View Full Version : Is grafitti really that bad?

08-29-2001, 03:50 PM
I live in Brooklyn, and have grown to really dig some of the art-work these guys put up. There is some that sucks, but it's like any art. Some are good at it and some are not. Alot of people just think it's destruction of property and not a valid art form. I disagree. These people make some very cool pictures for me to check on my way to work.

Some have reccomended designated spots for grafitti, to validate it. That's all good and well, but part of the whole culture of the grafitti artist is the danger. Danger of getting hurt hitting those high places and the danger of getting arrested.

I can see where it would be annoying if you had to paint over it the next day over and over again. But it makes me smile when I'm walking to the train at 7:30 in the morning to go to some dull job, to see the fresh tags and think about the folks out there last nite and the rush they must have gotten. And alot of it really is damn fine artwork.

DaLovin' Dj

08-29-2001, 04:11 PM
Sure it's damn fine art work, but as soon as I catch anyone spay-painting on my damn property, they're due for a second *sshole. Some of these guys are really talented, and I can definitely understand the adrenaline rush aspect of it, but vandalism is vandalism, you wanna make it art? Put it on a damn canvas.

08-29-2001, 04:15 PM
I like the look of graffiti. This is true.

Come on though...
Alot of people just think it's destruction of property and not a valid art form. I disagree.

It is art, but why not go buy your own building?
Art shouldn't have to be at the expense of others.... then it's called crime.

You should see this new "art form" I have been practing. I walk around and punch unsuspecting females in the face. The blood splatters on the sidewalk, and I sign it. It makes me happy that it makes someone smile when they are walking to the train at 7:30 in the morning to go to some dull job!

08-29-2001, 04:15 PM
Agreed. It's artwork in the sense that it's beautiful and inventive, and when I see it on the L it usually makes me smile.

But if you're going to produce artwork, don't do it on other people's property. Then it takes something which could be beautiful and turns it into vandalism.

Jack Batty
08-29-2001, 04:20 PM
I am torn on this one.

In my heart I consider grafitti as almost the purest of art. But it's essence is to be destructive (in a sense - if you're "ruining" someone else's property).

I like it but I can't, in good faith, condone it.

I know that makes no sense, but there you have it just the same.

08-29-2001, 05:20 PM
Graffiti is undoubtedtly art. In many instances, it is breathtaking in both skill and style. But it's illegal, and it should be, because it's immoral.

I think a lot of people are distant from graffiti because they don't own the buildings it's on. But in a very real sense, we all pay for the removal of graffiti on public property. As to private property, imagine the following analogy:

Sometime in the future, there is a paradigm shift in the graffiti community, and the target moves from buildings to cars. Say you woke up one day, and your car had a gorgeous work of graffiti art all over the hood. It's beautiful, it conforms to every standard that you set down for art. If that's Monet, then dammit, it looks like a Monet.

Are you still pissed? Is it still wrong? Are you still entitled to compensation for it? I say yes.

08-29-2001, 06:55 PM
Whether the grafitti "bothers" me or not depends on where it s put. If its on the front of someone's store, then I'm not into it. But if someone makes a wonderful mosaic on an otherwise plain, gray wall or bridge pilon, then I'm all for it.


Hail Ants
08-29-2001, 07:20 PM
Singapore has the right idea. Cane the self-important punks.

08-29-2001, 07:22 PM
What Marvel said.

08-29-2001, 07:46 PM
The really good graffiti artists near where I live appear to be paid some nominal fee by building owners to do a really good piece of art on their fences and walls to, as far as I can figure out, discourage the ugly tagging.

If these artists have respect in their group, then it will be left untarnished for a goodly length of time.

I'd rather see the graffiti art be promoted to mural status to brighten up dull empty spaces, than see endless meaningless scrawls meant as some kind of childish status symbol.

