When it comes to any discussions about graffiti, it is often asked – is graffiti even a type of art or just vandalism? Until this day, there is no common option about this phenomenon. Some consider it as a creative expression that’s been known for thousands of years, but others however see it only as communication way of outlaws and damage of infrastructure.
First let’s look at definition of graffiti to have a common understanding about what we are talking. Most of the dictionaries explain it as writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.
By this definition we can understand that also prehistoric cave cravings and paintings are graffiti, because they have been made on surfaces in public places. Even more, this prehistoric art also has its own message just like graffiti in nowadays. So basically it is creative expression that’s been known and practiced for thousands of years. Maybe it even can be called one of the oldest visual arts, so can it even be considered as vandalism?
On the other hand, many people don’t consider prehistoric visual arts as graffiti. When they talk about graffiti, they understand only the modernism period of it. Around 1970s in New York graffiti artists wrote messages on the walls and other infrastructure of urban environment. It soon grew as a movement and became sort of art. They started to use only spray-paint and permanent felt-tipped markers. They used this art for protesting and the art works became more creative.
So most of the people see graffiti as big sized artwork made with spray-paint. If we look at graffiti from this perspective, the question is no more about the place of the artwork, but the looks of it. If artist draws graffiti in the studio on a special background, it still graffiti, although it’s not drawn in a public place. So the main reason why graffiti is evaluated so ambiguously is because there is no common understanding about it.
Visual art is any creation of visual expression of authors’ imagination and technical skills. If we think of graffiti as writing or spray painting of words and letterforms whether legally or illegally, there is no doubt that graffiti looks good and it takes some skills, talent and creativity to make it, but if we focus more on the overall definition that says graffiti is any drawing or writing on a public infrastructure objects, which doesn’t necessary needs talent or even creativity.
So the basic answer is actually quite a simple – it all depends what you understand with graffiti. If any fuss on a wall is graffiti for you, than it really is vandalism, but if only nice looking spry-paint writings and drawings is considered as graffiti, than it is definitely a type of visual art, no matter on what background it is made.