Wall art has been around for as long as man. From primitive cave paintings and Roman murals to the trompe l’oeil revival of the Renaissance and even modern day stencils, we have always been drawn to express our creativity (or lack thereof) on any vertical, flat surface. This is an admirable endeavour, so long as the modern day creator is either the owner of the aforementioned surface or has the express permission of the owner to let loose on it with a can or two of spray paint.
It’s here, with the notion of permission, that the great graffiti debate starts. When, if ever, does the act of defacing the property of another become acceptable in the name of art? Or profit?
I can almost feel your outrage as you fume “Never! How can it ever be acceptable to the owner of the property or to the community at large?”
In response, let me pose a question:
If you awoke tomorrow morning and your pristine garden wall had been visited by a group of linguistically challenged, spray can toting youngsters, how would you feel? Angry? Outraged? Violated? Probably all of the above. But if, once you have invested your hard-earned cash and precious free time in erasing their ‘calling cards’, your wall is again visited in the dead of night, this time by the satirical street artist Banksy, how would you then feel?
It’s my bet that you would risk life and limb to protect this very valuable creation, even if it meant allowing your dog to run amok in the street and having your security temporarily compromised. Furthermore, you would probably have the ‘offending’ section of wall carefully removed and shipped to Sotheby’s for auction, knowing full well that in 2011, one of Banksy’s ‘acts of vandalism’ reportedly sold for a cool £145 250!
So, is there a difference between the two acts? Surely they are both vandalism – defacing the property of another without permission?
It may be argued that one is art while the other is obscenity, but that doesn’t effect the illegality of both. They remain vandalism and anyway, isn’t beauty (and art) in the eye of the beholder? Can vandalism be art and vice-versa? To show just how emotive an issue this is, in a recent survey conducted by www.debate.org, 85% of respondents believe that graffiti is art, while only 15% disagree.
Some years ago, there was an advert on TV in which an artist sought to pay for his dinner by drawing a sketch on the wall of a Parisian restaurant. An outraged waiter swiftly removed all traces of the ‘graffiti’ but was later mortified to discover that his cash-strapped diner was none other than Mr Picasso and that he had erased a potential fortune. Again, why would this act of vandalism be acceptable, perhaps even desirable, while I would probably be arrested for drawing on the wall of a restaurant in Paris (or anywhere else, for that matter).
So, once again it seems that the profit motive is skewing our moral compass, but please Mr Banksy, don’t let this deter you from visiting my garden wall if you happen to be passing. You have my permission!
In your opinion, is graffiti art, vandalism or both?