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Graffiti - art or vandalism?

51 Comments
By Evee Rayne Summers

Graffiti or "rakugaki" in Japanese is the term for any basic public markings, whether big or small. It is usually associated with gangs, which were done mainly to “mark their territories.” It has also been heavily connected with the hip-hop culture, a genre which eventually made its way to Japan in the late 1980s.

The film “Wild Style,” has been a big influence on the popularity of graffiti and hip-hop on the Japanese culture. However, because of its association with gangs and other groups, more people are questioning whether graffiti is art or vandalism.

Graffiti dates back to ancient times. Cave paintings and pictographs have been discovered by historians, and has been part of civilization. Ancient graffiti depicts declarations of emotions, literature and political ideas. Early forms even offer insight to lifestyles and languages from different cultures.

Today, graffiti is just one of the four elements that made up hip-hop culture. City subways in the west were the main areas where graffiti are displayed, and as years go by, graffiti artists even incorporated cartoon characters and scenery into their work.

In Japan, however, hip-hop music and break dancing came in before graffiti broke through. The genre was welcomed by the Japanese youth positively, which was then followed by the opening of the first all hip-hop club in 1986. In between, graffiti managed to hold its own among artists, and started to get attention in the late 1990s.

Japanese graffiti artists have created their versions, incorporating calligraphy, kanji and anime and manga characters into their works. Compared with Western styles, Japanese graffiti are more intricate especially in the writing aspect. Characters that are very common in Japanese graffiti are sumo wrestlers, samurai warriors and geisha, because these characters played huge parts in their rich culture and civilization.

Some people may look at graffiti as modern art or expression, but there are also some people who think graffiti is vandalism. I am personally torn to be honest. Because I think graffiti is a powerful way of expressing talent, creativity, culture, social and political views. However, I think it can also be unpleasant especially if it’s not well-made and if its contents are obscene and offensive.

What do you think? Is graffiti art or vandalism? Where else in Japan have you seen artistic and intricate graffiti?

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51 Comments
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In the example given in the photograph, it's vandalism. The Art, which is already laid down, has just been scribbled on by a moron. No art in that. No creativity in that. Just defacing somebody else's work.

Public murals in a graffiti style in appropriate places are fine and often look really good, but there is a big difference between the good and the bad in those as well.

14 ( +15 / -1 )

Ancient cave drawings are not graffiti, even though this author is trying their best to create some kind of moral equivalency by referring to them as such.

Ancient cave paintings were done on people's own properties, where they lived, or in uninhabited areas. They didn't sneak into somebody else's house and draw pictures on the walls.

This is destruction of public property, pure and simple. Just because you think it looks "cool" and the cops don't have enough time or resources to arrest everybody involved, this is not "art" by any stretch of the imagination.

If these "artists" were so talented, they could BUY their own wall, paint on it, and charge people to view it.

11 ( +15 / -4 )

Although my son could draw or paint something in school and we would call it art, it's not the same art that we think of in these discussions. Art in society requires a certain foregrounding for it to make sense. Emin's bed is just a bed in the bedroom, but it's a lot more when it's in a gallery. Most graffiti for me is just graffiti - artistic maybe, but not art. Banksy is different. There's a lot of foregrounding in his work; it's immediately recognizable and carries a specific public identity. The author wrote:

I think graffiti is a powerful way of expressing talent, creativity, culture, social and political views. However, I think it can also be unpleasant especially if it's not well-made

Here's a test: If you think graffiti is art, how would you feel if you woke up one morning to find someone had graffiti'd the side of your house?

7 ( +10 / -3 )

100% of graffiti is vandalism! It makes no difference if it looks good or not. If you deface an object or a wall without the consent of the owner it is vandalism.

100% agree. Perpetrators should have their aerosol cans inserted where the sun doesn't shine and then be forced to clean up their mess and then go to jail for a couple of years.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

So Yubaru I can come and spray graffiti on your house or your car and call it art, and then it's okay?

6 ( +11 / -5 )

90% of graffitii is garbage!!! Total vandalism.

100% of graffiti is vandalism! It makes no difference if it looks good or not. If you deface an object or a wall without the consent of the owner it is vandalism. Plain and simple! If something is painted or drawn onto a wall or an object under contract or with consent from the owner, then it is art!

Graffiti is graffiti and art is art! They are not the same thing!

