Graffiti: Vandalism or Art Form?

The Warriors brought me back to the earlier years of my childhood… a New York City covered in graffiti. Now it’s extremely rare to see walls, shops, or subway trains covered in graffiti. Part of the reason for the decline in graffiti art has to do with heavy fines and penalties. Individuals who decide to use the subway as their canvas can face serious charges. In 2007, Alain Maridueña aka Ket faced a $5,000 fine and community service for vandalism. Maridueña is often called one of the “godfathers of graffiti” due to the international recognition he gained for his art. Today he speaks at universities and his work is shown in galleries. Maridueña says that he “grew up in Brooklyn in the ’80s. It was a tough time. We had a lot to deal with, including the crack epidemic. This was a positive thing. It gave me a sense of self-esteem.” It is clear, from Maridueña’s statement that he thought of graffiti as a positive outlet. Many people do not share his perspective on this issue.

Graffiti became very popular during the 1970s in New York City. It is considered to be a highly controversial subject. Some people view graffiti as an art form, while others consider it to be vandalism and a cause of urban decay. Often the younger crowds used graffiti as a form of rebellion, communication, and expression. Gangs used it to mark their territories, and others used it to create murals to honor their loved ones.

I think graffiti gave people a sense of self-importance. It allowed them to leave their mark and their influence on a specific location. It also provided recognition and fame. Since, graffiti is more often suppressed rather than encouraged, I would like to know if anyone believes that it should be recognized as a true art form.

Jon Naar

Subway Train
Alain Maridueña's Graffiti

13 thoughts on “Graffiti: Vandalism or Art Form?

  1. Well I think it depends on the situation and style. Like you mentioned Christy, some used it to create murals for loved ones and others just to mark territories. I don’t think that using graffiti to mark a territory makes it art, anyone can do that. Specifically, I think about the scene in The Warriors where they show the boy making the big W to show they have been there. It was not very art like. On the other hand, I have seen beautiful murals, especially when riding on the 7 train. Some of them are breath taken and should definitely be viewed as art. I don’t think they hurt anyone either because the majority of them are located on rooftops.

  2. Giomar, you made some very good points about graffiti. I believe that it depends on the situation and also intention. If someone is using a spray can with the intention of vandalizing someone’s property, then he or she is not creating art. I think this is such an issue because everyone has their own idea of what art actually is. Because we cannot reach a consensus about what constitutes art, graffiti artists will continue to face fines and other penalties for their work.

  3. I think that the classifications of graffiti being either vandalism or an art form are very vague. The two different views on graffiti will continue to clash until the end of time, in my opinion.

    Speaking about subway graffiti, I watched the movie “Style Wars” in my sociology class last year and it spoke about how both the police and graffiti artists view graffiti. It also talks about its connection with the emergence of hip-hop and breakdancing, two other types of art forms. Here’s part 1 of the video:

    Giomar also talked about the graffiti that the 7 train always passes by. The place is called 5 Pointz and it’s basically an outdoor art exhibit. Here’s the link to their site of the pieces that are there:

  4. The classifications may seem vague, but I feel like whenever graffiti is discussed, these are the two conflicting views that are ultimately expressed. How else do you think we can describe graffiti? I’m glad you brought up graffiti’s connection to hip-hop. Graffiti is considered to be essential to hip-hop’s development along with breakdancing, mc-ing, and dj-ing. But, like you said it’s still an art form. Personally, I believe that graffiti encourages competition among competing groups and a sense of community within a group. It’s really all about making a statement. This statement could be negative, political, or positive.

    Thanks for the links. 5 Pointz has some really nice artwork. I love how the cop says in the video that he “doesn’t know if graffiti is art” and then claims he’s not an art critic.

  5. When I read your post, first thing that came to mind was Williamsburg! Last time I went there, it felt like a museum of modern art, everything covered in very masterful graffiti and spray-paint art in general. I guess shop owners pay artists to “vandilize” their shops. It is truly a decoration in that place!

  6. I agree with Giomar. It depends on the intention of the graffiti. If its purpose is to memorialize someone then I think it’s fine. If it’s just for fun and serves no purpose other than tagging and getting your name out there, then I don’t think it’s okay.

    • Were not talking about if it’s okay. IS IT ART? Yes. Vandalism is not the opposite of art! If the Mona Lisa were painted on a bridge without permission instead of paper would it not be art because of the canvas it was done on?

  7. I think graffiti can definitely be considered an art form, especially, as Jenny says, if the intention isn’t vandalism but a memorial or honor to someone. I think of Keith Haring, circa 1980’s NY, and I consider that a modern art form of our generation. I especially like seeing “well-done” graffiti because I feel like its an urban art form that doesn’t always have to be defacing something, but could actually be enhancing the surface its on. It’s sometimes fun to stumble upon graffiti and admire its detail while wondering who created it and why.

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