A new perspective on an artful crime

Catherine Streng questions whether graffiti is an act of vandalism or of self expression.

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A section of the Berlin Wall covered in graffiti can be seen at LACMA on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. | Melanie Kim/THE CHIMES

Catherine Streng, Writer

A section of the Berlin Wall covered in graffiti can be seen at LACMA on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. | Melanie Kim/THE CHIMES

 

If you walked into Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s house you would see, among many other works of fine art, a satirical painting of a rat covering up graffiti markings. The famous graffiti artist Banksy created this anti-graffiti masterpiece. The couple paid 1 million pounds, or $1,652,594, for this work despite knowing most people would not see its value. But for Brad and Angelina, and a growing number of art admirers, graffiti is viewed not as crime, but as art.

Two main types of graffiti exist, “bombing” and “burning.” Artists use bombing, the less complex version of graffiti, to scatter their street or crew names in as many different areas as possible. Often called tagging, this type of graffiti requires little to no skill. The bombing artists focus on simply hitting an area and moving on. The other type of graffiti, burning, requires more planning, skill and practice. Burning graffiti cannot be painted without artistic training or previous preparation.

When creating a burning painting graffiti artists must first make a sketch of his or her vision. Afterwards, the graffitist determines characters and colors and then the artist must select the canvas or surface on which they then produce a preliminary outline. The graffitist follows this preliminary outline by filling it in with previously chosen colors, and finally finishing the concluding outline.

Spraycan art includes all of the elements of art: color, texture, shape and form. Just like any Picasso or Monet painting, graffiti art can be analyzed according to the same criteria. The viewer evaluates the mural according to the elements of lines, color and structures present in the work. Unfortunately, society in general fails to recognize graffiti as art or find it acceptable for museum exhibits due to its location and presentation.

 

Junior Jess Byrd poses with street art at Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach. | Melanie Kim/THE CHIMES

 

VANDALISM VS. SELF EXPRESSION

Graffiti by definition uses another person’s property as its canvas, which is often considered vandalism. Street art defaces government and personal architecture so that the artist commits a crime while simultaneously creating a beautiful form of self-expression. Because of the criminal aspect, people negatively associate this artistic genre with delinquency and the destruction of public property.

However, many areas around the world endorse this art, encouraging younger artists who cannot afford art classes or expensive supplies such as acrylic paints, fine brushes or linen canvases to develop their abilities. Places such as the Southbank skatepark, also known as “undercroft,” in London provide safe havens for graffiti artists. Legalizing street art in certain areas not only helps a city monitor unwanted street art, but also changes the negative connotation directed towards graffiti by eliminating the criminal component attached to the craft. Assigning artists areas for sanctioned self-expression to practice on decreases vandalism by diminishing the need for private property while practicing street art.

Whether or not someone appreciates graffiti should be irrelevant while determining graffiti’s classification as art. Some artists create graffiti using the same process that others use to create watercolors or sculptures. As such, graffiti matches the criteria and elements necessary to consider it an art. Allowing designated areas for street art will eliminate the negative implication, the crime, attached with the name. Next time you see a painting on a wall downtown, do not immediately turn away. Look at it with open eyes, and see it as art in spite of where it might appear.

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