Graffiti, is it vandalism or art?

Since the 1980’s people have seen graffiti as a form of vandalism. However the twenty first century sees graffiti as a form of modern day art. Graffiti is a form of expression, a way for our youth to show their artistic skills. This is a form of art , yet people see still see it as pollution or dirt, something that is just making our city look worse in the eyes of tourists, and neighbourhoods that were once highly respected areas look like the ‘ghettos’.

People have associated graffiti with the old Hollywood movies that show gangsters driving around damp ‘ghetto’ towns such as Boston, where the roads are covered in graffiti from top to bottom. Since then people see graffiti covered towns as deprived areas.

Graffiti has been around since the cavemen; they used different plant oils and mud to draw images on the walls of their caves. They would draw images of mammoths, bulls, fish, rivers and mountains. They also used wall art to describe what their life was like, or what animals were significant to them. They also used wall art or ‘graffiti’ to express their feelings, some caveman art shows images of love hearts and butterflies and sunshine, meaning the sunshine or butterflies had touched their emotional side that specific day so much that they tried to remake what they saw on their cave wall.

The Egyptians were utilising graffiti to show exactly what happened within their Kingdom. The pharaohs would demand that slaves create images in the large columns and doors that depicted what happened within the kingdoms by carving out pictures in the stones. Some rebel people would sometimes carve small images in the rock. Some pictures included, fishes, women, and children.

Ancient Rome was most known for its graffiti signs that would show men that they were near brothels. They would carve a handprint that would vaguely resemble a love heart on a wall that would symbolise love followed by a footprint and a number. The footprint symbolising that you were within walking distance and the number meaning you will have to pay.

Graffiti can also be used to describe the political state at the time the art was produced. In ancient Roman times, they would use graffiti or wall art to describe what the political situation was like, they would draw images of horses and chariots, surrounded by gladiators to represent the importance of the coliseum and gladiator battles in Rome at this time. The top five phrases used in Ancient Roman graffiti included, 1) “Philiros Spado – Phileros is a eunuch” 2) “Oppi, emboliari, fur, furuncle- Oppius, you’re a clown, a thief, and a cheep crook.” 3) “Maximus in lecto. Faetor, peccavimus, hospes. Si dices: Quare? Nulla matella fuit- we have wet the bed. I admit, we were wrong, my host. If you ask ’why?’ There was no chamber pot. “Found inside an inn. 4) “Talia te fallant utinam medacia, copo: tu vedes bibes ipse merum- if only similar swindling would dupe you, innkeeper: you sell water, and drink the undiluted wine yourself.”5) Admiror, o paries, te non ceidisse, qui tot scriptorium taedia sustineas- I wonder, O wall, that you have not yet collapsed, so many writers’ clichés do you bear.” This one was the most famous and appears all over Rome in a lot of different versions of the quote. Below is a video that shows some of the graffiti and phrases that were left behind by people in Ancient Rome and Greece.

Graffiti in most countries is still seen as a crime. Street artists can be heavily fined if they are caught in the act. In Ireland you can get fines as high as one hundred and fifty euro.

Tagging is the most known form of graffiti, tagging began when gangs began. It was used to show which gang patrolled which area. It was a warning sign to rival gangs, to warn them to stay out unless they wanted war.

Graffiti can be any form of writing or image on a wall, graffiti has always been seen as vandalism because of the visual look of it. It is usually large, not thought out and consists of many bright and unattractive colours that wouldn’t generally add to the beauty of a building. It is also seen as a criminal act,  usually due to vandals spray-painting private properties or shop shutters, or in the case of New York its subways. The majority of these properties would be privately owned. If the vandal was caught they could be charged with defacement and vandalism, which is a punishable crime.

Graffiti began with the cavemen using oils, herbs and mud to draw on the walls. The Egyptians and the Romans would chisel their carvings into the wall. In modern day society graffiti has gone back in time to use the same style as the cavemen, just like then they also paint their artwork on to the walls unlike the Egyptian’s and Romans who chiselled their carvings into the wall.

Today however the two main items a graffiti artist needs are spray paint and a facemask. Marker pens have also become popular in recent times. Society sees graffiti as trash, something that should be taken down as soon as it’s put up.

Oxford dictionary’s description of art is as follows “ The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power” the first example of what art is, was painting. If the dictionary can use painting as an example of what are is, them why cant people see ‘graffiti’ as an alternative form of painting, and see it as a beautiful and powerful expression.

Graffiti in Ireland is illegal; people caught performing the act can suffer severe fines or face being brought to court. However many businesses in Dublin have changed their views of graffiti, and no longer view it as vandalism. Many businesses in the centre of the City have hired graffiti artists to design to front of their business, many now have the entire front portion of their shop covered in graffiti.

Graffiti in Ireland is seen as art, many galleries, colleges, restaurants and cafes now use spray painted canvases as decorations, and to bring a modern vibe to their facility.

Manager of ‘Fresh’ a clothes store in Temple bar co-painted the front of the clothes store with his college. He said, “we wanted our shop to look modern, we also wanted to support the graffiti scene and make people stop and look”. Business owners are now seeing graffiti in a new light. It is considered as art by the majority of Irish citizens, shop owners and gallery owners who now display spray painted canvases in their shops and shows.

Maira De Gois

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