Is graffiti a vibrant urban art form or senseless vandalism? When did graffiti first become popular? Read this article to find out about the history of street art and hear from both sides of the debate.

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The history of graffiti

The first drawings on walls appeared in caves thousands of years ago. Later the Ancient Romans and Greeks wrote their names and protest poems on buildings. Modern graffiti seems to have appeared in Philadelphia in the early 1960s, and by the late sixties it had reached New York. The new art form really took off in the 1970s, when people began writing their names, or ‘tags’, on buildings all over the city. In the mid seventies it was sometimes hard to see out of a subway car window, because the trains were completely covered in spray paintings known as ‘masterpieces’.

In the early days, the ‘taggers’ were part of street gangs who were concerned with marking their territory. They worked in groups called ‘crews’, and called what they did ‘writing’ – the term ‘graffiti’ was first used by The New York Times and the novelist Norman Mailer. Art galleries in New York began buying graffiti in the early seventies. But at the same time that it began to be regarded as an art form, John Lindsay, the then mayor of New York, declared the first war on graffiti. By the 1980s it became much harder to write on subway trains without being caught, and instead many of the more established graffiti artists began using roofs of buildings or canvases.

The debate over whether graffiti is art or vandalism is still going on. Peter Vallone, a New York city councillor, thinks that graffiti done with permission can be art, but if it is on someone else’s property it becomes a crime. ‘I have a message for the graffiti vandals out there,’ he said recently. ‘Your freedom of expression ends where my property begins.’ On the other hand, Felix, a member of the Berlin-based group Reclaim Your City, says that artists are reclaiming cities for the public from advertisers, and that graffiti represents freedom and makes cities more vibrant.

For decades graffiti has been a springboard to international fame for a few. Jean-Michel Basquiat began spraying on the street in the 1970s before becoming a respected artist in the ’80s. The Frenchman Blek le Rat and the British artist Banksy have achieved international fame by producing complex works with stencils, often making political or humorous points. Works by Banksy have been sold for over £100,000. Graffiti is now sometimes big business.

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Discussion

What do you think about graffiti? Is it art or vandalism?

Comments

PauPrat's picture
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PauPrat 18 September, 2020 - 15:09

In my opinion, graffiti is a medium to express your emotions, it’s a way of art that should never be considered a crime, but there are always exceptions.
If someone graffities in a private property, I would consider that a crime, or if he/she gets caught while is graffitiing, he/she should wash and clean that. Honestly, I am torn between if a graffiti makes a city less or more attractive, but apart from that, it’s art and everyone can judge every graffiti from their point of view.
In a nutshell, graffiti is a perfect way of expressing your feelings and emotions, and if you don’t bother anyone doing it, there’s no problem with that!

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Giovannichoi's picture
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Giovannichoi 2 April, 2020 - 13:37

I think graffities are art, but also it's sort of vandals, too. Because if the spray-painting is on the public places or the other people's properties, it can be a crime! Imagine the scene which one day when you wake up and go to your store(or builiding), there are some doodling. If the graffities are like this: 'I HATE YOU! CURSE YOU! XXX!!!!', it is against the law, too! It is against the defamation law. At least you would be declared to arrested to go to the prison. The people who see that graffities might be very upset. And usually it is difficult to understand the graffities, isn't it? I am sure you can't. So I wish the graffiti drawers not to spray everywhere they can see. But in the good conditions, I am for the graffiti is art.

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Elife's picture
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Elife 20 February, 2020 - 18:07

I think that graffiti is art, but, whenever it is done with permission, but if it is done without permission on private property that is a vandalism.

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Roberta's picture
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Roberta 31 July, 2019 - 11:33

I can consider graffity as a piece of art as long as it has sense and some motivation for other people. But if graffity is only stupid words or senseless pictures it is vandalism and it must be banned.

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khwaja's picture
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khwaja 10 June, 2019 - 23:04

I would say that this type of art is gorgeous and attractive as it can express people's attitude, opinion and culture. However, I would think that it should be some specific areas allowed to do this activity because otherwise, individuals' properties can be damaged.

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parsasoroori's picture
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parsasoroori 11 April, 2019 - 21:38

I think graffiti is not vandalism. It,s just free and they are painted with love. I think vandalism is the money that politicians get to let false companies put their ads on the wall. Money make everything vandalism.

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ygzD's picture
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ygzD 31 October, 2018 - 11:52

I think graffiti must become fully legal because graffiti is little bit lifestyle and 'The Pen of Freedom'.

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QueenPinkBluebel's picture
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QueenPinkBluebel 3 August, 2017 - 13:34

In my opinion, graffities are beautiful to see, but they have to transmit a message. This type of graffities is art but only if you have the permission to draw on the wall. The other type of graffities is considered as vandalism because you don't ask the owner of the wall to let you draw on his property, which can create many problems and conflicts. But after all, I would say that the job of tagger can bring a lot of money for the perfectionists of drawing.

