Journal Writing Project: Is graffiti art or vandalism? (2024)

By Makayla Braaten

Have you ever been driving and notice a painting on the side of a building? Would you consider that art or vandalism? Graffiti is writing or drawings on a wall or other surface, usually as a form of an artistic expression, without permission and within public view. Furthermore, where is the line between art and vandalism? Ironically, if you look up vandalism, the first picture to pop up is a graffiti painting.

When people in our society see any form of graffiti, they shut it down. We have told ourselves that spray painted art is vandalism. In reality, a spraypaint can is just a tool that artists use to create an art piece. Like painting tools, graffiti is a tool for the mass communications of the world. It can get a person’s opinions and voices heard in an anonymous way, and get people talking.

Twelve-year custom painter Diego Gonzalez was asked by a teacher to paint some murals in the schooling facility where she worked. He said yes and took the whole night creating things that the students could connect to and would enjoy seeing during the school day. As soon as students walked in the next day, the atmosphere changed. The hallways they took to get to class wasn’t as boring as before, now it had so much color. The students also started taking different hallways to class so they could see his murals every day because it had such an impact on them. The students then started to come up with their own creative ideas and started painting murals within the school. People who aren’t even artists were influenced greatly and created things that have a very positive impact on their community.

Diego Gonzalez mentions in his Ted Talk a study done by two researchers on how people would react to an abandoned car in the middle of a city. The researchers left a car with nothing wrong with it on the side of the road, and a few weeks later they came back to see if anything was messed with, but nothing was wrong with it. They then broke a window and left some scratches to see if people would react to the abandoned car. A few weeks later the researchers came back and noticed that the car had more scratches, broken windows and a couple of paintings on it. When the car was sitting there abandoned, but not broken into, people weren’t phased by it. But, when something happened to it, people began to follow along by also breaking windows or scratching it up. Graffiti can have a positive affect on people, but it can also have negative effects.

Though the building value of businesses can go up for the measure of art displayed on them, or even having an art piece from street artist Banksy on the building, it can also cost businesses tens of millions of tax dollars just by cleaning it up. Businesses could spend that money on things that can benefit their community. Another negative affect is graffiti is considered to be a gateway crime, leading people to alcohol, drugs or gang activity. Graffiti is out in the open where everyone can see; yes it’s anonymous, but by displaying any hate crime or profanity, it can really affect society. This has also caused many people to feel unsafe. So, do the negatives outweigh the positive?

Graffiti is seen as a form of artistic expression and can have positive outcomes for people, it is also illegal and considered vandalism. So, where is the line between art and vandalism? Artists are going out and creating art, but not with permission to do so. To some extent, graffiti is a little bit of both art and vandalism.

Makayla Braaten is a student at Fillmore Central High School. She is one of eight area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its 21st year.

Journal Writing Project: Is graffiti art or vandalism? (2024)
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