5 ( +11 / -6 )

Yubaru yeah your right but I get tired of seeing it everyday when I go to work and it's all over our trains. I find a man spray painting our train one night he didn't see anything wrong with what he was doing until I asked the question I asked you.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

In the picture: the kimono lady is part of the graffiti "piece" with the "tag" over it (on the white).

http://www.flickr.com/groups/strretartjapan/pool/

Graffiti is its' own art with its' own style. Graffiti got big in Greece/Spain with the austerity -a prime means of communication for people being enforced a tyranny.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Graffiti can definitely be art but if you're painting on someone else's property without their permission it doesn't matter if it's art or not. It's still graffiti.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Another bad trend copied by Japan from the occident! Same as the ridiculous Hiphop fashion trend with pants hanging down so everyone can see your underpants.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

A brick is a brick, until you put it in an art museum then its art, and in fact in the Tate Gallery, London, there's a square yard of bricks, two layers deep, worth big bucks. The brick is no longer a brick when thrown through someone's window, then it becomes an offensive weapon.

I like good street art including the more traditional sculpture pieces, realism and abstract. I like chalk drawings on sidewalk areas, which is washed away come the rain. I like good graffiti with a sense of humour, like the work of Banksy, or if its got a catchy political slogan.

I don't like to see graffiti on every possible surface, everywhere, like I would find in London and New York. There are many good places for graffiti like the roller shutters on shops, provided permission of the owner is obtained. Old buildings which are going to be demolished. The boards around a long term building site. The walls around a school and community centres. Areas under bridges and under expressways. Public parks. There's plenty of areas were I would find graffiti acceptable.

I accept sometimes, there are targets, like the Berlin Wall was, and now the security wall in Israel is, which Banksy has also graffitied.

Graffiti has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and the Roman Empire.

But just making graffiti on private property without the consent of the owner is vandalism and criminal. What if, when you went to get your car, you found it graffitied? Don't like you be saying cool? Defacing private and public property is vandalism and criminal, and it costs the owners and the taxpayers big bucks to clean it up.

I don't care much for tagging and don't have much sense or meaning for me.

Many private companies and some individuals, pay big bucks for a well known architect to design a building. Many of them become art in their own right. If a graffiti terrorist then adds their work to that building, its defacing the art in the same way has an art terrorist entering a museum and spray painting onto a masterpiece.

It might improve matters if graffiti artists had some kind of code of practice, like only using water based paints instead of oils and enamels.

There's only one difference between a professional artist and an amateur, and it has nothing to do with universities, talent, qualifications, skill, ability, age, sex, whatever. A professional artist earns their living from their art, an amateur does not.

There are a few young children, with talent, who have become millionaires from selling their work even before reaching the age of 12.

I have been a professional artist for more than 40 years.

Graffiti everywhere is much like dog poop, one is a problem for my feet, the other for my eyes.

Graffiti has a place, but still, not everywhere!

There are many who would say its only graffiti when its illegal? If graffiti can only be illegal, then calling it art does not make it any less illegal or more acceptable.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

A subset of graffiti is "tagging" - the act of attaching a stylized moniker referring to oneself on as many locations as possible. The photo attached to this article is a tag. Tags do not even pretend to be art. Tags are the result of deeply troubled minds.

My dog tags, but he does so in urine, so it is not so offensive. Taggers belong far lower on the social scale than dogs.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I spent several hours one day with a volunteer group trying to scrub off graffiti from the walls in my neighborhood. We made some progress.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

90% of graffitii is garbage!!! Total vandalism. There is good graffiti out there. The best I ever saw was in Okinawa. But probably done by the American teenagers forced to live with their military parents. There are a few out there. I could be wrong. But it was amazing. And done on abandoned buildings too. So no real harm even it was terrible.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

It is not both! Let's make it simple for those having trouble understanding the difference. Graffiti is illegal and art is not!

Yes, some graffiti is quite artistic, but if it is done illegally it is not art. It is graffiti!

1 ( +7 / -6 )

My sister is an artist, a "real" artist and my ideas and opinions regarding what is art and what isn't art changed dramatically because of a conversation I had with her a number of years ago.

Thanks to her insight I learned that in reality what is "art" depends totally upon the person looking at it. No two people see the same things, and what is "art" to one person is garbage to another.

So from that p.o.v. I guess I am more open to understanding that, while many may disagree, graffiti is a type of "urban" or "street" art, and while much of it is illegal and considered to be vandalism, it doesn't change the fact that it is also art to many, but not all people too.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Some graffiti can be absolutely stunning, but I agree that it is pure vandalism if it is done on someone else's property without permission.

A good solution that I've seen is for the government to designate certain walls as "graffiti zones", particularly in less colourful areas of cities. It gives the graffiti artists somewhere to practice, makes the wall their responsibility, ... and also provides an easy way for police to record the tags used by various artists and identify and arrest them if they tag outside of the designated areas.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Yubaru

Thanks to her insight I learned that in reality what is "art" depends totally upon the person looking at it. No two people see the same things, and what is "art" to one person is garbage to another.

