that do oner graffiti for a way of expressing themselves, the thrill, street credit, to contribute to a community, honoring one’s death, and even a way out; for example my uncle had a slight drug problem and was jobless then as soon as he started writing on public and private walls his life began to change. He later on got into a prestigious art school called The Art Institute of California, San Diego. Graffiti allowed my uncle to get back on the right path and into a position where he is today, currently doing marketing design for movie titles such as Little Miss Sunshine and business signs such as my dad’s business, Environmental Development.

Graffiti artists view their graffiti as an art, such as Banksy who painted a mural (graffiti) on the Palestinian side of Israel's blank boring West Bank barrier which separates Israel from the Palestinian Territories. This mural depicted a man pulling back a curtain to reveal a beautiful sunny scene on the other side of the blank boring barrier, and another mural showing a girl being lifted by balloons towards the top of the wall. Since the barrier’s value was not affected by the paint and the murals demonstrated a meaning, the graffiti artist would look at this as a contribution to the society (An Essay Concerning The Recognition of Some Forms of Graffiti As Art). Other artists do graffiti for many different reasons other than to make a political statement or even to have a meaning.graffiti-portugal%2B024.jpg(Odeith. Odeith’s Hall of Fame. 2007. Detroit. Digital image.)

A graffiti artist by the name of Coda does his art for a more in-depth perception of his true self. Coda comments, "To pour your soul onto a wall and be able to step back and see your fears, your hopes, your dreams, your weaknesses, really give you a deeper understanding of yourself and your own mental state."(Graffiti: Art and Crime, graffiti and the community). With graffiti being incorporated in Coda’s life, he has essentially been able to become closer to his family and most of all found his true self. By Coda finding his true self he not only can figure out what interests him but also can take steps in his life to become successful and closer to his dream.

Even though graffiti artists do their own graffiti for different moral reasons such as Banksy and Coda, they all seemed to feel frustrated with the way the media portrays them, often times relating the art to gangsters or even thugs who corrupt the economy. For example in March 2009, a man identified by Pittsburgh Police as “Hert,” the city’s second most-wanted graffiti artist, entered the Allegheny County Courthouse for an appearance stemming from a prior arrest for graffiti. As soon as he arrived, he was informed that police wanted him arrested because of 69 misdemeanors and four felony counts of criminal mischief based on graffiti (art-crime-graffiti-wars). TV cameras were there to capture the moment that ended up portraying him as a gangster graffiti artiest, which “Hert” would strongly object to. Another graffiti artist named Sueme who is also involved with graphic design, photography, abstract painting and mixed media fine art states that he does his art for the passion and the way it expresses himself, not for gang related measures or even corrupting the economy (fatcap, sueme). “Chor-boogie” a popular graffiti artist in the west who stays away from gang involvement mentions, “My real goal is to support myself and a family off what I love to do” and “Honestly I'm not down with it simply because I have a different perspective on the art side of things… I do it because I simply like painting” (fatcap, chor-boogie).

Graffiti has urbanized over the years, constantly changing to exceed the limits that were once never even thought of, such as style, skill and creativity. A writer named "Noise" from Louisville, said this about the current position of graffiti, "It's all about being creative, markers on stop signs and bus stops—that's been done. You need to elevate and push it to the next level whether you're making stickers and putting them up or carrying around a bucket full of glue rolling it and putting up your posters on a wall so they won't come off or even telephone poles with some kind of art on it. It's all about, like I said, just elevating and being creative and pushing the envelope"( This begins to benefit the community by keeping away useless tags and even gives artist money for making murals. For example In January 2008, San Diego paid artist Jason Hailey $4,000 to create the first mural along the Sprinter line (VISTA: Murals help deter graffiti vandalism). snail_graffiti.jpg(Slinkachu. Sloooooow Motiooooon. 2009. Digital image.)

This mural painted along the city's rail line was put into place to combat graffiti along Vista's Sprinter corridor. Since this mural was painted, there have been no tags put up on the train lines; therefore it seems to be working. City officials mentioned they hope to see more murals along the tracks to help erase the tagging problem (VISTA: Murals help deter graffiti vandalism). These types of graffiti can be very beneficial to a community not only because it keeps unnecessary tags away but can also be inspirational, uplifting and beneficial to the community by bringing everyone together. This leads the community to become more involved, providing new exquisite structures and a way for people in the community to socialize and create new friendships, which a community needs to become a stable, productive city.

