December 13, 2011

V is for Vandalism

Vandalism can be simply defined as "willful or malicious destruction of public or private property." Few would argue that smashing windows or burning cars is criminal behavior, no less than trespassing or burglary, subject to prosecution and punishment.

Yet when it comes to graffiti - writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place - a debate has raged for centuries.

Bucharest, 2011

On one end of the spectrum are those who argue that graffiti can be an artful expression of rebellion, an acceptable form of individual, political or social commentary by the powerless and marginalized.


Hardliners on the other end firmly believe that graffiti, totally unlike commissioned or requested wall/public art (like yesterday's post), is an unwelcome sign of anarchy, a loathsome act of disrespect for property, a crime, and certainly never to be called art.


What do you think? Can we discuss artistic or social merit when looking at the graffiti in these photos I took in Bucharest earlier this year? Is there a middle-of-the-spectrum position? Or is it all merely vandalism, period?


Of course graffiti filled spaces are nothing unique to Bucharest. Still I see more of it throughout Europe than in North America, and even less in Asia.

What role does culture play in the acceptance or tolerance of graffiti? I don't know; I'm asking.

(Ne Travaillez Jamais = Never Work)

Municipalities and businesses bear significant costs to clean up graffiti (when they can afford to do so at all). So I wonder whether it would do any good to provide clean and accessible walls for people to come and express themselves (sort of like the ill-fated Democracy Wall in Beijing in 1978)? Or is the illicitness of the vandalism an intrinsic part of the message? Again, just asking.

(La Vie Est Ailleurs = Life Is Elsewhere)

I'm linking with the blogging communities at Our World Tuesday and ABC Wednesday with the letter V.

40 comments:

Sylvia K said...

Great post and very interesting as I'm seeing more and more of this type of graffiti these days that is actually being supported as an art form in poor parts of some cities! Wonderful captures, Cisca! Hope your week is off to a great start!

Sylvia

Carole Meisenhelter said...

as good as the art may be; I still struggle with accepting 'graffiti' anywhere. I wish there were other options available to some of these gifted artists to display their work in another arena. To earmark someone's elses property as theirs is not heading in the right direction. I feel sad for the 'beds' on the street. I wish there were answers we could provide but the world is in a quandary; so many issues to be dealt with and so many get swept to one side

Elisa said...

Sometimes they are pieces of street art, but sometimes... they are not!

NixBlog said...

Great photos, Francisca! I have pondered over the same issues that you raise in my post here:

http://nixpages.blogspot.com/2011/06/hosier-lane-vandalism-or-art.html

In Melbourne there are "graffiti zones" where proponents of graffiti art can make their mark legally. however, "tagging" and other vandalist graffiti is still prevalent in unacceptable situations...

joo said...

I have very ambiguous feeling as far as graffiti is concerned. Generally I don't like it, sometimes even more than dislike...!I can't stand acts of stupid, thoughtless vandalism so common everywhere!On the other hand, there are examples of really good street art - I do like the first one with fish. No harm to this ramshackle wall, I reckon. It even makes it funnier.
Thanks for this post.
Hugs
j.

James said...

It makes me sick when I see graffiti on historic buildings in beautiful places like Venice. I hate all tagging but I do think murals can be really nice in an appropriate place.

FrankandMary said...

I think some people see it as a safe place to put their pain & truth. ~Mary

tapirgal said...

Possibly if you like it, it's art and if you don't it's not, but that doesn't change the fact that you're defacing property that doesn't belong to you. Interesting photos and nice post. When it works, it's nice to see it, but if I owned the property it would probably have to work incredibly well for me to be happy about it.

tapirgal said...

P.S. No, I don't think that an approved wall would be much help. Maybe some. . . .

Lesley said...

I find tagging to be a senseless act of vandalism. It destroys the bricks and can cost thousands to have removed (especially off historic buildings). However, graffiti or street art in alleys or on buildings that have asked for something to be created is a whole other issue.

Andrea said...

That's a lot of graffiti there, at least they have really lovely color variations. Here you can find mostly 'artless vandalism' with only BOLD RED letters expressing their affinity to the left. What time did you link here, I waited till 11:30pm and it's still not yet up!

Genie said...

The little bit of graffiti we have here in our small university town is commissioned artwork. We do not have any of the ugly stuff, thank goodness. I do like the bright colors of the street graffiti as long as it has some qualities of civility. I guess when push comes to shove, I do like it brightening up the dark and dreary areas of a city...as long as it is not nasty or frightening because of its content. Your discussion of the issue has really given me food for thought. Tomorrow at school I will start discussing it with myself inside my old head. genie

ladyfi said...

I think that tagging is more like vandalism, whereas some of the graffiti and murals are very artistic!

Traveling Hawk said...

My opinion is very much alike Joo's. I don't like grafitti when it is pornographic (still I have a photo from Lisbon with such a grafitti, very much in the Lautrec's style)or just words/sighs which are meaningless for me. When it is colorful and has a theme AND it is applied on a wretched wall, it could have the intention to cover it and to offer something more pleasant to the eyes than decay.

Andy said...

If the owner of the property did not request it it's not art. Your have seen this before Francisca... here is my posting on legal graffiti http://occupiedwithphotography.blogspot.com/2011/11/monday-mural.html

Indrani said...

