Graffiti: A Form of Vandalism or A Form of Art?

By Julissa Richards ’20

To many people, graffiti is a crime against humanity, but to others it’s art because they use graffiti to express themselves in the same way other artists use other forms of art to convey their own feelings and experiences.       

Art is the expression of human creativity and imagination. Graffiti is the same thing, despite it being conveyed through tags or murals on the sides of houses and buildings and in vacant lots. According to, graffiti is markings, drawings, or slogans that are written, spray-painted, or sketched on some form of public property, but to young artists like Shaniya Basora ‘20, graffiti is much more.

“Graffiti expresses feelings and emotions,” said Basora ’20.

Tamia Caruth ’20 said, “It is a representation of different artistic dimensions on a canvas.”

One reason why I consider graffiti to be art is because graffiti can be examined using different art elements, such as lines, colors, and structure, reported

Graffiti relays a message and it can represent the emotions and thoughts running through the artist’s mind. It can also deliver a message about different political topics. For instance, it might promote the Black Lives Matter Movement or the right for transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice.

“There are some types of graffiti that are universal. Graffiti can depict love and growing up,” Caruth ’20 said.

To many people, graffiti is nothing more than vandalism that has become popular among the youth of New York City. I think they’re wrong. I think the main problem is many people don’t understand, or even bother to try to understand it. I guess you can say graffiti is to art as rap is to music. But look how far rap has come in  the music industry, the same thing can happen for graffiti.

Despite its recent popularity, graffiti has been around for centuries. Someone can go as far back as the Paleolithic era and find cave paintings, but according to, graffiti didn’t officially come about until the 1970s in New York City.

In New York, graffiti artists began using “tags”, or simple anonymous names, which grew swiftly across all five of New York’s boroughs. These same tags may be the reason why graffiti has such a bad reputation.

Ms. Dawn Daoudakis, an art teacher of 20 years claims, “They make people ask the questions ‘Are you doing something wrong? Why are you hiding your identity?’”

With the use of tags, graffiti artists can receive credit from their artwork without people knowing their identity, but this may be what is leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths when they think about graffiti.

Ms. Daoudakis said that when people don’t know what’s going on or what all the details of a situation are, they tend to mistake it as something that it’s not. Many outsiders may see tagging as you’re hiding your identity because you know you’re doing something wrong and you don’t want to get caught.  This is why graffiti is misunderstood.

The misunderstanding turns graffiti art into vandalism, which leads to the broken window theory. This theory comes from an article written by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in 1982.

According to, the broken window theory states, “signs of disorder will lead to more disorder.” For example, say you and your family are driving in a neighborhood you’ve never been before. If you all see broken windows and graffiti on the sides of buildings, you’re automatically going to assume that the neighborhood isn’t the most safe, without actually knowing the neighborhood or its people.

But here’s the thing, vandalism is defined as deliberate destruction of or damage to public or pri-vate property. That’s not what graffiti is. Graffiti is the beautification of a neighborhood. It takes the dark parts of a community and turns it into light.

Caruth ‘20 stated when people have a distorted view on graffiti and come into contact with someone who understands graffiti for what it is, problems arise. This is how tension between street artists and the rest of society begins.

This type of thinking is also what led to the 5Pointz lawsuit late last year. In this case, developer Jerry Wolkoff originally allowed 21 NYC artists to create graffiti on the side of his building, 5Pointz. However, once the neighborhood value began rising, he decided that graffiti wasn’t a good look for the building or the community. Therefore, he whitewashed the art without the artists’ consent. The artists filed a lawsuit against Wolkoff. Since graffiti art is protected by the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), the jury sided with the artists in November 2017 and agreed that Wolkoff violated the law. The final verdict is not in yet, but if Judge Frederick Block sides with the jury, the artists can recover damages from Wolkoff.

Many people see graffiti as garbage, but when they don’t consider it to be graffiti, they think it’s beautiful.

A mural, which is a work of art expressed on a wall, receives love and compliments.This is most likely because people know that there is an arrangement between the artist and the property owner, so they don’t see it as being ethically wrong. Murals are also seen more as decoration, whereas graffiti is  initially seen as trash; therefore, it continues to be looked at in that way.     

Despite graffiti’s reputation, the infamous graffiti artist Banksy has been getting a lot of notoriety, which is odd since most graffiti artists get negativity from doing graffiti.

Unlike many graffiti artists, Banksy has gained a huge following. Banksy gets defended by a wave of supporters when needed and has been able to meet people like Barack Obama and Steve Jobs, all while nobody actually knows whether Banksy is male or female.

Banksy is an English  political activist and film director who is known mainly for their graffiti art that reflects political beliefs. It first began on the trains and walls of Bristol, a city in England. Some of Banksy’s art includes a mural of two English male police officers kissing, and another painting of a can full of toxic waste spilling into the streets.    

Banksy’s art is also unique because of how it’s done. Banksy usually builds upon the grafitti art of others. One picture from Banksy’s Instagram page,, shows his painting of a little boy with a spray paint can, and his butler, who also has two other spray paint cans with him, is next to unfinished graffiti. Banksy made the graffiti into a story of a rich, little boy who had the privilege of doing graffiti on the side of a building with no repercussions.                     

Another graffiti artist is Lonny Wood, better known as Phase 2. One of the most important graffiti artists in New York, Phase 2 began his graffiti career in 1971, through the use of tagging, and is credited as the inventor of the bubble letter graffiti. Wood’s work has been considered as the most influential part in the development of the street art movement.

While Banksy and Phase 2 are being praised, other artists are receiving backlash. Has anyone ever wondered why? Perhaps it’s because those same artists don’t ask permission to create their art on public property. Well, this is a valid reason. Nobody wants someone to putting marks on their property without permission, but it can also be something deeper than that.

So the next time someone sees graffiti, instead of looking at it as another example of vandalism in the community, look at it as another example of people showcasing their talents, creativity, and imagination through a beautiful piece of street art.

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