Inmodern societies, there are ongoing debates among multiplestakeholders regarding the nature and acceptability of graffiti as asustainable and decent art form. Having gained immense popularity inurban environments, graffiti has always been on the verge between artand vandalism. The reason for such controversial perceptions lies inthe definition of graffiti and its origins. As Campos defines it,“graffiti and street art could be considered a practice throughwhich individuals appropriate the city” and whose nature “isconsistently described as subversive” (Campos, 2015, p. 17) andillicit. That is, the subculture of graffiti implies the element ofillicit artistic expression placed in public view. While the originalpurpose of graffiti – as the practice was born in Philadelphia ofthe 1960s – was tagging through specific styles of writing andlettering, further development of the culture “marked a shift fromthe gang-related, territorial graffiti that flourished in earlieryears toward the rising prominence of graffiti as an art form”(Mettler, 2012, p. 252). At the same time, development of graffitiform lettering focused on the writer’s name to more elaborate formsincluding imagery and – as street art – making it the focus haveraised even more debate regarding graffiti. This essay will arguethat graffiti is a decent form of visual art involving skills,artistic vision and sociocultural context: that is, not all graffitiworks are vandalism, for many of them occupy public spaces with thepurpose of decoration or communication of socially significantmessages. As an example, the graffiti created by Futura (Leonard H.McGurr) present an example of graffiti as art (Fig. 1).
Figure1 by Futura
Infact, graffiti as a form of street art has become more elaborate,with the powerful aesthetic and social messages dominating over theideas of tagging and getting ‘visible’ in the community throughthe written name. Whereas many other graffitists still focus ontagging and as a principal point in their illegal art, Futura is oneof the artists whose works emphasize imagery in graffiti. AsFelisbret (2014) states, there are two types of graffiti, bombing andburning, with the former being tagging targeting volume and quantityand the latter being a real “artistic enterprise”. Futura’sworks, in turn, belong to the latter type, not only dismissingtagging as the main purpose of graffiti but also producing modernurban aesthetics. As Futura himself states, the graffiti artist wantsto contribute to the urban setting he/she lives in, creating the“play of space” with the viewers of the work (Big World Picture,2013). The chosen mural artwork by Futura, in turn, makes acontribution to the urban space and is quite comparable to artworksinfluenced by abstractionism, like an echo of Kandinsky’s works.Thereby, while similar styles in painting have been accepted andpraised by society, graffiti works conveying aesthetic messagesshould be equated to art, too. In the long run, Futura’s works –and his work as a designer, painter and illustrator – prove thatgraffiti can have purely aesthetic value, let alone social messagesconveyed by many graffitists and street artists.
However,the counterargument used by many opponents of graffiti is that thelatter is the cause of economic and social problems as well assignificant damage caused to urban environment (Neto et al., 2014, p.527). Indeed, some plain lettering techniques as well as unskillfulgraffitists obsessed with bombing might damage public spaces orprivate property with images which neither have aesthetic value noconvey social or cultural messages. The statistics provided by Young(2013, p. 109) reflects disapproval of graffiti and vandalism as thethird biggest neighborhood issue as perceived by residents ofVictoria, Australia. On the other hand, the tendency described byFelisbret (2014) is legal permission and legal venues for graffitiworks, whereas truly talented artists can receive permission to usecertain public areas to perfect their skills and communicate theirmessage to society, and even get paid for their murals in some cases.Overall, originally illegal nature of graffiti and locations chosenfor new murals are the only arguments justifying disapproval ofgraffiti as art. Yet, attitudes towards graffiti have been improvingdue to collaboration of artists and authorities and promotion ofgraffiti works in shows, exhibitions and other projects (as done byFutura). The popular debate website illustrates a dramatic advantageof graffiti as art: statistical data show that 86% of respondentconsider it art and only 14% disapprove it (‘Is Art?’,2016).
has become a ubiquitous part of modern urban life, while the claimsof its damaging nature and vandalism are often unjustified. Althoughthere are still graffiti works conveying no aesthetic value beyondmere lettering, evolution of this practice has given rise to multiplebright artistic styles expressed both in lettering and in abstractgraffiti. The mentioned graffito by Futura, as his other works, is areminder of the true artistic capacity possessed by graffiti. Furtherobservation of past and present prominent graffitists and streetartists shows that the problem can be solved through recognition ofgraffiti as art and cooperation on the side of authorities.
BigWorld Picture (2013, August 13). FUTURA2000 (Leonard McGurr) influential graffiti artist[Video file]. Retrieved October 5, 2016 fromhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzqLVr5THb0
Campos,R. (2015). Youth, , and the Aestheticization ofTransgression. SocialAnalysis, 59(3),17-40.
Elstein,A. (2015). Is It or Street Art? Crain`sNew York Business,31(24),26. Retrieved October 5, 2016 fromhttp://login.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1689662400?accountid=4485
Felisbret,E. (2014). Legal Venues Celebrate as an Art Form. The NewYork Times. Retrieved October 5, 2016 formhttp://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/07/11/when-does-graffiti-become-art/legal-venues-celebrate-graffiti-as-an-art-form
?(2016). Retrieved October 5, 2016 fromhttp://www.debate.org/opinions/is-graffiti-art
Mettler,M. L. (2012). Museum: A First Amendment Argument ForProtecting Uncommissioned Art On Private Property. MichiganLaw Review, 111(2),249-281.
Neto,E. E., Souto, A. A., Camões, A. A., Begonha, A. A., & Cachim, P.P. (2014). Effects of Anti- Protection on ConcreteDurability. KeyEngineering Materials, 634517-526.
Young.A. (2013). StreetArt, Public City: Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination.Routledge.