Criminal Chefs-d’oeuvre

Graffiti has grown to be heavily associated with gang activity, but can it ever be considered as art?

Graffiti has grown to be heavily associated with gang activity, but can it ever be considered as art?

Sarah Ceja, Editor-in-Chief

In the words of Banksy, “art comes alive in the arguments you have about it.” No other form of art has managed to spur as much debate as graffiti; it has become both prevalent in many communities and popular among youths. Graffiti is an art form that has both allowed changing communities to maintain their culture and given youths a creative outlet for inspiring political activism.

Graffiti gives communities means to maintain their culture in the midst of gentrification. In “Graffiti: Urban Art as a Gentrifier”, Calum Gill-Quirke describes graffiti as being “symbolic of rebellion from [those] who are the main victims of the gentrifying processes of globalisation.” In “A Feast of Street Art, Luminous and Legal,” the words of Marc Schiller, a founder of the Wooster Collective, were highlighted, as he explained that artists were not motivated by simply rebelling, but that they were motivated to “find places that are neglected and to bring some sort of energy back to them, to reconnect them to people.” It is the social motives behind the cans of spray paint that qualify graffiti as art.

The illegality of street art is precisely what gives it meaning. Graffiti artists Utah and Ether explained this in an interview with The Hundreds, saying, “If we were to…  showcase the type of ‘graffiti art’… which simply copies what we do in the street on a canvas,… the end result would lose all of its meaning. It would be boring to both the viewer and to us.” Given that graffiti is rebellious in its nature, it makes sense to say that the illegality of it is arguably its most essential component to reserving any meaning.

Many arguments against street art are centered on the fact that graffiti promotes a subculture of marking territory that often becomes synonymous with gang activity and meaningless rebellion. Dr. Jeffrey Chase, a licensed clinical psychologist and psychology professor at Radford University, expresses that “vandalism [in his eyes] is basically anger,” a way for juveniles to vent (“Graffiti Psychology”).

What Chase fails to mention is the fact that only an estimated 10 per cent of taggings are a form of gang communication.

But if in fact Chase’s assumption is correct, and graffiti is simply a youthful way to vent, how come so many of these pieces have been showcased in museums and even auctioned off for hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Surely, if museums across the globe have such pieces on display, they must hold some meaning, right?

If we as a society chose to place such high price tags on select pieces of street art, then all works of the sort must be regarded as something more than simply criminal chefs-d’oeuvre.