a&e opinion: Artistic temporality, illegality of graffiti stimulates thought

Mollie Cramer, asst. a&e editor

Would graffiti be considered art or vandalism? There’s no concrete definition of art; like beauty, art is in the eye of the beholder. To me, art is an aesthetically appealing manifestation of ideas. There’s an intended purpose behind it. For this reason, I see graffiti not as a mindless crime, but as street art.

Graffiti has a unique power to amplify political and social statements, and the fact that it’s illegal provides a revolutionary medium through which to challenge society. It’s a distinctive “stick it to the man” type art; an underground medium that draws its power from the thrill of its creation. In such an assimilating, rigid society, we need this.

One of my favorite graffiti artists is the anonymous Banksy. This world-renowned artist has made a name for himself on the streets of New York. He paints satirical, innovative drawings of controversial topics. One of his best designs is of a child pulling a flower out of a soldier’s gun. Another is of a couple hugging while both looking at their phones. They’re comments on peace, war and societal trends that draw their meaning from the circumstances of graffiti.

It’s images like these that wouldn’t make as much of an impact if drawn on a traditional canvas. It’s the location of graffiti that gives it meaning; you put a radical image criticizing society right smack dab in the middle of society, and you’ve just guaranteed recognition of the issue.

Another one of Banksy’s works is of a dove wearing a bulletproof vest; this is indicative of the type of progressive ideas graffiti inspires. The identification of hypocrisy in the image of a peaceful dove is a challenge to the seemingly violent world that we live in.

I’m not encouraging people to go out and destroy private property. I’m merely trying to counter the argument that all graffiti is pointless vandalism. Graffiti has been recognized as art in a variety of ways. There have been films inspired by Banksy, and his book is sold at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It’s an admired art form that just so happens to be illegal.

However, I’d like to draw a distinction between street art and tagging. Art is not writing, “Mollie was here” on a wall. That’s just dumb. Destroying private property to tag your name on the wall is senseless defacement. However, it’s not fair to say that all graffiti is art, just like it’s not fair to say that all paintings are art. If there’s a purpose, then there’s art, and tagging has none.

Though less prevalent in Glenview, graffiti, nonetheless, can have a place in and influence any community. In an Oracle survey taken of 129 South students, 11 percent said that graffiti was vandalism, 36 percent said it was art, and 53 percent said that they considered it to be both.

Graffiti is a temporary, finite art. I think that’s what makes it so important. It doesn’t take itself too seriously; it’s open to change and interpretation. It’s the antithesis of the consumerism, corporate culture of America. When you create a sculpture, every indent is permanent. But with graffiti, it could be painted over a week later.

Graffiti is the adapted representation of modern youth culture. It’s a documentation of our culture on the walls of our cities. So let’s recognize the organized radicalism of street art.