Graffiti: Art or Vandalism? | Teen Ink

Graffiti: Art or Vandalism?

March 24, 2021
By Micahsws SILVER, Tirana, Other
Micahsws SILVER, Tirana, Other
7 articles 6 photos 3 comments

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“What is graffiti?” Someone might wonder as they walk along the street, noticing a particularly interesting marking on the wall. First of all, graffiti is defined as “writings or drawings made on surfaces in public places,” so it has a fairly broad description. Graffiti has existed in some form since at least the roman period, but it is still relevant and important today. Graffiti is hotly contested by some, with one party saying it is art, and should be legalized; and the other saying it is vandalism, and that the vandals should be charged for their crimes. There are also several methods of creating graffiti that exist, although a few techniques are popular because of their ease of use and availability. Some of the most popular techniques include using markers and spray paint to achieve the effect desired. These are the three things are what will be discussed: The history of graffiti, the argument of it’s status as art or vandalism, and the various different techniques used to create it.
The further back history goes, the less is known about it, and the details wear away. Ancient graffiti is just like everything else in history. Markings fade, and the buildings they were on are destroyed. Despite this, fairly recently the earliest known cave painting has been discovered in Western Europe.  Scenes of hunting, created by early humans, depict animals in the wild.  Perhaps it was in celebration of their victory, or something to leave behind for generations to come. The next notable mentions are of more legitimate graffiti originating in Rome. Some ancient Roman graffiti includes: “The finances officer of the roman emperor Nero says this food is poison,” “we two dear men, friends forever, were here. If you want to know our names, they are Gaius and Aulus,” and finally, a classic, “Aufidius was here. Goodbye.” Ancient graffiti like this is a great insight into the time, and it seems like they weren’t too different from us. Another example is that during WWII, there was an infamous drawing of a bald man with a large nose peering over a ledge with the caption: “Kilroy was here!” This was a motivation for the soldiers, a reminder that they were not alone, and a symbol of brotherhood between them as they fought the difficult war.
Graffiti has accumulated a culture connected to hip hop, especially in the United States in places like New York City, and other large cities, as well as being spread virtually all over the world. Some cities have adapted to graffiti and accepted it by designating walls to be painted upon legally, but others have cracked down on it . New York is where graffiti evolved into the modern form we see it in today. More modern graffiti started in the 1960’s, and subway cars were a popular target to paint. Around this time “tags” emerged, marks that were distinctive to one person or group. New York City saw graffiti as a big problem and started to crack down on it in the 80’s. The city was serious about this, and would follow kids as they left schools all the way to their homes. 
There is no question of whether popular graffiti artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey are just that: artists. Banksy’s work sells in galleries for massive sums of money, while Shepard Fairey paints entire buildings and made the infamous Barack Obama hope poster. But the discussion becomes more complicated as soon as we talk about the average wall painter. Is that person creating art, or spraying meaningless vandalism? This argument has always been a contentious issue, and it will continue to be. One idea is that people who create graffiti have split into two segments, “graffiti artists”, and “taggers”. Taggers just mark their symbol or tag, while graffiti artists make whole artworks in public spaces. There are also people who create an artwork, and then tag it to show that they created it. Some say that tagging is lesser compared to graffiti.
From now on I will refer to people who create graffiti as graffiti artists. Graffiti artists use many different tools to achieve the result they desire. Some popular choices include paint markers, and of course, the infamous spray can. Spray cans have different nozzles that can be utilized for different effects. There are many kinds of spray nozzles, from thins to super fats, and some artists drip parts of their work by adding an excess amount of paint in that area. This creates the classic graffiti effect. The next type of graffiti creation tool is marker pens. Marker pens come in several varieties, just like spray cans, such as white out pens, or felt tip paint markers.
Graffiti is an interesting topic with much to explore within it. It is contested over because of it’s illegal status, and has a long and colourful history. From European cavemen to Romans to New York City, it has continued to exist. There are many methods of creating it, some including: markers, pens, and spray paint. Overall, graffiti is one of the most interesting art forms, and in my opinion the medium’s mere existence has allowed for some of the great artworks of our time.


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