To some extent, perhaps, but experienced artists and people who understand the elements and principles of art and design, art history and art theory - I guess the 'trained' eye, will often see it similarly and are able to discern between well constructed, technically skilful art, and that which is not. It's like the difference between listening to a pub band play on a Wednesday night, and seeing The Pixies play on the Saturday. Or someone learning to play the violin as opposed to a Virtuoso. A lot of graffiti I see around the place I'd say isn't even a wednesday night pub band equivalent - more like a couple of teenagers in a room learning how to play with new instruments, but of course, there is also great stuff too - your Stormie Mills, or Bankesy types, who are very good. If they are going to put it out there on public display for all to see, we have a right to judge it on it's merits, and the clear reality of a lot of graffiti art is that it's pretty average at best. Not to mention the vandalism aspect of it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Vandalism.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Is graffiti art or vandalism?

The question itself is meaningless because it is based on faulty logic.Whether a person's creative efforts are legal or not is completely irrelevant to whether we designate it as "art." As Yubaru points out, some illegally produced graffiti can be considered art; and, by extension, some legally produced graffiti can be be considered garbage, depending entirely on the quality, not the laws.

There are many examples of books written "illegally" (in secret, for if discovered by the authorities the authors would be jailed or worse), yet these very same "illegal" books became classics.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

If you wouldn't do it on the outside of your own house, then it's vandalism

1 ( +3 / -2 )

A Banksy is clearly art, a sprayed "tag" by a narcissic teenager is clearly vandalism

Banksy isn't a teenager, he's at least in his late 30's....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

rebel art

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Saw a street map in Tokyo that had graffiti applied so the info was still readable. Maybe Japanese graffiti is more polite.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

What about Banzky

Is he that Russian fella?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What about Banzky Is he that Russian fella?

Banksy is a well known British graffiti artist who uses stencils and spray paint for a "quick hit". General small in size, usually a single colour like black. His works sell for more than £100,000. Very copied artist, especially fake poster prints. Many end up on Ebay. Most are happy to have a Banksy on their property and some have been stolen and put up for sale on Ebay.

http://www.banksy.co.uk/menu.html

0 ( +2 / -2 )

done by someone who needs somebody to talk to.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Dissillusioned "Graffiti is graffiti and art is art! They are not the same thing"

What makes anything art is context, (not skill/talent etc.). Someone else mentioned Tracy Emin's bed, but it applies to any artwork in a any genre in any era.

The question of Graffiti or Art misses the point because the two concepts aren't mutually exclusive - it can be both or it can be neither depending on the context.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

ben, modz: you have made the conclusion. Nothing else to add!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

zichi - thanks but my last post regarding Banzky (sic) was tongue in cheek regarding spelling. See my original post (second in).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

hatsoff Then I take my hatsoff to you!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

visual spam or unwanted virus...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Just because somebody has artistic skill as much as rebel tendencies doesn't make his vandalism more of an art!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Graffiti is an act. Whether or not it is art is surely more to do with the content of the graffiti rather than the act itself.

A Banksy is clearly art, a sprayed "tag" by a narcissic teenager is clearly vandalism. If van Gogh had painted was of his Sunflowers paintings on a wall it would still be graffiti, but it would not become any less "art" than on a canvas.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

0 ( +0 / -0 )

i know a few places here in belgium with huge works where graffiti is definitely art with a capital A, i know a lot of alleys where there's just simple tags sprayed all over the place that don't really add to the decor there so me it's not a black&white answer

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Graffiti is just vandalism... hoodie-wearing yobs with spray cans painting garbage onto walls.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In the picture: the kimono lady is part of the graffiti "piece" with the "tag" over it (on the white)

If thats true then it's a poor price of art - because the disparate elements don't work together at all. Perhaps the 'artist' should have done a little more planning and preparation to sort that out first.

rebel art

Art is often inherently 'rebel' and subversive by nature already, so I disagree. Good street art, or graffiti artists are just a type of visual artist, that's all.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I really think it's case by case. If it's a private home or wall guarding the home and someone sprays their mark, or as with the picture, it's flat out vandalism. When it's in some public places though there are times when it might be considered art -- so long as it IS art and not some vulgarity or just some dude's name.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

the scribble on the graffiti is just a scribble defacing the original piece of art. Who cares about getting permission when your really good. People will take down the wall intact and auction it off.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Banksy is a well known British graffiti artist who uses stencils and spray paint for a "quick hit". General small in size, usually a single colour like black. His works sell for more than £100,000. Very copied artist, especially fake poster prints. Many end up on Ebay. Most are happy to have a Banksy on their property and some have been stolen and put up for sale on Ebay.

