Graffiti is a controversial topic and a widely infamous form of expression which, interestingly, falls awkwardly in between the two categories of ‘art’ and ‘vandalism’. It’s one of those unsolvable, continuing, Möbius strip-like subjects that have people fervently arguing on both ends. While graffiti is respected and even preserved sometimes as pieces of original artwork in some places, in others, it’s degraded and frowned upon as a crime.
Graffiti originated in New York, but there’s evidence of ancient ‘graffiti'(more like ‘wall paintings’ back then) in Rome, Italy, and also from ancient times. Graffiti has developed/is developing rapidly. Ever since graffiti became acknowledged as a renowned art category by some people, the graffiti culture has been thriving, and is spewing out newly established artists and graffiti art platforms every year. (I don’t see much in Korea though… I don’t think it’s as prevalent here as an urban art form or as a social issue.)
(image above: Graffiti artist Lee Quinones.)
“Graffiti is art and if art is a crime, please God, forgive me” – Lee Quinones
Lee Quinones is one of the rising artists involved in the New York City Subway graffiti movement. Here are some of the comments on Lee’s video about art on the Khan Academy website.
(image above: comments from https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/MoMA/moma-artist-interviews/v/moma-lee-quinones)
The collision of viewpoints on the issue is interesting. While graffiti does definitely have merit as art, in a way it’s also destroying someone else’s art(the building). So how should the logic work? I think it depends on where your personal values lie. We’re not yet completely sure whether graffiti should be a severe crime or a harmless antic, but one thing we do know for sure is that it’s becoming more and more pervasive, and it’s unstoppable.
In fact, graffiti can be seen almost anywhere in the world, sometimes in the most seemingly impossible places.
(Yeah, I know, seriously-how did they do that?! )
As you can see, graffiti can exist on wherever and whatever we, the human race, can get our hands on. Since it’s such a widespread issue, even TV series like Switched at Birth or 90210 feature graffiti as a thought-provoking topic. Graffiti also makes frequent appearances in music videos or as backgrounds of urban magazine fashion shoots.
(image above: from Switched at Birth, ABC Family.)
(image above: 90210, The CW. Ivy and Diego’s graffiti wall.)
(image above: fashion photoshoot from http://www.carlton-photography.co.uk/carlton-photography-blog/a-fashion-photography-shoot-northern-quarter-manchester-graffiti-and-snow/)
(image above: from the music video of ‘Ugly’ by 2NE1.)
I remember my mother saying “This music video beautifies graffiti too much.” while we were watching 2NE1’s music video for ‘Ugly’. And I remember thinking, “Mum, it’s just a music video! They’re trying to express freedom and rebellion, let them do what they have to do to let the message get through!” But at the same time I also felt uncomfortable because of my acknowledgement of mass media portraying a type of vandalism as merely cool and beautiful.
I’ve noticed that mass media targeted towards the younger generation depicts graffiti in a way that makes it seem artistic, cool, and even beautiful. In modern music, movies, TV etc.. graffiti represents youth, freedom, excitement, the art of the people, and ironically, exquisite crime. I think this is because younger people are usually more compelled to graffiti as an art form. It’s the youth that bears the role of being the rebellious rugby ball in society. It’s the youth that wander around the streets with their tousled hair and ripped jeans, excitedly looking for a nice wall to paint their heart out on.
Is it cool? I’m confused. The logical, brainy part of me says “That’s technically vandalism, and vandalism is a crime. Graffiti is childish and in a way, immoral.” And then the #YOLO, teenage, free-spirited part of me keeps popping up and shouting “IT’S REAL ART IN ITS MOST ORIGINAL FORM!! IT’S EXPRESSION AT ITS BEST!”
Amid all this confusion, what I find the most intriguing about this strange art called graffiti is that in a lot of cases, the things written on the walls are actually very deep and thought-provoking, and the fact that these meaningful messages or implications are put on walls in the context of graffiti makes it even more artistic, in a certain way. For graffiti artists, the process and the actual deed of putting their art up, against social regulations, are indeed part of the art itself. This almost convinces me that graffiti should be considered as legit art, since it does what art should do-provoke people’s emotions and thoughts-and does it well, sometimes it expresses certain themes in a much more convincing way than it would have been if it were hanging on the wall of a posh art gallery.
What do YOU think?
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