I think I will prefer colorful meaningful art on walls. Great pictures.

Shooting Parrots said...

Grafitti is as old as man -- cave paintings, Pompeii etc. Whether it is 'art' probably depends on distance in time. Perhaps one day in the future, archeologists will try to restore the vibrance of the colours on a piece of spray-painted concrete and scratch their heads over their meaning.

aka Penelope said...

Graffiti is everywhere … sometimes it is skillful but most often it is unsightly meaningless scribbles by people who are never taken to task for the damage they cause. I was surprised at the graffiti I found in Europe particular when so close and sometimes right on the beautiful historic monuments that will never be achieved again. These wonders of the world draw in tourists and dollars to countries that deserve more respect.

Ms. Becky said...

hmmmm. provocative post, and graffiti! I think if it's painted on an abandoned building it's alright. that harms no one and once the building is renovated or torn down, problem gone. when it's done on public properties, historical buildings, etc. it is destructive. I actually like most graffiti, especially the examples you've shown here, but for the final three. I especially like the fish! good question Francisca. happy day to you.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Thought-provoking post and one where I definitely wanted to read every comment (something I rarely do)....some people say that art is supposed to shake us up, challenge our assumptions etc....and that's OK -- I don't expect to like every artists creation.
But I just don't think anyone has a right to shake society up on property that doesn't belong to them. (Even if I like the fish picture!). I do wish more legal opportunties would be given for street artists.

Carver said...

Great post. I actually love graffiti and thinks it's a valid artistic form of expression. The exception would be if it becomes a centerpiece of gang wars and violence.

Roger Owen Green said...

Really depends. Whether it's art or graffiti has to do with talent as much as intent.

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

EG Wow said...

Super post, Francisca. For me it depends on where the graffiti is, how well it has been executed and for what reason it's there. Much of it is simply JUNK! But some of it is really good.

VioletSky said...

Some graffiti art is very good, just on the wrong walls. I like the idea of graffiti alleys where the talented spray painters can show off their stuff legally.

photowannabe said...

It seems that tagging is a destructive form of graffiti usually scrawled on someone's personal property. It really is a fine line between art and gang tagging. I guess I can argue on both sides. Some of the spray paint work is simply amazing.

Kathy said...

It my mind there is a definite difference between graffiti and art. In fact, Webster's definition of graffiti includes the words "slogans, "scratched," "scribbled," and "crudely." A nice wall mural would not be defined by any of those terms in my book.

JM said...

I know what you think about graffiti... :-) But, I would say the first four are murals! :-)))

Birgitta - foto CHIP said...

Great post Francisca! This is a subject I am engaged in :)
I love creativity but I hate when people don't respect other's property and force there scribble/graffiti upon us.
I have a special page about this :)
http://graffitiscribble.wordpress.com/
In Budapest there are a lot of scribble on almost every house wall - also on cultural things. It's such a pity and lack of respect.
Have a great week Francisca!

Kate said...

The comments run the gamut, don't they? I have ambivalent feelings. I much prefer commissioned murals and do not consider them graffiti. I am not a supporter of the other kind when it is neither requested nor approved. There is an element of little respect involved when the tagging is not pre-approved. Some of it is artistic, some of it really pretty unsightly.

Kay L. Davies said...

You ask some difficult questions here, my friend. I can't wrap my mind around them today.
I often think a lot of talent is wasted in painting graffiti, however.

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

Luna Miranda said...

a difficult question. art appreciation is, of course, subjective. when i see an artful graffiti, i imagine the "artist's" emotions exploding on the wall. the ugly ones are mostly unexpressed anger.:p

Halcyon said...

I am typically not a fan of graffiti. But those first two murals are nice. :)

Lowell said...

So many questions, so little time! :-)

And I'll bet you got as many answers as questions!

If someone writes/draws/paints on property which he or she does not own, it seems clear to me that is an illegal act. There is no difference, in my opinion, between a person who does that and someone who breaks a window or drives a car through another person's house.

Commissioned artwork by the owner of a property is something else altogether.

Just because graffiti is so damn pervasive does not make it right, legal or otherwise OK.

Here endeth the sermon!

Cezar and Léia said...

I understand about the damages mainly in public buildings with some graffiti, it's so sad.In the other hand, sometimes I see beautiful and artistic paintings.
Wonderful and interesting post dear Francisca, thanks for sharing!
Hugs
Léia

Ann said...

The most famous graffitti tagger ,ust have been Michael Fay of USA. He even got Clinton to intervene for him when he vandalised Singapore. He didn't change his ways, when he went back to USA.

mary said...

I find this graffiti beautiful!

ABC Wed.

Evelyn said...

I love nice graffiti. Not the simple lines of paint on the wall, but the works that are composed and well executed. And there are many of those around, and they add to the place... just my 2 cents worth :D.

Pat Tillett said...

You are right, there has long been a raging battle over it. In my humble opinion, some of it is pure art and some nothing but vandalism. Tagging is not art in my eyes. Sometimes graffiti is so beautiful and intricate that it takes your breath away. But a scribble or some idiots name is not.
I really like your photos! great and thought provoking post...

Vicki/Jake said...

My thoughts are a little odd sometimes..(ya think?:) But they always go to wondering what people said back when someone scratched pictures on rocks...and how they're protected now as ancient art...hmmm

zongrik said...

great collection of pictures