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chinglie's picture
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chinglie 26 February, 2017 - 08:34

From my point of view, grafitti is a two-edged sword. I think it is all based on how people create it. Some does it for fulfilling their thirst in exposing their passion in art, but some just does it to be what ‘bad boy’ is like. Sure, different motives means diversities in art. But then, some people just like to destroy and stain the town’s reputation. I support grafitti as a kind of art. But when the art turned into vandalism, maybe that’s the time grafitti need to be stopped.

Please don’t hesitate to comment if I made any mistake in grammar.

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China17's picture
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China17 13 November, 2016 - 15:36

there are two sides vandalism or art.I like graffiti itis a form of expresion when shows creativy and talent

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Moises's picture
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Moises 7 November, 2016 - 15:18

I like Graffiti because it expresses in some sense; art. Graffiti in a Wall ls fantastic, and in trains is bad.

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AilentheAlien's picture
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AilentheAlien 6 November, 2016 - 21:59

I don't like the graffiti.
In my city we have very much graffiti, the magourity ir tags, made by teenagers. But sometimes it shows creativity and talent.

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MeliArgentina's picture
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MeliArgentina 2 November, 2016 - 02:25

I think graffiti is really art. I believe that it can be considerad as art only if ‘’the taggers’’ are talented and given permission. It is very nice and beautiful.

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RockandRollArgentina's picture
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RockandRollArgentina 22 October, 2016 - 02:36

I think graffiti is really art. I believe that it can be considerad as art only if ‘’the taggers’’ are talented and given permission. It is very nice and beautiful.

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stuntlove's picture
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stuntlove 17 October, 2016 - 15:40

I like graffitis, I think they´re interesting and colourful, I don´t think it is vandalism, I think it´s street art

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broccoli's picture
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broccoli 27 September, 2016 - 08:18

My opinion is that graffiti is actually a pretty old art, but comparing to the others, its new. And that sometimes its actually vandalism. Have u seen those useless graffities like "SFEK"? Well, if u were at least 1 time oustide and not staring at the computer for 5 hours, then, i think, you might say, that those are pretty common, huh? i mean, in graffitis, there is always a good and a bad part.

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mooxcu's picture
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mooxcu 3 February, 2016 - 07:36

I think graffiti is actually really cool, if they make it in a right places. In my opinion, creating graffiti is also a good way to express feelings.

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Lemash's picture
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Lemash 16 October, 2015 - 20:06

I think it may be both art and vandalism .it depends on the man in which aim he draw it ... by own i like to draw qraffiti very much and i draw it in my contry... it is very joyful... i feel like myself free

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Hello88's picture
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Hello88 9 October, 2015 - 16:43

I think that graffiti is an art form. It gives the opportunity to many people to express their feelings and thoughts by making wonderful drawings on walls. Also, it represents freedom and can make cities look more vibrant and attractive.
However, graffiti can destroy many properties and in that case it becomes a serious crime. I believe that it can be considered as art only if “the taggers” are talented and given permission.

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Keenan_Zivara's picture
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Keenan_Zivara 7 September, 2015 - 13:41

I think graffiti is actually really cool, if they make it in a right places. In my opinion, creating graffiti is also a good way to express feelings.

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GabySo's picture
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GabySo 14 May, 2015 - 01:37

Personally I dont like graffitis, here on Mexico, everywhere there is a wall full of grafittis, and to be honest, the taggs are funny and dumb, like "aqui estuvo el dedos" haha I don't think that it is art, but although sometimes I have founded beatiful paintings.

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Bahmanyar's picture
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Bahmanyar 4 July, 2017 - 23:08

AS YOU POINT OUT(I HAVE FOUNDED BEAUTIFUL PAINTINGS)SO IT COULD BE A GOOD THING
I LOVE IT

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Jo - Coordinator's picture
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Jo - Coordinator 5 July, 2017 - 15:26

Hi Bahmanyar and welcome to LearnEnglish Teens! Thanks for your comments. Please can you write in lower case letters? Capital letters look like you are shouting. Please have a look at our House rules (at the bottom of every page) before you continue commenting. Thanks and please keep writing! Joanna (LearnEnglish Teens team)

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Jo - Coordinator's picture
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Jo - Coordinator 14 May, 2015 - 08:06

Hi GabySo,
Thanks for your comment about graffiti in Mexico - it's really interesting to hear about graffiti in different places, and learn that it has strong similarities wherever you go! How would you translate "aqui estuvo el dedos"? Can you explain that in English for everyone? Thanks! :)
Best wishes, Joanna (LearnEnglish Teens team)

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