A question posed often in the 21st century, should graffiti be considered art or vandalism?
Traditionally, graffiti has been sanctioned as an act of criminality but in today’s society it is accepted in more places as an expressive form of art, especially for teens and young adults with no link to criminality. Governments are now handing over walls to graffiti artists, resulting in fantastic works that showcase talent no less than that of the ‘classical’ artist.
Graffiti’s origins can be traced back to the walls of ancient Rome but the urban street art style we most recognise today, dates back to New York City’s subway trains in the 1960’s, making its way to walls and buildings as security within subway stations increased. At this point in time, graffiti was deemed a criminal act of vandalism and anyone caught leaving their mark would be prosecuted. For the kids who started it, it was a way of expressing themselves creatively in a society that told them they didn’t have the talent or the drive to make something of themselves because of their background and socioeconomic status. This was based on the attitudes society had towards the ‘lower income class’, claiming they were devoid of culture or talent of any kind – something that still proves to be a problem today. Authority figures influenced by this attitude, made it clear that graffiti needed to be stopped.
The world has seemingly changed as appointed authority figures today are now offering up the same walls these artists were banned from years ago, to reinvigorate the city, liven up dull buildings and save on cleaning costs in rundown areas.
It has been found to create an incredibly positive outcome as more people visit the areas to take a look at the artworks and in turn spend money at nearby cafes, stores or bars, as humans tend to do.
Graffiti artworks are displayed in exclusive galleries and have had a significant influence on the world of graphic design appearing on CD covers, t-shirts, posters, advertising and more.
Canberra’s own site at 1 Bunda Street in Civic was recently transformed from a decaying building into an expressive artistic space where a high school teacher brought his students to teach them art in a not-so-traditional setting. The activity became a fun event that included music and food stalls, creating a new ‘market’ or social gathering, welcoming all. This street art is now a permanent fixture for the community and visitors to wander passed and has been well received by both.
Surveys and studies have shown the positive impact graffiti activities can have, especially on young people. For children struggling in school due to lack of interest or particular talent in academia or sports, another option to excel in is needed and it has been proven that art is the perfect alternative. It allows them to express their aggression, frustration or any emotion in a positive way. Troubled teens across Australia have said that excelling in something and being accepted for their talents instead of being criminalised, has given them the confidence to realise other dreams and go forward into new careers based on the simple act of being appreciated and celebrated for something they have created.
These positive effects don’t just stop at young people, they can affect entire cities and nations.
The Berlin Wall is a prime example of graffiti as a positive form of art and free expression. The artists represented here were mainly locals, along with input from revered artists around the world from some 21 different countries. The wall coming down and its remnants being decorated, proves how graffiti turned an extremely negative part of history into a platform for great expression that helped residents break free from the oppressive nature of its former purpose. In doing so, the artists and the artworks have eradicated the wall’s original intention to supress and control and now stands as one of the greatest representations of free will and free expression.
Known as the longest open air gallery in the world, this former prison wall is now celebrated daily as a positive expression of triumph and the human spirit and also happens to be categorised as ‘graffiti’.
Some may say that graffiti encourages foul language, distasteful images and negativity that stems from use by gang members to mark their territory. This polarised ownership of graffiti can be left in the past as modern artists take it over and turn it into something positive.
Graffiti can at times be provocative and offensive but this also makes it thought-provoking and can bring important societal issues to the forefront of our minds and force society to face problems we may not have known existed or found too easy to ignore. It also shows us beauty in a newer form of art that breaks away from the traditional.
Its bad reputation caused by the few are now being outweighed by the benefits presented by the many.
The question still remains, do you believe graffiti is art or vandalism? We will all decide and have the answer exhibited (or not) around our cities in years to come.
Take a look at Canberra’s graffiti art throughout the town centres, we won’t tell you where they are; go on an adventure and find them tucked away in tiny street corners and alleyways or out in the open and make your decision.