I hear this a lot. My question: Can't it be both?
Reacting to my post, "Toward a restorative graffiti policy," Proximo from Dallas Sidebar asked, "How would you address the subversive component to tagging? Isn't that the element that really drives the art form and will graffiti artists give up that power?" I responded there, if you'd like to see my answer.
But the "subversive component" Proximo mentions is PRECISELY that graffiti can be simultaneously art AND vandalism. Remedies that assume it's one or the other - be they complete prohibition or libertine acquiescence - IMO will fail to find a stable, viable equilibrium.
London now seeks to force parents to pay for property damage caused by wall writing kids, but that's futile - if the parents could contain them, they wouldn't be out graff writing in the first place! Sometimes I think the people who write municipal statutes must never have raised teenagers. Does anybody think rebellious teens care if their parents have to pay a fine? Hell, that's just one more way to punish your parents!
The closer I pay attention to how cities around the world react to graffiti, the more I think that strictly punitive approaches foolishly fuel the subversion that Proximo correctly says "drives the art form." Graffiti is art. And it is vandalism. Indeed, that contradiction defines its essence.
See Grits' recent series on graffiti problems and solutions:
- Toward a restorative graffiti policy
- Graffiti solutions: A cost-benefit analysis
- Paint responsibly: Museum offers hands-on graffiti exhibit
- Graffiti on the brain and around the world
- Digital graffiti, or, Is there something to a wall that wants us to write on it?
- R.I.P. Victor Montano: Houston graffiti artist
- Can you be arrested for public knitting?
- Out of our minds: Isn't felony graffiti overkill for sixth graders?
- Charging graffiti as a state jail felony?