Street Art: Valid or Vandalism?

Jordan Saladino, Staff Writer

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As you’re strolling the streets of a busy Detroit suburb, you find yourself quickly captivated by the brightly colored murals and unique creations found on passing buildings. Each building is carefully wrapped with detailed work, stretching upwards of 45 feet in each direction. Street art, known as a previously taboo activity, is shaking up the public perspective. An increasing amount of artists are protecting street art as a valid form of art, which begs the question: should graffiti be recognized as an art form or is it strictly vandalism?

Dating back to cavemen, graffiti is one of the oldest forms of communication. Parietal art was used to indicate information much like how graffiti shares messages today. Street art specialist Hank O’Neil explains, “Street art is expansive and democratic, encompassing massive murals and tiny stickers and drawings, and everything in between.” To Jack James, a senior at Wheaton Warrenville South, “Street art is the creation of beauty in the most obscure and unique places. It is a work of art, with the city walls as the canvas.” The concept of street art is a controversial one, but that does not mean street artists are less passionate about their artwork than professionals are. 

The development of street art was mostly counterculture, and was associated with gang violence and other forms of civil disobedience. This history has influenced the negative view on graffiti that remains today. Street art continues to remain misunderstood due to tagging. Wheaton Warrenville South’s AP Art Teacher, Manuel Aguirre describes tagging as “more of a territorial thing. Tagging is all about your name or your gangs name getting as much territory as possible, which is why they would tag subways. They’re extremely public and do not fully represent street art culture.” Street art requires planning, thought, development and careful execution of pieces. Creators dedicate extensive time to their work, and should be recognized as the artists they are. As Aguirre explained, “The reputation that street art gets is socially constructed. When one thinks of street art, they think of the defacement, and the misplacement of tags. Not the effort that is put into specific works.” 

 Many may argue that street art is not art at all, and should only be considered as vandalism. According to Jena Ernsting from The Collegian, “graffiti is pure, unadultured vandalism with a high cost to both the perpetrator and the community.” Ernsting suggests that graffiti affects communities in a strictly negative way, however, this has been proven false. Street art has been known to attract an audience, and has effectively been used to increase tourism. Authority figures in Rio have put street artists to work by partnering with policemen to paint in run down communities. These works attract tourists for street art related festivals which ultimately increases the population. Many of these tourists see street art as intended. Additionally, Sergio Cabral, the governor of Rio, saw a dramatically positive outcome of this collaboration and announced the legalization of graffiti on city property that is not historical. 

Due to its vast history and bad reputation, street art has struggled to be accepted in today’s society. The first step to accepting graffiti as a legitimate art form is education. Only by understanding the culture that graffiti stems from and considering what graffiti truly is can the movement of graffiti be accepted. There is a dedicated artist behind each mural, it is unfair to look past the passion they have solely because of the stigma surrounding it. Street art has many benefits for up and coming communities, as well as positive influences on business production. It is time to recognize street art for the art it truly is.