Art is a fundamental human practice that has been a part of human life for as long as 40,000 years. It allows us to express our inner creativity in a way in which some cannot express it otherwise. Its impact on our lives is so immense that if you take away someone’s freedom to express themselves artistically, it is almost as if you took away their freedom to be creative. This is exactly why street art and graffiti is such a beautiful and underappreciated work of art.
They can have cultural, political, and social meaning behind them since the people creating them are locals who have their opinions on what is going on in the town, city, or country around them. Street art and graffiti simply gives these creative people a strong voice that they would never usually have. Although everything so far sounds all dandy and creative, there are some problems that cannot be ignored. One problem is that street art and graffiti is often done on properties that are, for example, publicly owned and therefore are not privately owned by the street artists. This often results in claims of vandalism being thrown left and right directly at the artists. Another problem is that street art and graffiti have started to become a platform for people with more aggressive and offensive intentions that the ideal street artist. These people intend to use graffiti as a way to express subtle racism and even to promote dangerous local gang activities.
These problems bring up the argument against graffiti while the positive and creative effects bring up the argument in favor of graffiti. Although both sides of the argument are not without reason, the positive and creative effects of graffiti surely outweigh its negativity due to its sheer beauty and powerful subliminal messages. Although graffiti is, most of the time, a pleasing sight for us to glaze upon, it often times has been used for so much more than just a pretty painting. For example, it can used by the local artists to “express emotions, give critique on current politics or society, or offer venues for public art” (qtd. in Kiai 278). These various ways of using graffiti is what drives graffiti artists to keep on creating, even if they are breaking a few rules here and there.
Another positive reason in favor of graffiti is that the locals can use it as an alternate and more reliable source of news rather than to listen to the mainstream media fabricate the truth. Speaking of the mainstream, people are always quick to bring up that graffiti is horribly desecrating their community yet no one brings this argument up when talking about works of art that are commercialized such as posters, billboards, and gigantic neon advertisements. This is because most people are willing to turn a blind eye when money is involved in some way. Of course no one is making money off of voluntary street art yet these big companies make tons of money in advertisement revenue only and no one seems to ever bring that up. Also no matter how many times the authorities try to put street artists down by repainting over their graffiti, the street artists will just come back and begin to spread their message and creativity all over again. Even though the positive effects of graffiti clearly outweigh the negative effects, it would be unwise to simply pretend that these negative effects do not even exist. For starters the cost to conceal and repaint over graffiti that is deemed as “vandalism” in the United States averages out to $15 to $18 billion US dollars a year.
This money could definitely go to much more important uses rather than to clean up after the “vandalism” known as street art that will only continue to occur as the government tries to limit the people’s creative power. The more the government repaints over street artists’ work, the more street artists will be inclined to continue to make their art and vice versa. Another point to consider is that of graffiti being used by rival gangs and drug dealers as a means of communication. Although such a sluggish way of communicating is vastly outdone by our modern-day smartphones, the point that is trying to be made here is that graffiti might be beneficial in giving these gangs notoriety. The last issue to consider is that of property and ownership.
These street artist want their art to be seen by as many people as possible and the best way to do that is so create their art on a frequently visited public building. The problem with that is that the street artists do not have the property rights to the building and therefore cannot rightfully paint over it. Plus how would the respected owner of the property feel to see his walls defaced and would have to pay to restore the walls to their original condition. Peter Vallone, a key sponsor in the anti-graffiti legislation in New York City, said it best when he told street artist that their “freedom of expression ends where my property begins” (qtd. in Kiai 277). It’s safe to say that graffiti has its fair share of both cultural benefits and economical disadvantages but that does not stop either side of the argument from continuously supporting their cause. Hopefully the arguments stay in equilibrium and we can continue to live a country where there are so many great works of street art that are constantly inspiring people to create their own beautiful works of art as well.