While some people believe graffiti can help a community, others believe it can ruin the community. Driving down revenues associated with reduced ridership on transit systems, reduced retail sales, declines in property value and the removal processes that takes place cost our government lots of money (graffiti hurts). A 2006 survey of the 88 cities, Caltrans and Metro in Los Angeles County on graffiti removal found the cost of graffiti removal on walls, transits, ect was about $28 million dollars a year (graffiti hurts). With a population of close to 10 million, the per capita cost comes to around $2.80(graffiti hurts). According to the US Department of Justice there is an estimated 12 billion dollars spent on clean ups in the US yearly (US department of justice, pg.1). The cost of graffiti clean ups end up costing the taxpayers lots of money; therefore before the general public ever appreciates graffiti, they begin not to like it.

When the general public thinks of graffiti they commonly think of it as gang related by identifying turf, declaring superiority over other gangs, or even instigating challenges and threats to rivals which damage public and private facilities (Graffiti…Art or Vandalism). They tend to see graffiti in these ways because of the style it consists of, often-unreadable words or initials, elaborate designs or bubble-style letters. This leads further to people believing a message of lawlessness and a neighborhood that does not care about its appearance or community. Graffiti not only can be considered a means of gang involvement by the general public, but as a “gateway for other disorderly problems including public disorder, such as littering, public urination and loitering; shoplifting of materials needed for graffiti, such as paint and markers; gangs and gang violence, as gang graffiti conveys threats and identifies turf boundaries; and property destruction, such as broken windows or slashed bus or train seats” (US department of justice, pg.3).chicago%2Bgang%2Bgraffiti.JPG(JiLsBLaOvzE. Chicago Gang Graffiti. 1990. Chicago. Digital image.)

When an economically dysfunctional city has a lack in control and tends to become careless about its appearance it starts to invite destructive graffiti. When this destructive graffiti starts to emerge it then causes the value of property to decrease. For example in San Antonio graffiti not only drains the communities tax dollars that provide the funds that could be used for schools, roads, parks and other community improvements that now have to be used for graffiti clean up but decrease the property value and leads to a loss in business growth ( This ends up deterring tourist and even decreased resident’s feeling of safety in a community. Thus instilling fear and a feeling of vulnerability within the city, putting it into a downward spiral. In a study called “Graffiti triggers crime, littering, study shows” they did two experiments with an outcome of learning that graffiti artists become more motivated to do graffiti when there is an anti-graffiti sign in the area (Graffiti triggers crime, littering, study shows). In conclusion these graffiti artists do it without permission, therefore the general public thinks they should be punished for a crime.

The general public needs to be informed that graffiti can be prevented. In a research paper called Problem-Oriented Guides for Police Series No. 9 it shows that graffiti can be substantially reduced and sometimes even be eliminated. This can happen with an efficient response to graffiti. The study shows, in order for this to happen there needs to be someone tracking the amount or size of graffiti, number and type of graffiti locations, content and type of graffiti, length of time graffiti-prone surfaces stay clean and public fear and perceptions about the amount of graffiti, which (may be assessed through surveys of citizens, changes in use of public space and transit systems, changes in retail sales, and other indirect measures) on a routine basis (US department of justice, pg.28). When a community does not like or considers graffiti to be destructive they need to take some control rather than leaving it to the police. Typically the general public relies soly on police to regulate graffiti, but in order to stop graffiti in a community it must involve the general public, individual victims and criminal justice officials such as prosecutors and judges.

According to Martha Cooper graffiti can be considered as vandalism and at the same time be art, “It can be art and vandalism. Most people did not know at the time…They just saw graffiti and they just felt insulted by graffiti and they hated graffiti…”
(urbanartcore) Since graffiti can be considered as an art form, it should be allowed by the government if they set the right regulations for it, such as in areas with cracked walls, deserted buildings and in places where it will set a good image for the community. If people can benefit from non-destructive graffiti and there is no loss to anyone but the fact that they don’t like the way it looks, it should be legal with certain restrictions. Graffiti can not only benefit an artist but also can inspire others, making certain areas of a community more enjoyable and even benefit the economy.

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