Graffiti and Art
Graffiti has many faces. Some see it as art, while others see it as criminal vandalism. Some see it as a good outlet for youth, while others see it as a corrupting influence. One's view of graffiti is influenced by their perspective and their personal experience.
If one is has been a victim of graffiti, that victimization tends to influence their perspective on the issue. Some of these viewpoints are captured on our FAQ page.
Municipalities also have a view, derived from their perspective. It is estimated that between $15 and $18 billion per year is spent by municipalities to combat graffiti. Given that annual expenditure, perhaps the language municipalities use to describe graffiti is predictable. If one clicks on the Ordinances button of our home page and browses through the various municipal ordinances, one finds consistency in phrases used by communities to describe graffiti:
|"Detrimental to property values"|
|"Negatively impacts the entire community"|
|"Causes an increase in crime"|
But if you are involved in applying graffiti to trains and walls, you have an entirely different perspective. The NoGraf Network has received emails from some of them, indicating that property owners should be grateful for the art they have applied. Many consider graffiti to be an artistic journey, not a path of criminal vandalism. But even within the pro-graffiti community there is disagreement. Consider the following quote: "Pick a side. Either you are an artist or a graffiti writer. Artists create art, graffiti writers create graffiti. you can't have it both ways. I don't have anything turned around. Pieces are nice and cute but they are not what is at the heart of graff. Graff is all about tagging, catching wrecks and feeling empowered by nom de plume and signature. Loosing yourself in freedom. Pieces are exaggerated exercises in 30 can masturbation." A minority view? A maverick? The author of one of the hottest-selling pro-graff books on the market today was mentored by this "maverick". Perspective!
But the overwhelming majority of citizens have no perspective on this issue which is based on their own personal experience. They have not been victimized by graffiti, they are not involved in municipal efforts to combat it, they are not involved in applying graffiti to walls. From what sources does this majority derive an opinion?
This page has been created to identify some of the forces that are operative in our society, influencing the perception of graffiti. Some are subtle. In some cases the NoGraf Network has taken a stand, and these are clearly identified. Except for these instances, the following is merely a chronicle of operative forces in our society which collectively "paint the image" of graffiti for the overwhelming majority.
|An enlightened, educated view from U of Mass|
|McDonald's Graffiti Advertising|
|Target sells graffiti supplies for children 3 and up.|
|ALTOIDS Curious Urban Art Program|
|Criticism of NoGraf's stance on "Top 14 Women Graffiti Artists"|
|Long Beach "Top 14 Women Graffiti Artists"|
|Target Stores Marketing Graffiti Shirts|
|August 5, 2002 Letter from NoGraf to CEO of Nike|
|Response from Nike|
|September 17, 2002 Letter from NoGraf to CEO of Coca Cola|
|Response from Coca Cola|
|Milwaukee shunning Coca Cola's Art-of-Harmony Contest?|
|Heather MacDonald, re: Art and Crime in New York City|
|Free speech? They're all chalk! Nov 21, 2002 LA Times Op Ed.|
|Member Insights, following Coca Cola Letter|
|Letters From Vandals to Nograf|
|NoGraf April 29, 2002
Interview by VIBE Magazine
VIBE Magazine Interview
Casey, Victoria, Australia: In regards to Art of Harmony Program local government and companies that are advocating free walls and aerosol art as a solution to graffiti vandalism, are demonstrating their lack of understanding of graffiti and its meaning. Graffiti vandalism is all about maximum exposure, thrill-seeking and marking territory - as much as possible.
Aukland, New Zealand: I have drunk Coca Cola for 30 years but I am not happy about you people using graffiti and vandalism to promote the product. Here in Auckland, New Zealand our council spends over 1 million dollars a year removing tags etc from other people's property. People do not have the right to put their name, the name of their drug of choice or the gang they want to get into all over my fence or your office building. There is nothing artistic about it and responsible corporations should not be sponsoring it.
Yreka, CA (Re: Coca Cola): Your Art of Harmony program, although nice in what it hopes to accomplish, is in fact not very well thought out since you are giving praise and accolades to kids who have victimized citizens to the tune of billions of dollars every year. Graffiti in itself is an illegal act and for the few that actually have a talent, there are thousands who are going to continue or even increase their spree of vandalism because of programs like what you are promoting. It is troublesome when a corporate giant dives into an area they know nothing about, just to raise their profit margin, and we in the community keep paying the price. The fact of the matter is that over 100 cities across the US have tried types of programs like this and not one has worked. What actually happens is that graffiti vandalism increases in and around the community where these free walls stand. Every one has been removed due to this problem. So now, Coca Cola thinks that they can do the same thing and its ok? They need to do better research before jumping into something that has such a huge detrimental impact on all of us. I ask that you put a stop to this and spend that money of helping people remove the blight from their properties, or maybe help cities remove the vandalism from public property. Instead of promoting the problem, how about being a partner in finding a solution?
Miami, Florida: When Judge Ellis sentenced the "American Taliban," John Walker Lindh to 20 years, on October 4th, he said "Life is about choices and living the consequences." Perhaps Mr. Daft, Coca Cola, and their "famous street artists" could learn something from that. If Walker were to have faced "Judge Daft" might he have been declared a "famous freedom fighter"? And might Coca Cola have figured a way to sell soft drinks on the magic of that spin?
