Can Graffiti Be Considered Art?

In the words of Twitter user @artdecider, “Art is not everything, but anyone and anything can be art,” and in some ways, a statement like that is very true. Art is typically manifested in many forms, including physical and digital works. However, within these manifestations comes a somewhat contested work of art: graffiti.

This form of art is most definitely not a new concept. According to the Oxford University Press, common archetypes of graffiti date back to Ancient Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire, typically using some form of either clay or chalk, among additional methods. Common examples of which include ruins, inscriptions, and figure drawings in the Catacombs of Rome and the ancient city of Pompeii. In its modern form, graffiti is commonly distinguished by spray and aerosol paints, stencils, and marker pens, but is not distinguished by any specific method, as it continually evolves.

The expression of graffiti varies greatly depending on the artist. It is commonly seen as a form of personal expression for most artists, who simply want to showcase their ability. Some better-known artists have used it as a form of social and political commentary, including Banksy, a controversial street artist from London, who gained popularity for his satirical artworks that are often considered to be anti-consumerism. Graffiti is also linked to various subcultures, including hip-hop music, skating, and video games.

Graffiti is usually placed in very open areas, notably on the sides of buildings or in alleyways. Because of the high risk that some street artists are bidding for, most choose to remain anonymous in their work. From the past to the present day, there is a continued argument over the status of graffiti as a form of high art or outright defacement. Its value is highly contested, and there are certain laws in various cities that work to protect or obstruct street art.

Graffiti is considered a form of high art within visual culture as well. New York City, which is considered the birthplace of modern street art, displays such works in several museums and art galleries throughout the city, including the Brooklyn Museum and the Fashion Moda. Most works on display originate from the 1980s, considered the peak of NYC’s graffiti movement.

Though controversial in many aspects, graffiti still remains as an important milestone in graphic design and art as a whole. It has influenced aspects of popular culture and has become an important form of personal expression. Terrance Lindall, executive director of the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center, stated of graffiti at the Writing on the Wall exhibit: “People who are oppressed or suppressed need an outlet, so they write on walls-it’s free.” In this context, graffiti is an art form.