08-29-2001, 07:50 PM
I happen to like wide expanses of blank space. I prefer the minimalist look.
Let me tell you a graffiti story. I used to work at a prepress shop on Melrose Ave in Los Angeles, right across the street from Melrose High, one of the most gang-infested high schools in LA. I used to take my breaks out in the alley, and I often caught people painting on the wall of the building. I'd get my bucket of "chapparal brown" paint (thoughtfully provided by the city of LA) and paint it over right in front of them. Most of these blithering idiots used to protest that I was suppressing their right to free speech because they were an artist. I would challenge them, if they could name ONE artist who didn't work in graffiti only that had influenced their work, I'd let them finish and leave it up. Nobody could ever come up with one single name. They all went down.
But that's not the story I'm here to tell. One year, graffiti taggers discovered diamond tipped scribers (normally used as glass cutters) and started carving into every plate glass store window they could hit. There was an empty storefront next to my shop, it was right next to the bus stop where all the kids would depart after school. The window of that shop was so covered in scribes that it was positively cloudy.
One day, a customer of ours left the shop, carrying his prepress output, a bulky hard disk unit, and his car keys in his hands. As he approached the crowd waiting for the bus, the bus came to the curb, the crowd surged, and he was pushed into the plate glass window. It was so weak from all the scribing, it shattered into a million pieces, and crashed down on him, cutting him seriously. He came staggering back into the shop yelling for help, he was covered in blood. We tried to staunch the bleeding while someone called 911. He begged someone to go back out and pick up his car keys and hard drive, which he'd dropped. They were gone. Someone stole his car too. The ambulance arrived and he was carted off to the hospital, stat. He had major surgery and didn't recover from his injuries for several months.

08-29-2001, 08:21 PM
I'll go ahead and say that it is art. But most of it is pretty damn bad. Granted you may see good examples once in a while but for the most part it makes buildings look like crap.


08-29-2001, 08:39 PM
Two grafitti stories to relate...

1) My high school got so fed up with grafitti, it installed blackboards in the bathrooms. Guess what? As soon as the school said "Okay, you wanna write? Here's some chalk and a board to write on." grafitti in the bathrooms became almost nonexistant.

2) I used to be the Executive Editor for a newspaper I started in my hometown on Long Island. Every week, I'd write a staff editorial on current events and issues. As the influence of New York City crept out to Exit 68 off the Long Island Expressway, we had a handful of grafitti incidents involving both public and private buildings and objects. The incidents involved some local teenagers who fancied themselves "taggers" and would try to leave their mark all over town.

After the local florist had his delivery van tagged in four-foot-high letters, I wrote a staff editorial about the tagging. In it, I railed against grafitti and how the mainstream press granted it legitimacy by calling the perpetrators "artists." Okay, I know that there are some people out there that are mighty talented with a spray paint can or one of those Sharpie pens. In general, though, if you take away the thrill of the possibility of getting caught scribbling crap all over someone else's property, most of these "artists" abandon the practice and go off in search of other ways to get into trouble. I think that says a lot.

08-29-2001, 11:01 PM
This is what gets me. The argument is made that grafitti is terrible because it "defaces" buildings, walls, etc., and makes things ugly.

But when it comes to avertisements, suddendly the "ugly" issue dissappears. Now, I totally understand why the owner of a building or space or whatever would be more amiable to having his building defaced if he were getting paid for it. But speaking only as the spectator- the one who has to walk though the uglyness every day- I would prefer more grafitti and less ads.

And I don't mean just the art grafitti, I like the Vox Populus scrawls too. But if it has to come to art, I have a photo in a show opening next month of some grafitti on a blank wall in the park:

Seek 187

Punk not dead

I don't know what it means, but I like it. They've painted over it, but it lives on in my photo.

(dalovindj, don't you miss the grafitti covered subway cars? I really liked to see them rolling in to my stop. Although I admit I was happy to find the new grafitti resistent cars were all air-conditioned.)

08-29-2001, 11:10 PM

08-30-2001, 04:39 AM
i agree with Marvel's point. I like grafitti, but it matters to me very much where it is. First of all, I'm not terribly into "tagging." I much prefer "bombing" or "piecing." To define, tagging is generally the simple one-color spraypaint/marker-type grafitti that bears the writer's moniker, while "bombing" and "piecing" are the more elaborate works, employing multiple colors, three-dimentional letter forms, extensive use of shading and other graphic elements (skylines, characters, etc...)
Bombing also sometimes refers to an intensive night of grafitti-ing in a concentrated area.

