Graffiti…Vandalism Or A Work Of Art?

Van­dal­ism or a work of art?

Ima­gine if Michelan­gelo was fined for paint­ing the Sis­tine Chapel, isn’t a street artist being fined for paint­ing on a pub­lic wall the same thing? This begs the ques­tion, what is graf­fiti?   To some people graf­fiti is mean­ing­less van­dal­ism to oth­ers its art, in a way I think it’s both.

Mod­ern day Graf­fiti developed from the poor and neg­lected parts of New York City and with the spread of Hip Hop it can now be found in most cit­ies in the world. Yes it was van­dal­ism and van­dal­ism is often a res­ult of rebel­li­ous rage, but that makes it hon­est and uncom­prom­ising which makes for the best kind of art. Without caus­ing ser­i­ous dam­age, graf­fiti has been used as way of rebelling and express­ing a mes­sage. A good example of this is one of the early and most fam­ous graf­fiti artists Jean- Michael Basqui­at.

Most Young Kings Get their Head Cut Off- Basquait

Most Young Kings Get their Head Cut Off- Basquait

Born in Brook­lyn, Basqui­at a self-taught artist, was respons­ible for some of the most polit­ic­ally and socially con­scious art. Start­ing out with graf­fiti, he con­tin­ued in dif­fer­ent areas and even­tu­ally became a celebrity artist. He hung out with Madonna and col­lab­or­ated with Andy War­hol. If you watch the video for Blondie’s “Rap­ture” he’s the one on the turn table. There’s even been a movie based on his life! But much of his fame has been a res­ult of his early death at the age of 27. A lot of his work focused on the theme of wealth versus poverty and attacked power struc­tures and racism.  One of his most fam­ous paint­ings Charles the First deals with fame and suc­cess. It’s about a Jazz musi­cian, Charlie Park­er who died from a heroin over­dose, which is iron­ic­ally how Basqui­at also died. At the top left corner of the paint­ing it has the sen­tence; Most young kings get their head cut off. It’s a dra­mat­ic meta­phor about how fame can change a per­son. Like graf­fiti itself, it’s in your face and some people could find the image offens­ive, but that’s a per­fect way to get a mes­sage across. Like Hip Hop it’s an unapo­lo­get­ic dram­at­ized ver­sion of real­ity.

Uncontroversial grafiti in China.

Uncon­tro­ver­sial graf­fiti in China.

Graf­fiti has come a long way since the late 80s. What was once seen as worth­less has now been recog­nized as auc­tion worthy art. The Brit­ish artist Bansky has been very influ­en­tial in this trans­ition.  One of his street paint­ings , Slave Labour, was seen as so valu­able that someone  removed it from a wall in North Lon­don and tried to auc­tion it in Miami for nearly half a mil­lion pounds. Today, leg­al Graf­fiti walls (Free walls) can be found in nearly every large city in the world. From the Leake Street tun­nels in Lon­don to one of the world’s most cen­sored cit­ies, Beijing, China.  In Beijing there are lots of col­our­ful graph­ics but noth­ing too con­tro­ver­sial.  Much of the graf­fiti in China seems more suited for a children’s nurs­ery than the vent­ing of an adult’s frus­tra­tions. Per­haps it’s because it’s the rebel­li­ous nature of graf­fiti that makes it feel express­ive. It’s the van­dal­ism that makes it art.

Chris Com­mons

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