Graffiti as Art

Any passerby in an urban cityscape has observed the colorful, provocative, illegal "eyesore" that is graffiti. Although many consider the spray-painted pieces a nuisance, graffiti has been gaining recognition from the art world more and more as a legitimate form of art.

When most people think of graffiti, they imagine "tags," or a stylized writing of a person's name. While tags are probably the most popular forms, graffiti art is much more than that. It can mean a colorful mural with a message of diversity or a black and white stencil piece protesting police brutality. In each case, graffiti art makes a statement.


George C. Stowers wrote that based on aesthetic criteria, graffiti has to be considered an art form. He makes a distinction between simple tags and more complicated pieces, stating that tags have little aesthetic appeal and probably should not be considered art. However, larger pieces require planning and imagination and contain artistic elements like color and composition. Stowers provides the example of wildstyle, or the calligraphic writing style of interlocking letters typical of graffiti, to show the extent of artistic elements that are present in these works.

Wildstyle graffiti

"Wildstyle changes with each artist's interpretation of the alphabet, but it also relies on the use of primary colors, fading, foreground and background, and the like to create these letters," he writes. The artist's intention is to produce a work of art, and that must be taken into account when considering street art's legitimacy.

Stowers explains that graffiti cannot be disregarded because of its location and illegality. The manner in which graffiti art is executed is the only obstacle it faces in being considered an art form.

A Nod from the Art Crowd

Graffiti art by U.K. artist Banksy

People are used to seeing graffiti art in public spaces, after all, that's what makes it graffiti. However, after years of gaining recognition by the art community, graffiti art has been shown in various galleries in New York and London, and artists are often commissioned to do legal murals and other work for art shows.

One of the most famous graffiti artists, Banksy, has had his work shown in galleries such as Sotheby's in London. Despite his anonymity, the British artist has gained tremendous popularity. Celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have purchased his work for a hefty price.

Recognition by the art world and inclusion in galleries and auctions is one way that graffiti art is legitimized as "real" art. In addition, this exposure has helped the graffiti movement to become launched into the rest of the world.

A Style All Its Own

Like all other artistic forms, graffiti has experienced movements or changes in style. From the first tag scribbled on a subway train to the large, complex mural on a billboard, the movement has experienced change. The tools and the means have changed as well. Markers were traded in for spray paint, and stencils and stickers were introduced to make pieces easier to execute in a hurry.

The messages have also evolved. Graffiti has always been somewhat political, but it has come a long way from simply tagging one's name to parodying world leaders to make a statement.

This is further proof that graffiti is a form of art and not just a result of random acts of vandalism. The graffiti community moves in different directions and the resultant artwork moves with it.