Graffiti-Art or Vandalism?

Wether graffiti is art or vandalism is a complex question with so many points of view and concerned parties that to make a call one way or the other is pretty much impossible. This is even more difficult as street art is a form of expression that exists outside a gallery situation and the mechanisms that back up the classification of art. There are also the issues of respect and property that add complexity to the question.

An article I read tried to answer the Art or Vandalism question by approaching it from the view point of, What is a public space? and What is ownership? The point was that the ownership of a public space that is present in vandalism is not present in street art and that street art has the ability to open up spaces as public by inviting participation. This way of looking graffiti makes a clear distinction between pieces and tagging. Though I’ve heard it argued that tagging is akin to an artists calligraphy, I think in most cases it’s more about claiming and taking up space and an attempt at marking territory. What ever the motivation for tagging is, usually when you name or sign something you are declaring that it is yours. Tagging is not about discourse, sharing a concept or contributing.

Another question that arises from this way of approaching the subject is. Is advertising vandalism. Advertising privatises our public spaces. It can be seen as an effective way of informing a public about products and services but at its worst it is coercive, manipulative and by playing on peoples insecurities is designed to trick people into buying what is not needed, nor really wanted and that in some cases, the funds aren’t there for. Don’t think just Buy!

Street art at its best enhances the public space. It’s a commentary  and a concept that offers more than an  attempt at ownership as an ideal and wants to share something that its creator feels is relevant . It has the ability to cut through the blandness of everyday existence and can be a mirror in which to see the absurdity of the world we live in. It can ask you to perhaps look at your world from another perspective or add some colour and interest to a person’s mundane working day. Its strength in being able to do this, is that its found in our everyday environment and not within the walls of a commercial or institutionalised space. It’s public nature is what makes it unique and gives it its wide reaching power and inventiveness.

Banksy is perhaps the best known of the street-artists and has become through his, sometimes described as, subversive work, an international icon. He has been described as graffiti master, painter, activist, filmmaker and all purpose provocateur.

Banksy conceals his identity while advocating a direct connection between artist and constituency. There is an element of activism in his work and a need to communicate ideas which he does with strong images and humour. “There’s a whole new audience out there, and it’s never been easier to sell your art. You don’t have to go to collage, drag round a portfolio, mail off transparencies to snooty galleries or sleep with someone powerful, all you need now is a few ideas and a broadband connection. This is the first time the essentially bourgeois world of art has belonged to the people. We need to make it count.”

His art has a distinctive stencilled approach. In conversation with a friend he said. “As soon as I cut my first stencil I could feel the power there. I also like the political edge. All graffiti is low-level dissent  but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars.”


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Street art is graffiti. It encourages crime and there are studies to prove it. This is the argument the Brisbane city council use to penalise artists/criminals, criminals/artists. What if the very same messages appear on the streets of Tel Aviv. Where the medium of street art becomes instead an expression of hope where there is Know Hope.

The word paronomasia. Is a play on words. Know Hopes street art centres on fragmented poems and phrases that sit well in images of figures wearing their hearts on their sleeve. The work of Know Hope, aka Addam Yekutieli,  is about the the notion of collective human struggle so it is fitting his canvas is the street.Know Hope sees his audience as active participants in his art. His view on active art, ‘street imergry’ is an easy definition of how street art differs to that in a gallery.

 At a certain point, I started to feel like this imagery was not only a substitute, a copy of the real thing, but also somewhat imposing and didactic. After this realisation, I became more interested in ‘suggesting’ an image, opposed to illustrating one.

I did this by creating text-based pieces in public spaces. These pieces are made in a site-specific manner, with the intention of the text being a small element in a larger happening. All the human interactions and environmental discourse allow endless amounts of images to be made. This allows not only for the viewer to bring his/her own personal baggage into the dialogue, but take a more active part in creating the image. This way of thinking really changed my perception in regards to image making.


Since 2004 Know hope has been painting his messages of heartfelt promise. From the urban streets to galleries and museum settings internationally, his recent project is to tattoo his art onto volunteers with the the view of making street art that little more interactive.1118269

 Born in Los Angeles in 1986,Know Hope lives and works in Tel Aviv, Israel.043


Reverse Graffiti

Graffiti artists- social commentators, propaganda artists or vandals?

I find street art curious, as according to society, it’s not supposed to be there, and I admire the rebellion towards conformity and appreciate the cleverness. Where there is man, chances are there is advertising. And where there is advertising there is a profit. Street art offers a form of self-expression that reeks of freedom and individual thought, anti-capitalism, and if done right, communities can be a device to nurture this freedom of expression, for example funded murals. By nature, we are creative beings, our desire to express ourselves and show others how the world appears to us is one of the most personal experiences we can share. All we are doing on this planet is trying to make sense of ourselves, while hoping there is someone out there who understands us as well. Humans have been drawing on walls since the dawn of man. It’s an ancient art form, in a more complex society with new tools. The media we use have evolved, but the message has always remained the same.

When society puts a stigma on a form of self-expression, in this example graffiti, new and innovative methods of expression arise, such as Reverse Graffiti. Taking a cue from the “Wash Me” messages scrawled on the back of delivery trucks, Reverse Graffitists seek out soot covered surfaces and inscribe them with images, tags, and even advertising slogans using scrub brushes, scrapers and pressure hoses.

