OPINION: Graffiti is street art

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One of humanity’s first form of communication was by drawing on different surfaces, including walls. As humankind evolved, so did these wall drawings into street art.

Street art, better known as graffiti, has been around for as long as people have been creative. Banksy is a popular, anonymous street artist known for his beautiful yet thought provoking messages he conveys through street art. One of his famous phrases reads, “If graffiti changed anything, it would be illegal.”

There is something even more powerful about street art that other forms of artwork can not convey. It’s illegality and site-specificity makes the messages portrayed much more powerful. Images against buildings and walls scream for attention and challenge the ideas of the thousands that pass the art every day.

A true work of street art is thought out, clever, detailed or conveys a message. The racist slogans and inappropriately placed spray paint that stain inner cities is not what I would consider street art.

There are many different types of street art, including traditional street art, which is spray or roll-on paint. There is also stencil street art, which is usually homemade by the artist and made with material like cardboard. It acts as an outline, so artists can essentially paint between the lines and quickly and effectively put up their work. Sticker street art is also popular. Mosaic street art is art that uses multiple, smaller objects to create a larger piece of art. Street installation street art uses 3D objects and space to interfere with the urban environment. Another type of street art is video projection street art, which digitally projects an image onto a large surface via a light and projection system. There are also less popular or well-known forms of street art, which include wood blocking, flash mobbing and yarn bombing street art.

The majority of us, living in Manhattan and not in an urban area, are familiar with traditional street art and not much else. Many of us have seen the infamous Leasure Hall transformed into “PLeasure” Hall, but that’s about as hardcore as it gets around here. Street art takes on many forms, though. The vandalism on Leasure Hall’s sign is not street art; it’s graffiti.

Who decides whether or not instances of street art, not graffiti, are a crime?

What is crime?

There are different categories and sorts of crime that exist, and in order for street art to be considered one, it must be categorized as such. I will break crime into nine different types of crime as categorized by Zeynep Alpaslan, who studies whether or not street art is a crime. These types include organized, corporate, state, state-corporate, white-collar, blue-collar, political, public-order or juvenile delinquency.

Organized crime is a big group run by criminals, mostly for profit. A street artist receives no compensation for their work and usually remain anonymous. Corporate crimes are committed by a corporation or on behalf of one. Street artists, for the most part, work alone. Although the artist may fall into a category, for example, juvenile delinquency, the art itself does not fall into any such categories of crime. So is it a crime?

Who is the victim?

Leasure Hall is obviously the victim of vandalism when someone decides to make a clever joke of the unfortunately-named building. It is true that the surfaces “defaced” do not have a choice in the matter. I argue that some of surfaces improved in quality after being “vandalized.” Street art is a hassle to remove. According to a new graffiti removal program initiated in Lawrence, there are three ways to remove street art. These include solvents or chemicals designed for graffiti removal, pressure washing the surface and painting over the surface. All seem like daunting and seemingly pointless tasks for those business owners not wanting any street art.

I do not condone graffiti, a word I purposefully use, painted by criminals that taint buildings and other surfaces with their own signs and symbols, whether they be gang related or not. A true work of street art is thought out, clever, detailed or conveys a message. The racist slogans and inappropriately placed spray paint that stain inner cities is not what I would consider street art.

Who is the perpetrator?

Some might argue that street art is a crime because most artists wish to remain anonymous. It is true that famous artists, like Banksy, remain anonymous, but only because laws confine their inner artistic being that longs to be seen on objects and surfaces no canvas could suffice for.

Not all surfaces remain viable canvases for graffiti. Manhattan has had issues with vandalism graffiti in the past. There were 78 graffiti reports filed in 2009 compared to the 16 reports filed in 2008, according to the Riley County Police Department. Most of the graffiti was found along Poyntz Avenue in downtown Manhattan.

I use the term for street art for pieces of art that are beautiful. I do not argue that businesses vandalized with graffiti should appreciate the spray painted mess they have to clean up. I do argue that street artists, like Banksy, have every reason to come out of hiding and put a name to the art that brings cities to life.

Kelly Iverson is a senior in mass communications.

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  • CitizenKate

    I’m afraid you’re not making a very clear case for your argument. Is this about whether you consider graffiti to be a form of street art, or whether it should be legal? Or whether it should be considered art or graffiti based on whether it’s legal? Or is it really just about calling what you like “street art” and making that legal, and what you don’t like “graffiti” and making that illegal?

    Whether something is a crime is not all that hypothetical a question. A perusal of your local city code of ordinances should clear that up for you. And there are very good reasons for those ordinances, as graffiti can do a lot of harm. Yes, even a beautiful work of what you consider street art can be illegal (a felony, even) and sadly be very short-lived. Not all street art is illegal, though, as you seem to assume. There are many commissioned and highly celebrated works of street art, and in some places, it’s an integral part of the local culture. Not to mention, big business.

  • Banksy

    “Graffiti is street art” “The vandalism on Leasure Hall’s sign is not street art; it’s graffiti.” But if graffiti is street art then…

    Beauty is subjective.