Meanings & Values of Graffiti

Hip-hop emerged in the 1970’s, booming with graffiti artists. As seen in the documentary Style Wars, graffiti raises issues in New York during that era, about whether graffiti is art or vandalism (?????). But can’t graffiti just be art? Art is art. Authorities say graffiti artists are “defacing public property”, but that raises more questions about what “public property” really is. Aren’t billboards posted with advertisements and slogans filling entire cities defacing property? They aren’t considered vandalism because they are making a profit off of it. People might also think art value is decreased when in the streets rather than in an art gallery, or that the meaning somehow changes. Art does change depending on where it’s seen, on public property or private property, and whether the artist had permission to put it there or not.

The image above includes the words, “Graffiti is a art. And if art is a crime, Let God forgive all.”


People may think that public property is public, therefore, the public may use it as they please. That is true, but public space is still owned, but it’s owned cooperatively. In Style Wars, for example, the train system as a public system of transportation, so the trains are public property. Although it’s true that the trains are public property, there’s still rules put into place for that property. So, the artists are, in fact, defacing property, although that property is for public use. That changes the art in the sense that, they’re putting it there without the permission to do so.

The video debates whether graffiti is art or vandalism. It questions the benefits of public art.

Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colors and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall — it’s wet.” 
Banksy, Wall and Piece

The quote above was the last thing stated in the TedX video, it emphasizes how different out world would be if graffiti wasn’t looked at as a crime. Public and private property wouldn’t even be a debate, there would just be art everywhere, for everyone to see, and anyone to create. Art is not graffiti or vandalism, it’s just a tool used for mass communication. Art can inspire, change, and revolutionize an area. “Graffiti” changes views on cities, education and how we view society.

Change of value and meaning. Art will always receive different reactions, based on where it’s being seen, and the viewers reacting to it. But, what’s important is that all art creates a reaction. The larger, and more diverse the audience, the more diverse the reactions will be. Street art is out there for any person to see, though some artists argue that they do it only for themselves and other graffiti artists to see.

Value of art may be “decreased” at least in money value when in the streets. Advertisements and slogans hung up by big companies always make money off of their “art”. In the 1920’s, groups of people went around defacing public property and billboards because they didn’t want to see the ads, because they didn’t have any money. Although, graffiti artists are not being payed for their work to be publicly displayed, the art still has great value and meaning to them and the people viewing their art. In Style Wars, the kids talked about how they did what they did because it felt like they had to. Creating art is channeling energy to get rid of emotion. That’s very significant, a lot of artists have to create, no matter what, or where, because as artists, that is just something they have to do. They aren’t doing it to be rebellious teenagers, or to mess with the system, they do it because it’s just what the do. That’s huge.


The article states, “ The question ‘When does graffiti become art?’ is meaningless. Graffiti is always vandalism. By definition it is committed without permission on another person’s property, in an adolescent display of entitlement. Whether particular viewers find any given piece of graffiti artistically compelling is irrelevant. Graffiti’s most salient characteristic is that it is a crime.” On the article above, “Asking permission is like asking to keep a rock that someone threw at you.” Screw Heather Mac Donald.

Art always has and always will have some type of meaning to someone. That meaning will differ from person to person, depending on the audience and the artist themselves. All art is valuable, even if it’s put somewhere without permission, and if it’s unwanted. Art teaches perseverance, you just make it and then persevere. Graffiti art is it’s own category of art, and has it’s own meaning due to where it’s seen, and the different process of making it. Graffiti is art, and always will be.