Anyhow, I do like grafitti that's centered around industrial areas, visible from mass transportation lines or highways. Roofs of buildings are generally OK by me, since those are usually visible only from the El, and not from the average pedestrian. I do not like grafitti on the fronts of any houses, nor on garages in residential areas. And I certainly do not liked street-gang tagging (like waking up one morning to find "Insane Popes" scrawled on my father's garage several years ago.) I'm not a fan of tagging within buses - scratches on windows, or Sharpie markered seat backs. To me, those are just plain ugly.

Knowing several grafitti artists who have since moved on, gone to art school and live "respectable" lives as graphic designers, I've come to appreciate the fact that many do know what they're doing. The grafitti artists I know are very into technique, exploring their own letterforms and critiquing other's style. So some, at least, do put a lot of thought into it, and definitely have a philosophy about it. To me, they are artists by every sense of the word.

But, as I said, I only really appreciate a certain type of grafitti and in certain areas, which, to some, is against the spirit of grafitti art. To each their own. (Please, no nitpicks about "each/their" agreement.)

I live in Budapest now, and it saddens me to see tags on the front of every other historical fin-de-siecle building and the beautiful bridges across the Danube. It's pointless, ugly and totally lacking in style on top of it. The grafitti in tunnels, tram underpasses and industrial parks I find acceptable. It's colorful, decently executed (though grafitti art here has a long, long way to go before it matches NY or Chicago...and I doubt it ever will) and does not hurt the beauty of the city.

That's my take...hope it makes some sense.

08-30-2001, 06:49 AM
I always liked the look of grafitti. Living in a pretty rural part of the world, we don't get a lot down our way, and most of what I see is on trains. To me, the look is novel enough to be intriguing, but if it were attached to my house I might feel otherwise.

Grafitti as Art? I'm not sure, though I do see it as fundamentally expressing the concept of "I am". Being identified as an individual is highly valued in western culture, and grafitti is an understandable outlet for expressing a sense of self for people without a lot of other opportunities for creative outlet and expression. Still, it's not for me to say what's art and what's not, because I'm a poser, not an art critic.

I do agree that there should be some grafitti free zones around monuments and buildings of historical significance, and that store owners should use the better grafittiists (?) to discourage the lesser ones from defacing their property. Pay good ones to make something nice, like Guano Lad said.

Zaphod Beeblebrox
08-30-2001, 07:08 AM
Are grafitti (people seem to forget that it's a plural word) artistic in nature? Sure. Are they also criminal in nature? Yes. I don't understand why people feel the need to make this an "or" argument. Are art and crime always mutually exclusive?

I suppose a grafitti artist who asks permission from the owner of a building before covering its walls with his artwork would be the more "ethical" artist.

08-30-2001, 07:17 AM
[slight hijack]
Actually, I just realized, it's graffiti and as a mass noun "graffiti" is absolutely OK to take a singular verb. ie. "Graffiti is closely interconnected with hip-hop culture" is perfectly grammatical. Also, "graffiti" has gone much the same way "data" has, taking on a singular usage in English where the etymologically correct "graffito" should be used. Most people would find the use of the word "graffito" to be archaic and stilted, and I personally do not object to "graffiti" in its singular use.
See the usage note here (http://www.dictionary.com/cgi-bin/dict.pl?term=graffiti) for more info.

Zaphod Beeblebrox
08-30-2001, 07:23 AM
Ooops... you're correct about the spelling. I had let myself be influenced by the OP.

However, when did it become acceptable to use "data" as a singular? I know many people do it, but does that make it correct?

Zaphod Beeblebrox
08-30-2001, 07:24 AM
Damn... I just realized that you never said it was correct. I apologize.

08-30-2001, 08:16 AM
hmmm... i happen to like graffiti on the bathroom walls... as long as there are no expletives. it makes for an interesting sit...
actually, i don't know. i kinda like it, but i wouldn't want it on my property, or anyone else's (as in private property). on the whole, i agree with marvel.

