Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place.”
― Banksy, Wall and Piece
The vandals to whom Bansky refers are graffiti artists. Banksy himself is one of the most popular and well known graffiti artists in the world. An England native, he is also a political activist and film director. Many of his artistic works are done in a distinct stenciling technique and offer satirical commentary on current and controversial political and social issues.
I didn’t know a thing about Banksy before today, but I like what he has to say about graffiti.
Graffiti has a remarkably paradoxical attitude about it: spontaneous (but it MUST have been a bit planned, right?), carefree and intentional, complex and simple, artistic and activist.
But the most debatable quality about graffiti is more basic: is it an art or a crime?
The criminalizing of graffiti has long been a touchy topic among graffiti artists, who view their work as a form of artistic expression. Artists across the nation demonstrate their protest with works such as this.
It’s a long-standing question that has had law enforcement and artists up in arms for ages.
There’s no doubt that “graffiti” has ‘negative connotation’ all over it. Those opposed to graffiti view it as nothing more than cold vandalism. The lamenting property owner or neighborhood councilman calls it a crime, a public nuisance, a threat to personal livelihood, or an outright attack on quality of life.
But I think that’s too harsh. Graffiti is a legitimate form of art as well as the manifestation of a rich popular culture. It’s a fundamental part of street culture on top of that. Graffiti can be a positive outlet for artistic expression as well as medium for political commentary and protest. If done tastefully, it can really brighten up a neighborhood.
But the idea that graffiti is an underappreciated art form is not well-received by society’s boys in blue. There are wide variations in punishments for graffiti as well as a range of methods for calculating damages. Punishments may include fines, jail time, or community service, but these also differ according to whether the crime is prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, which in turn depends on where the case is being tried or even by whom is doing the sentencing.
Another pertinent question: how to define graffiti? Depending on who is doing the interpreting, graffiti could be a political statement, an intricate drawing, a sticker, an etching, or an unrecognizable mosaic. My home state of Texas addresses what graffiti is and when it is a crime like this:
(a) A person commits an offense if, without the effective consent of the owner, the person intentionally or knowingly makes markings, including inscriptions, slogans, drawings, or paintings, on the tangible property of the owner with:
(1) aerosol paint;
(2) an indelible marker; or
(3) an etching or engraving device.
In Texas, graffiti is a crime which ranges from a Class B misdemeanor to a first-degree felony and up to a $10,000 fine depending on location and monetary amount of loss for the owner.
Other states have their own definitions and punishments. It would appear there is no agreement on the best way to criminalize graffiti, but nobody can read that Texas definition describing what graffiti is—and what supplies are used in its making—and come to the conclusion that it’s NOT art.
Here’s another Banksy quote on graffiti:
“Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing. And even if you don’t come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they’re having a piss.”
― Banksy, Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall