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Graffiti: Street Art or Crime?

by Dionne Kennedy

Graffiti by ERSA

Over £16 million is spent in Glasgow alone cleaning up graffiti from trains, bus stops, buildings and anywhere a graffiti artist sees fit for a piece. Is the city removing an eyesore and the cause of crime in the area? Or is it removing the only honest form of artwork left and taking away our freedom of expression?

The art of painting graffiti has been around since the early ages, with stick figures and drawings scratched onto cave walls. The Greeks and Romans also made graffiti in a similar way. These early graffiti paintings have taught us a lot about life in those eras. If their governments did as ours are doing now and cleaned up the paintings we would not know as much about those times. Perhaps the paintings on our street, illegal as they may be, can show future generations how life was in the 2000's. It can show them how we spoke out against things we did not like and how these graffiti artists are keeping our right to free speech and ensuring we remain as a democracy.

Some may argue however that graffiti is the main cause of “the broken window theory”. This is the theory that if a window gets broken in an area and is in disrepair for a long period of time then people may start to think no-one cares for the area. Gangs begin to gather around the area, more windows will be broken, graffiti will start to appear, rubbish will be left and serious crime in the area begins to rise. In New York in the early 90's, they found that a zero tolerance attitude to graffiti sent crime rates plummeting but no similar experiments have taken place since this period. It is also said that it encourages crime because some artists depend on stealing paint or stealing to pay for the paint.

This may be true, however it is also said that many people find graffiti an emotional outlet. Instead of joining gangs and perhaps hurting themselves or others many choose to paint graffiti instead. After speaking to a few local graffiti artists it is apparent that graffiti has calming affects for them and is found to be a great stress reliever. This stress and anger relief stops many feeling the need to hurt themselves or others. It has people reaching for a paint can and putting down their weapons.

Renowned graffiti artist Banksy claims that graffiti is the only honest art form left remaining in the world. Many others agree, saying that all other artwork is about becoming famous. Fame from graffiti is just a by-product.

“TV has made going to the theatre seem pointless, photography has pretty much killed painting but graffiti has remained gloriously unspoilt by progress.”- Banksy

It is also honest due to the fact that very little money is required, you don't need a proper education, or be particularly good at art in school and nobody has to pay to see your work. A local graffiti artist tells of how he did badly in art at school but got accepted for his new job in a graphic design company based purely on his portfolio of graffiti pieces. This shows that this so called “crime” can be helpful in life and is in fact accepted as a form of art by some important people.

Graffiti is extremely costly to clean up. In 2003 the city of Los Angeles spent $55 million on cleaning up graffiti. In the whole of the US it takes approximately $15 to $18 billion to remove graffiti across the continent every year, only for it to be in the same state it was in a matter of weeks. Certain cities in the UK however have taken a different approach to the removal of graffiti. They found that when given a specific wall set aside in places like skate parks graffiti artists would tend to do their pieces on this wall instead, leaving the councils to clean up the previously tagged areas and keeping them a graffiti and crime free zone.

It is argued that some graffiti can actually be classified as art. Many graffiti writers believe that being graffiti artists rather than just simply “taggers” means that they are creating an image rather than a name, an image which due to its mural like nature is often regarded as art by many members of the public. Artists such as Fafi, Miss Van and Cope2 have been commissioned to do pieces and even design and put their name on products from popular companies such as Adidas, Le Sport Sac and MAC make up. Brazilian graffiti artists were also asked to decorate the castle at Kelburn Country Park in Largs. Local graffiti artists are encouraged to add to the castles graffiti, people around say that it has brightened up the area. Some people however say that even though a piece may be beautiful and of an artistic nature it is still on public property and is therefore illegal under the idea that it is the defacing and destruction of this property.

Many believe though that the punishment for graffiti should be lightened as it is not seen as a “proper crime”. “Proper crime” is said to be things such as murder, assault and theft. Graffiti is not seen as being harmful to anyone and is not thievery either because nothing is being stolen in the graffiti process. Daze, a graffiti artist from Ayr was jailed for 28 months for causing an estimated £12,000 worth of damage to the Ayrshire and Glasgow areas. An appeal was then put through and the sentence was later reduced to a £4,500 fine and 200 hours' community service. This was due to the appeal judge believing the sentence was too harsh for something which they themselves saw as an art.

In conclusion I think that the word Art teamed with Vandalism is a very negative concept. Art is a term often associated with arrogance and Vandalism is the idea of a crime being committed against property. I believe that graffiti is neither Art nor Vandalism but in itself is a lifestyle and is often something to be admired and enjoyed.

“Some people want to make the world a better place. I just wanna make the world a better looking place. If you don't like it, you can paint over it!”- Banksy


1: These are groups of artists in an area who have joined to paint together or have joined due to the fact that they paint one specific type of graffiti style. Most graffiti writers belong to a group of sorts. These groups are however not official and are mainly started by the artists themselves.

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