Graffiti, art or destruction?

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.

A worldwide phenomenon - mindless vandalism in Valencia, Spain.
A worldwide phenomenon – mindless vandalism in Valencia, Spain.

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?

No Banksy but definitely shows artistry!
No Banksy, but definitely art!

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!

Mona Bazooka by Banksy
Mona Bazooka by Banksy

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, 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?


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Emma says:

    Definitely a challenge to come up with a definitive answer here, as some acts of graffiti are extremely beautiful to look at, and others are awful, depicting violence and promoting gang support for example. I doubt whether anyone will come up a suitable solution. Nice food for thought here…. thanks for the pictures also.

  2. Thanks, Emma. All the pictures I’ve posted on my blog postings (with the exception of the Banksy one) have been taken during our travels. I find it amazing how I always manage to find an old photo to illustrate a point! It must be because we take thousands of them 🙂

  3. Brian Colmer says:

    Skate you have managed to touch a particularly sensitive nerve of mine here. Firstly let me agree with you on the fact that Art is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, and here I am most firmly positioned in the 15%, I hate Graffitti, and so find myself less than fond of the Graffitti-ist. On the question of Art or Destruction my legal side comes out and I find myself asking the question, why would anyone with half a brain think that it was ok to deface another persons ‘flat surface.’ If as was the case in Johannesburg at the intersection of Empire Rd., and Jan Smuts Dr., the Municipality white-washed an area specifically for the Graffitti addicts to play, then let them play. I don’t have to like it, and I don’t, but they have not hurt some other person. But damaging for pure self indulgence walls, road signs, lamp posts garden walls etc. is criminal, and remains just that – CRIMINAL. Arrest them all, I say. Great debate though.

    1. Great to see my post raising such a passionate response! Thanks so much for taking the time to engage so eloquently with it. 🙂

  4. I suppose I have to say it is both. Some graffiti is very well done and even beautiful. But it is still destruction in my opinion, except on temporary fences around construction sites. Without permission; always criminal.

    I also hate Mt. Rushmoor. That guy defaced a natural mountainside to carve four presidential faces. Destruction, defacement, and carved graffiti on a large scale.

    It is not exactly graffiti, but why are so many people compelled to write theirs names on other people’s or public property. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where we volunteer every summer, park visitors have carved their names all over the historic cabins, churches, and other buildings. High crime in my eyes.

  5. lallita shadow says:

    I have to say it’s both and i agree with everything you say, sometimes Graffiti is amazing and sometimes its not but I don’t think tags are Art. when I use to hear the word Graffiti I use to think or tags and not of actually art work, and now when I hear graffiti I don’t know if its art or tags. And i do believe that people should ask before they go and pain on their walls because I do know that a lot of people will only have certain things on their walls or anything else.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and engage with my opinions. I hope to see you comment again soon☺

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