The UK’s Paul Curtis, better known as “Moose,” is one of the technique’s pioneers. Operating around Leeds and London, he has been commissioned by a number of brands, such as Smirnoff, who want to convey a sense of “clean” in an innovative way. On a more overtly environmental comment, Brazil’s Alexandre Orion, turned one of Sao Paolo’s transport tunnels into an eye catching mural recently. The mural, comprised of a series of skulls, very succinctly reminds drivers of the impact their emissions are having on the planet.

The practice puts authorities in an interesting moral quandary. According to Moose, “Once you do this, you make people confront whether or not they like people cleaning walls or if they really have a problem with personal expression.”

The Leeds City Council decided to lead their attack with a hilariously nonsensical position: “Leeds residents want to live in clean and attractive neighbourhoods, and expect their streets to be free of graffiti and illegal advertising. We also view this kind of rogue advertising as environmental damage and will take strong action against any advertisers carrying out such campaigns without the relevant permission.”

What action was taken against the advertisers is unknown. What is known is that Moose was charged under the very scary sounding Anti-Social Behaviour Act and ordered to clean up his clean act. I’m not exactly sure how he managed to did this. By making it dirty again? The Brazilian artist’s work came to a happier resolution. The authorities were certainly miffed but could find nothing to charge him with. They had no other recourse but to clean the tunnel — but only the parts Alexandre had already cleaned. The artist merely continued his campaign on the other side of traffic. The utterly flummoxed city officials then decided to take drastic action. Not only did they clean the entire tunnel but also every other tunnel in Sao Paulo.

Rash response

In response to the argument are graffiti social commentators, propaganda artists, artists or vandals; I don’t see the response as being a black and white argument. Yes some street artists work can be considered art, the works of Tom Civil are a good example which I’ll go into further detail however I don’t consider the practice of “tagging” to be consider art. Id be more inclined to categorise it under the side of vandalism, simply because the practice appears to be less about art and more about marking territory and getting your name out there for everyone to see. Tagging on symbolic or sacred objects is a prime example, often done by misguided youths however rather then graffiti artists.

Now the works of Tom civil is an interesting case for this argument because it sees him on both sides of the scale. He started off his street art career stenciling at the end of 2001 in the streets under the alias “Civilian” and was featured in the film Rash (2005). Civil has several art works exhibited in gallery’s but doesn’t feel comfortable in those settings, he prefers to display his work in the form of “empty shows” – illegal exhibitions held in derelict buildings. Now if these buildings are run down and derelict why not cover them with art?

In 2003 the police caught Civil at one of his “empty shows” no charges were laid by the police. Despite his run in with the law he still believes that “street art is an important and necessary part of society.”

April 16, 2014 Civil was commissioned to paint a mural on the walls of Crisalida child, adolescent and family therapy clinic in Thornbury, Melbourne and a second mural located walnut street, Melbourne. The council allocated $25,000 for the first work in an attempt to save money by cleaning up little acts of graffiti, mainly acts of tagging. The idea was by painting a large mural in the problem area it would stop these acts but whether they meant to or not they also brightened up the area, which a lot of Tom Civil’s work do.

I feel the council commissioning Civil to paint a piece of street art to cover up acts of graffiti reflect my view, in the sense they willing hired a renowned street artist to cover up less acts of graffiti such as tagging.

In conclusion the works of Tom Civil have convinced me there is art in the act of graffiti ….. to a degree.

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Swoon and Art vs Vandalism

Graffiti, art or vandalism? The question is so much more complicated than a simple yes or no answer. Especially when using the term graffiti, which is as general and subjective as art itself.

Graffiti is not just one form, style or medium. Graffiti includes but is not limited to wheatpaste poster art, stencil art, full wall murals, smaller scaled ‘pieces’ and of course the ubiquitous and notorious ‘tagging.’

Graffiti is diverse; it can be anything from a full and beautifully executed mural, a simple cartoon character, a political statement consisting only of type or an elaborate abstract spray painting of somebody’s name. The end result can sometimes be awe inspiring and breath taking, thought provoking, or ugly and pointless.

If we are to simplify the question , then the answer is also simple, the answer is both.

Graffiti can sometimes be art, but it can sometimes also be destructive vandalism. It all depends purely on the individual behind the work and their intentions.

The street artist that I have chosen to cover in this weeks blog is the artist known as ‘Swoon’. I chose her because when looking into the artists listed in this weeks choice to blog I recognized some of her work from street art I had seen and documented when I was in Oaxaca city, Mexico. Then when I started to study her, I gained a lot of respect for her and what she does.  As well as her many humanitarian projects, she spends a lot of her time creating wheatpaste posters, mainly of people, trying to lift the curtain on inequality. In her works she is trying to display problems she sees extending deeper under the surface of society.

Having studied traditional art at the prestigious Pratt Institute, it’s definitely hard to deny this woman is anything but an artist. Swoon chooses abandoned buildings as a main showcase of her material, which brings me to my next point.

If a building has been disowned, how can the space be considered private? Why can artists not use the space to express themselves creatively in or on that space if the previous owners no longer care for it or what happens to it?

To wrap up, my personal opinion as a creative person studying design, is obviously going to lean towards the argument that graffiti is art.

The argument that the images invade our vision and space is benign when compared to the constant advertising and propaganda that is in our face at all times. In an age where billboards constantly bombard us without our permission, why not then can an artist display their works or opinions in the same arena?