08-30-2001, 08:58 AM
Originally posted by Cougarfang
hmmm... i happen to like graffiti on the bathroom walls... as long as there are no expletives. it makes for an interesting sit...

No expletives??? On bathroom walls? :confused:

Otherwise, I agree with those of you who would differentiate between "tagging" and artistic grafiti. The latter in the form of wall murals and the like in otherwise drab and dreary locations might even be a good idea at times. I have heard of some municipalities actually supporting projects like that.
"Tagging" on the other hand is a selfish form of visual pollution. No one else wants to have to see the illegible garbage. We actually used to live in a building where idiots broke in and "tagged" all over the entry area and our mailboxes. Great art!

08-30-2001, 02:54 PM
Originally posted by betenoir

And I don't mean just the art grafitti, I like the Vox Populus scrawls too. But if it has to come to art, I have a photo in a show opening next month of some grafitti on a blank wall in the park:

Seek 187

Punk not dead

I don't know what it means, but I like it. They've painted over it, but it lives on in my photo.

betenoir, 187 is the Califorina penal code for Murder.

08-30-2001, 03:10 PM
Yeah, you see hear tht 187 all over hip-hop. Typically with a dose of irony. As in:

187 on a mutha-fuckin cop.

To use a cops own term for killing after you've killed a cop (presumably cause he fucked with your rights), is the irony part. Punk music is mostly about rising up against authority (and abuses thereof). So that tag was pretty anti-establishment to say the least. Then again so is tagging by it's very nature.


08-30-2001, 06:17 PM
I like graffiti and wish there was more of it in the town where I live. I do think it's an important form of self expression, and that this is true regardless of its location. Public Roman bathrooms 2000 years old have graffiti not that different from today's, about which there is little new or novel, except perhaps paintballs.

Lots of graffiti is infantile or self-righteous, but the same could be said of the majority of art displayed today or during most otehr periods. I don't distinguish between graffiti and "mural quality art" on the mere basis of the media.

While I don't personally tag or vandalize property, many of the nicer or thought-provoking works have seen are in locations that involve some risk in accessing. Ther fact someone did so is often a component in the message the graffiti communicates. Is graffiti a crime? Yes, but this is independent of it's artistic merit. Is it that bad? Crashing against a plate glass window can cause it to break regardless what has been done to it; tagging is essentially egotistical and I would hesitate to call some of it "art". But some tagging is undoubtedly art. And much graffiti is more than mere toilet reading. A town without graffiti lacks character. That doesn't mean I want to see it on every subway car either, though. Good art can make fun of sacred pigs while still respecting the rights of others, too.

08-30-2001, 10:03 PM
I won't go into the legal issues; they're pretty clear and a matter of fact, not opinion.

As for the aesthetic question, for me, it has a couple of factors: the significance of the message, the quality of the artwork, and the quality of what was painted over.

Political graffiti (assuming it's not racist or whatever) rarely pisses me off. There's a big crossed-out-swastika near my house that makes me smile when I pass it.

High-quality graffiti I also enjoy. There's an underpass nearby that's quite thoroughly decorated with lots of beautiful artwork that I enjoy whenever I go to the supermarket. I don't know whether it was a sanctioned work or just what.

As for the last, I'd usually rather see graffiti than cement, on things like highway ramparts and whatnot.

Here's the counter-example: I was rather pissed off the other day to see that one of my favourite metro stations, Georges-Vanier, had had its walls (whch are tiled in beautiful slate-gray and ultramarine glazed brick with decorative patterns) covered in simple tags from end to end. That, to me, showed a lack of consideration for the existing work and a definite overestimation on the part of the taggers of their talents and the aesthetic value of their work.

If it had been a work done with more care and artistic skill, and/or if it had been done in a station with less interesting stuff on the walls (Beaudry metro, say), I would have been less annoyed. Remember that subway graffiti is where Keith Haring got his start! (Of course, he bypassed the walls altogether and went for the advertisements, a sentiment with which I heartily concur.)