Rockford, Illinois: When I was compiling responses on the Coca Cola issue, I attempted to view the issue from outside of my perspective by going to local art teachers to feel them out on the issue. One of them responded with puzzlement and frustration. She said that high school art seems unexplainably constrained, nowadays, to graffiti and "street art," as if it is the current "hula hoop" of high school art classes. She had no understanding of why that is...merely "that's the way it is!"
Merced, California: It
seems like every couple of years here in Merced, a citizen steps forward and
attempts to promote a way for kids to "express" themselves by
engaging in "supervised" graffiti art demonstrations.
In light of the recent rhubarb regarding Coke/Sprite, I was wondering if either you, or the NoGraf site has info on the success or lack thereof of any projects such as what is being proposed here.
Our past experience in Merced is that whenever any publicity is given to graffiti, graffiti vandalism goes on the upswing. In Merced, in the past, I have pointed out that if such projects for free walls or sanctioned graffiti "art" are endorsed or allowed, the City would need to up the amount it spends on abatement approximately three-fold!
California: It appears to me the public schools are attempting to keep
the interest of their students. My son attends a local private school.
He recently completed an art class. He is a teenager that likes to be
creative with his writing and he considered himself as somewhat of an
artist. When he received a C on his first grade, he thought his
teacher was crazy. He worked his way through this class, complaining
about the art he was directed to complete. He remained frustrated with
grades until the last few weeks of the class. He started noticing his art was getting better and his grades showed it, he finished the class with a A. My point is, I think the teachers are not teaching art as much as they are trying to keep the attention of their students. The students that like graffiti win and the teaching of art loses.
Phoenix, Arizona: I think that the reason kids
join gangs is to be in a family. So many children have no real family.
They have a place to sleep and eat but not a real family environment.
Once in the gang they have to prove they are
good enough to stay in it. So they follow the leader. Drugs,
liquor, smoking, graffiti, violence.
Another part of this that truly disturbs me is the bullying. Gangs are headed by a bully, the lieutenants under the leader are bullies. Bullies destroy a lot of kids feeling of self-worth. I see that with my kids in the after school and summer program. I had 110 this summer and nearly 100 now. We have a zero tolerance on bullying. IT is vastly rewarding. You see kids blossom, gain confidence, feel good about themselves. These kids won't go out and be miniature gangsters. They don't have to prove "something"
The ones that do the vandalism, drugs, that culture are the ones who do not have a good self image. They are so frightened and alone and cover it with a brash kind of behavior. I feel so sorry for them. But not sorry enough to allow them to graffiti, sell drugs and hurt other people. No way. We have to get families popular again. Then the gangs will cease.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: I have a unique perspective (I think) on this situation. I attended High at the High School for Creative and Performing Arts located in Philadelphia, PA (A city that we sell our graffiti removers too). I majored In Visual Arts which is Painting, Drawing, Sculpture, Computer Graphics and I also saw this trend in my school which is one of the best art schools in the country (High School or College). I will say this though, most of the kids who did do this "graffiti art" not to bash them, they weren't very good with the basics of art, drawing... specifically figure and still life drawing. I know there may be some graffiti artists who can put some things on a wall and it looks out of this world. But for the most part... not very much talent = graffiti art. Same thing as a foul mouth = not a big vocabulary. By the way, in my opinion, graffiti IS NOT ART and they should NOT call themselves graffiti artists. They are graffiti VANDALS. One last connection. Graffiti is on the rise because this hip hop culture is currently "in", and yes it is today's hula-hoop, but it wont last like it. Every 20-30 years fads recycle.
San Francisco, California: San Francisco is a
extremely progressively and liberal City and with that said: This is the
battle I have been fighting for years. The art community here in San
Francisco encourages and, in fact, give aid and comfort to the
graffiti vandals. They believe that it is art no mater where it's
done, and they refuse to admit that the same vandals that they teach in
the Art colleges are the ones that are tagging and defacing public
property! Then after they have perfected their trade with the tags they
move on to bigger and better thing and become artists.
The following letter was sent to McDonald's by an official in Portland, Oregon, regarding McDonald's use of graffiti to sell their fast-food products:
January 16, 2004
Oak Brook, IL 60523
As Graffiti Abatement Coordinator for the city of Portland, Oregon, I am concerned with your apparent lack of awareness, in spite of your proclaimed "social responsibility", that has resulted in a new ad campaign featuring graffiti (a graffiti character jumps off a tagged wall and follows people into McDonald's).
While certain aspects of our culture may glorify graffiti -vandalism, i.e., hip hop music, etc.- the truth is graffiti vandalism costs millions of dollars a year, world-wide, to repair and remove. Tagged walls, signs, vehicles, monuments - create a huge problem for municipal governments, law enforcement and neighborhoods, who struggle with limited resources to maintain the livability of their respective jurisdictions.
While some people want to call it "art" and label it "freedom of expression and creativity" as justification, graffiti is
destructive! Please discontinue this commercial...you are adding to a world wide problem by glorifying a criminal act! Showing graffiti in this way adds to the "normalization" of an activity that destroys property and may
promote other negative behaviors among young people.
Marcia L. Dennis
Graffiti Abatement Coordinator
1900 SW 4th Avenue, Ste 40
Portland, OR 97201
The Nograf Network Inc.
8524 West Gage Blvd #A403 #A403
Kennewick, WA 99336