Graffiti is art, not vandalism

Graffiti, like the many murals around Philadelphia, is a form of art and should be appreciated, not condemned.


come from a small town in New Jersey with polished sidewalks and pristine buildings. During my college search, I was drawn to Philadelphia because of its elaborate street art. I love the parts of the city that are splashed with color, from large-scale murals to graffiti-filled alleyways.

And even though I regularly see creative graffiti throughout the city, many people fail to recognize it as a viable art form. Instead of being considered a meaningful expression, graffiti is seen as vandalism. This is an unfair label to give to something that requires the same creativity and hard work as other forms of street art.

“I think people automatically jump to conclusions that it’s illegal and not artistic,” said Dermot Mac Cormack, the chair of Temple’s Graphic Arts and Design department. “These forms of artwork are very valid in their own right. You just have to see it in a different way.”

“I think if it’s aesthetically pleasing and playful and adventurous, I really appreciate that,” he added. “I see it as a form of expression.”

For me, graffiti is interesting and eye-catching. The blank wall of a building or an untouched alleyway becomes something brand new with the addition of graffiti. It becomes the expression of an individual’s artistic vision.

According to the Mural Arts Philadelphia website, the city’s first legitimate effort to eradicate graffiti began with the formation of the Anti-Graffiti Network in the 1980s. In response, artist Jane Golden launched the Mural Arts Program, which encourages graffiti artists to use their talents for “constructive public art projects.” Golden is now the executive director of the program.

The existence of a legitimate street art collective is a positive form of expression in Philadelphia —  but it shouldn’t discredit independent graffiti art.

Graffiti offers something that other forms of street art can’t. Because of the lack of control or direction from outside influences, it conveys a raw, uncensored message.

Banksy, an anonymous graffiti artist based in England, comments on controversial social issues in his work, like violence and homelessness. He’s able to communicate his thoughts to the public without anyone’s approval. This is what makes graffiti an incomparably powerful kind of art.

A 23-year-old art education major, who works under the nickname Gunk, has been creating graffiti art for nearly a decade. The Temple News is withholding the student’s name because his art is considered vandalism.

He was introduced to graffiti in high school, he said, and it eventually became a regular hobby.

“I don’t look at it as me doing something illegal,” Gunk said. “I think of it as me being in a competition with my surroundings. I’m not a criminal by any means. I’m not a violent person. I just enjoy making art.”

Just like anything else that’s created by humans, graffiti can be used negatively. And even when it’s not the artist’s intention to cause a disruption, there will always be people who disapprove. But censoring artwork of any kind is complicated and problematic. Leaving graffiti to the artists’ discretion is what makes it beautiful and uninhibited.

“You can take your own power in it,” Gunk said. “I don’t have to ask anybody to do this, I just go and do it.”

I’m a strong advocate for any visual and artistic display of character, and I think graffiti is a perfect example of this. The world is a canvas, and strokes and sprays of paint make any city more stimulating and colorful.

Graffiti is no less artistic than the murals in Center City or the painted trash cans down South Street. It should be embraced and encouraged, not denounced. I don’t believe Philly would be the same without it.


  1. I hear what you’re saying. This is not to say that these folks are not talented nor there is no place for this form of expression. BUT — once you spray paint over a building wall or other private property, now you are destroying another artist’s work, another piece of art. Is an architect not an artist? A stone mason? What gives another person the right to paint right over their building, which is their contribution? I believe “graffiti” artists should have their place to express themselves. Just not over someone else’s work. It’s like going into a museum and painting over the framed art. Maybe the city gives them a blank canvas, made for art and pays them to paint there and create something that best represents the neighborhood.

      • I respect your opinion, just as you should respect the opinion of the person who wrote this. But it is necessary to insult, I only say that if you write something based on your opinion you wouldn’t want to be insulted.

    • Your crass vocabulary used to discredit graffiti as art just proves that you do not have the maturity or mental capacity to open you mind towards graffiti as an alternative and ever evolving art form that is increasingly gaining support in the art realm today.

  2. Yes I love graffiti it actually has a meaning to it instead of painting over it and banning it we should appreciate it and make room on a wall for artist to create what they want to create.

  3. Same bc i know that the ppl may have rough back rounds and this could be one of their ways of telling their story to all through their artwork.

  4. Ignorance leads people to see graffiti as vandalism. It is not! I have to say I have a problem with just tagging, tagging, tagging. I find it ugly when all you see is tagging. I love bubble letters and of course bigger colorful pieces. But I know I don’t have the final word on what’s pretty and what’s ugly. Our cities have surfaces, these surfaces are like blank pages and books. So whoever is having fun with that, good for them. Of course owners of stores and walls may (or not) hate to have their property sprayed on… So maybe getting along with your neighbours is a good idea, let’s have these people talking and communicating, why not? So they wouldn’t paint over certain surfaces if the owner really hates it.

  5. If it doesn’t belong to you, don’t frickin’ spray paint on it, ya frickin douchenozzle.

  6. I would like to graffiti over the Mona Lisa and other piece of very expensive art, specifically any of your creations.

    It’s not a crime, it’s art.

  7. I get that it doesn’t belong to them, but it is a good way to show off their art. In other words keeping it on paper, where it does nothing and no one will see it. The graffiti is so much more when you actually look at it. Think about it, try to understand what the artist is trying to say.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.