08-30-2001, 10:31 PM
Originally posted by Dr_Paprika
Crashing against a plate glass window can cause it to break regardless what has been done to it..
No it can't. During the student riots in the sixties, someone detonated 3 sticks of dynamite across the street from my father's store, which had 10ft high plate glass windows. The storefront was destroyed, the metal frames bent backwards 6 inches, but the glass was undamaged. Plate glass is tough. And there are building codes that require the use of tough plate glass in commercial storefronts. But if you etch it enough times with a diamond tipped glass cutter, it will shatter if you just fall against it.

08-30-2001, 10:47 PM
You're probably right. I'm sure that scribed glass is weaker than unscribed. I'm less convinced plate glass would never break if one pushed hard against it, but your anecdote certainly implies this would be rare.

poohpah chalupa
08-31-2001, 11:11 AM
I work in an art supply store where a number of people we hire are artists on one level or another.
One new employee asked me why we didn't cater to taggers. I replied that, since tagging is illegal, we weren't going to promote it. He said that we were stiffling his and others' right to creatively express themselves and resented the fact that we didn't support their art.

I said: "Fine. We'll sell spray paint and permanent paint markers and such...but with every purchase, we're going to give out your address and instruct them that if they wish to practice their "art" they should feel free to do so there."

He replied: "...well, no...not my house..."

"How about your car then?"

"uhhh, no...that wouldn't be right."

"why not?"

"well, it's my car, man..."


what an idiot.

09-01-2001, 04:50 AM
I'm coming to this one a bit late, but in Sheffield (England) where I used to live, one guy was given a five year prison term for tagging. Here (http://www.graffiti.org/dj/scourge.html) and here (http://www.intanet.com/~dkew/fista.html) are a couple of appropriate links. His sentence was reduced to two years on appeal and he's out of jail now, promising to be a good boy.

It did seem an extreme measure at the time, but the problem had got out of hand - we had thousands of examples of his tag all over the city, there was no attempt at any decorative content or political comment. Without either of these last two things, I'd be inclined to say it's not art IMHO.

Personally, I don't object to people making worthwhile statements, or decorating public places like concrete highway supports, but if a place is already being used for something else or is private property I think marking it is anti-social. There are plenty of examples I could quote, but the freshly painted, cream-coloured wall of my local Chinese restaurant didn't seem an appropriate place for a guy to scribble his name in three-foot-high letters, but that's what he did. Or the long boundary wall to a TV studio that was decorated by a local community art group and was immediately tagged over (two times). We also have a problem with glass etching, especially on the Underground in London. Spray can stuff is generally cleaned off the trains very regularly, but at enormous cost.

Generally, the graffitti situation here in the UK seems to be both better and worse than in the US (from what I can tell). It's worse because the work is generally much poorer quality, and better because there's less of it.

I can't be bothered to look for cites on this (sorry), but there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that many people find it intimidating, especially the elderly, and I don't think that's a reasonable price to pay for taggers to personally mark stuff that belongs to everyone.

09-01-2001, 05:23 AM
I almost never see any artistic grafitti. All I see in the city is "no more prisons" scrawled in plain black, and some sloppy marks that I guess are supposed to be gang symbols.

Out here in the country the only grafitti consists of people's nicknames on rail road bridges.

09-01-2001, 09:57 AM
How are gang tags and statements that "Chico RULES!!" art? I'm sorry but grafitti looks like shit. When I see a neighborhood with spray painting all over the buildings it leaves me with an impression that there is no rule of law on that street. If the cops can't even keep kids from defacing the buildings, why should I expect that my home or car would be an safer from theft or vandelism?

Lets face it, 99% of grafitti is not some beautiful mural that the artist created in a Ghetto style using spraypaint. Most of it is chicken scratch written by some 15 yr old who wants the world to know that he "rules". I can piss my name on a wall too. That don't make it art.

09-01-2001, 01:11 PM
Originally posted by msmith537
Lets face it, 99% of grafitti is not some beautiful mural that the artist created in a Ghetto style using spraypaint. Most of it is chicken scratch written by some 15 yr old who wants the world to know that he "rules". I can piss my name on a wall too. That don't make it art.


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