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 (Mettler, 2012, p.252). At the same time, development of graffiti form letteringfocused on the writer’s name to more elaborate forms includingimagery and – as street art – making it the focus have raisedeven more debate regarding graffiti. This essay will argue thatgraffiti is a decent form of visual art involving skills, artisticvision and sociocultural context: that is, not all graffiti works arevandalism, for many of them occupy public spaces with the purpose ofdecoration or communication of socially significant messages. As anexample, the graffiti created by Futura (Leonard H. McGurr) presentan example of graffiti as art (Fig. 1).
Figure1 Graffiti 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,and burning, with the former being tagging targeting volume andquantity and the latter being a real "artistic enterprise."Futura’s works, in turn, belong to the latter type, not onlydismissing tagging as the main purpose of graffiti but also producingmodern urban aesthetics. As Futura himself states, the graffitiartist wants to contribute to the urban setting, he/she lives in,creating the “play of space” with the viewers of the work (BigWorld Picture, 2013). The chosen mural artwork by Futura, in turn,contributes 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 the urban environment (Neto et al.,2014, p. 527). Indeed, some plain lettering techniques, as well asunskillful graffitists obsessed with the bombing, might damage publicspaces or private property with images which neither have aestheticvalue no convey social or cultural messages. The statistics providedby Young (2013, p. 109) reflects disapproval of graffiti andvandalism as the third biggest neighborhood issue as perceived byresidents of Victoria, Australia. On the other hand, the tendencydescribed by Felisbret (2014) is a legal permission and legal venuesfor graffiti works, whereas truly talented artists can receivepermission to use certain public areas to perfect their skills andcommunicate their message to society, and even get paid for theirmurals in some cases. Overall, originally illegal nature of graffitiand locations were chosen for new murals are the only argumentsjustifying disapproval of graffiti as art. Attitudes towards graffitihave been improving due to a collaboration of artists and authoritiesand promotion of graffiti works in shows, exhibitions, and otherprojects (as done by Futura). The popular debate website illustratesa dramatic advantage of graffiti as art: statistical data show that86% of respondent consider it art and only 14% disapprove it (‘IsGraffiti Art?’, 2016).
Graffitihas 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, the evolution of this practice has given rise tomultiple bright artistic styles expressed both in lettering and inabstract graffiti. The mentioned graffito by Futura, like his otherworks, is a reminder of the true artistic capacity possessed bygraffiti. Further observation of past and present prominentgraffitists and street artists shows that the problem can be solvedthrough recognition of graffiti as art and cooperation on the side ofauthorities.
Modernday graffitist considers the city walls as a canvas on whichcontemporary urban culture is marked on and illuminated thereforedecorating the city`s daily life with not only a variety of color butalso meaning and style. It is a creation of a cultural space that isforeign –and to an extent, non-existent- in the urban environmentaimed at opening the minds of the city dwellers by making themevaluate their ideas and test their souls. The graffitists considerit as their duty to change the surrounding city environment in such away that makes it more interesting to the human society. The purposeof this is to bring the future into the world and have reality takeits natural cause by presenting itself in the way that it wants to.It is a modern day tool for expression where ethnic identificationsymbols are used to showcase and advocate for issues dealing withpolitical recognition and assert the rights contained in theirdominant cultures[ CITATION Kri12 l 1033 ].
Positiverecognition of the so-called ‘street art’ has supported its useeven in times when the actual voice of the oppressed in the societyhas been limited or otherwise constrained by the oppressivegovernments. In TheNoise of Cairo: The Artists Behind the Egyptian Revolution,a documentary film, it elaborates on how the silenced citizens ofEgypt aired their voices by use of street art. This new form ofexpression played a very crucial role in the revolution by assistingthe people to speak freely without fear making it possible for themto communicate different and new ideas amongst themselves[ CITATION Kri12 l 1033 ].
InBrazil, the cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have establishedthemselves as significant influential blocks over the past few yearsregarding urban graffiti. It has introduced a rather new form of theart, completely different from what is currently experienced aroundthe world. The form of bubble letter represented in these particularcities is one that connotes respect, in the sense that it is neverpainted over. The art reflects the kind of urban decay, especially inSao Paulo, where there is a clear class division that still exists todate. Script writers are said to go through a lot of risks to reachthe top most of the tallest buildings and leave their mark on them[ CITATION Kri12 l 1033 ].
Therefore,in summary, the landscape that presents itself in the cities hascontinuously contributed to the importance of graffiti as an artform. It not only provides a canvas where people can visually expressthemselves but also to pass information, which would otherwise beconsidered as uncensored to the public who either agree or relate tothe information presented. About protests, such as the oneexperienced in Egypt, graffiti has been of great significance due toits use as an instrument for giving the people- especially to thosewith little or no power- a voice to address the situations affectingthem. Legalization of the art in different cities around the worldwho have chosen to embrace it as a significant form of art have begunto see the promising effect it has on the urban areas. The world isincreasingly becoming more culturally and ethically aware thusdifferent methods of expressing these changes are set to crop up[ CITATION Gre14 l 1033 ].Indeed,we haven’t seen the last of street art yet graffiti is just thebeginning.
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, Graffiti, and the Aestheticization ofTransgression. SocialAnalysis, 59(3),17-40.
Elstein,A. (2015). Is It Graffiti 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 Graffiti 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). Graffiti 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-Graffiti Protection on ConcreteDurability. KeyEngineering Materials, 634517-526.
Young.A. (2013). StreetArt, Public City: Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination.Routledge.
Eickmier, G. (2014, may 23). Grafitti: Art or Vandalism. Retrieved from Museum of the City: http://www.museumofthecity.org/project/graffiti-art-or-vandalism/
Gleaton, K. M. (2012). Power to the people: street art as an agency for change. Minnesota: University of Minnesota.