Way over-rated and has weak fading and font skillz. If you want tru graffiti you have the East Coast (NYC) and West Coast (L.A. styles). Personally i never cared for the Phili East Coast style (thin full length fonts all the way to the ground).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcUMl5ohKN4 Best graffiti film and explains the hate between taggers-throw-ups-piecers.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulOiB3xEkzM

Banksy (the stenciler) vs Robbo.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

So Yubaru I can come and spray graffiti on your house or your car and call it art, and then it's okay?

Look at what I wrote, it is possible to be both! Oh and if your "graffiti" looks like some of the paintings I have seen, I wouldn't complain, and just might invite you to come back a few weeks later and change it as well.

What defines art? Wait one I want to find a quote I saw somewhere and share it here;

I believe that Graffiti is considered art because art has a meaning behind it and has feelings beneath the picture itself and so does graffiti. People express themselves in art work, they can also express their emotions in graffiti.

Graffiti is also known as street art, and I agree that if a person who "paints" such art on a building or property without permission that very same artwork could as well be seen as vandalism. Look at the word vandalism; "Willful or malicious destruction of public or private property" is this graffiti or street art "destruction" of public or private property? In some, probably most cases, YES, however not 100%.

In some cases what started as "vandalism", (no permission from the owner) when seen by said owner, became "art" because the owner of the building liked what he saw.

So, it's not so cut and dried now is it?

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

So wait!!!!! If the Mona Lisa was painted on piece of canvas that was stolen. Ten it's graffiti by your detention and garbage? Okay got it!

If Michealangelo painted the chapel in secret without anyone's permission then it's garbage and graffiti and not art and vandalism only. Okay got it.

I'm mean of coure. If you see the world in black and white then that's the only way it can be true.

Way about amazing graffiti on the side of an abandoned building that now one cares about?

What about Banzky. One of the greatest living artists today?

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Foreign imported vandalism.

Did Japan have grafitti in any magnitude before the "west"?

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

100% of graffiti is vandalism! It makes no difference if it looks good or not. If you deface an object or a wall without the consent of the owner it is vandalism. Plain and simple! If something is painted or drawn onto a wall or an object under contract or with consent from the owner, then it is art!

Not necessarily I would say, I can not recall the name of the city, but there is a long wall where people started drawing paintings and putting up artful graffiti to brighten up the area and remove the urban blight. The city saw the value of the "art" and then started promoting it and having other local graffiti artists put their work up and it helped to change the city.

Graffiti can be both art and vandalism at the same time!

Graffiti is graffiti and art is art! They are not the same thing!

This is your opinion, as graffiti is a type or genre of art the same as impressionists paintings are as well.

Art is in the eye of the beholder.

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

Japanese authorities are utterly gutless when it comes to dealing with graffiti. Shibuya is bad enough, but out here in Meguro, practically every other commercial building's shutter is covered with scrawls. I'm in favor of giving taggers 50 stinging lashes across their bare buttocks, followed by amputation of the hand they use for writing.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

It is not both! Let's make it simple for those having trouble understanding the difference. Graffiti is illegal and art is not! Yes, some graffiti is quite artistic, but if it is done illegally it is not art. It is graffiti!

That is your opinion, don't underestimate the ability of people here to make up their own minds either. As I pointed out, not all graffiti is illegal either, and graffiti is street ART.

Graffiti can be and is ART.

There is also art work that is done illegally I am sure that is not graffiti either. It's not semantics, it's a fact.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Yubaru yeah your right but I get tired of seeing it everyday when I go to work and it's all over our trains. I find a man spray painting our train one night he didn't see anything wrong with what he was doing until I asked the question I asked you.

Quite understandable, and I agree that the majority of it is vandalism too. Yet that same vandalism could very well be artwork too, illegal, but nonetheless artwork.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Might as well let them get on with it. There is nothing the graffitists could do to make the cities look any worse than they already do. And they add a touch of colour and the organic to an otherwise drab machine-like desolation. My heart is actually filled with some joy that there is thrusting life still to be found when I see it.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

100% of graffiti is vandalism! It makes no difference if it looks good or not. If you deface an object or a wall without the consent of the owner it is vandalism. Plain and simple! If something is painted or drawn onto a wall or an object under contract or with consent from the owner, then it is art!

Graffiti is graffiti and art is art! They are not the same thing!

Who am I am kidding? Your right! The world is black and white.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

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