Graffiti, Artwork or Vandalism?


Written by: Margot Laliberté

Graffiti is everywhere. Being one of the most controversial forms of art, there have been huge discussions as to whether or not graffiti should be considered art or an act of vandalism. Major cities around the world spend millions of dollars annually to remove all forms of graffiti from public surfaces. Are they keeping the public a cleaner, more welcoming environment, or are they painting over people’s artistic works?

Even here at Harbord Collegiate – in our own little microcosm of a public community – each and every surface seems to be constantly defaced. Bathroom walls, lockers, desks. Nowhere is left untouched, whether tagged with nicknames, drawings, or quotes… Some of it is undeniably beautiful, and some are merely mindless vandalism with a very temporary intent and yet a very permanent effect. We don’t want to paint over the art, but how do we filter out the rest?

The seemingly obvious conclusion might be to create a stricter ban on what can be rationally surmised as meaningless tagging, and have much more lenient vandalism rules surrounding proper art.

And yet as a school and a society that prides itself on our notions of liberality and progressivism, can we start placing legal definitions and subsequent restrictions on art without becoming comically hypocritical?

The other two options seem just as ridiculous; ban all forms of graffiti with no exceptions or let it all in. Both are extremes that pose as a counter-productive and temporary solutions that wouldn’t solve the problem.

To find a permanent solution and negotiate what is seemingly an impossible compromise, we have to look at the radical problem. Why not do the art in the privacy of your own home and save everyone’s time and money? Essentially, why do people graffiti?

This is also a tricky question, as you will invariably get seven billion different answers – but here’s one.

Why not create the art in the privacy of your own home? It seems rational to most of us and would seemingly eliminate the controversial legal issue.

However, much of graffiti is born and bred from a culture of legal and political controversy. It  is often a form of contributing to the political discourse and to express marginalized beliefs and statement through artistic means. Existing in the public eye is crucial, and specific location is also often politically relevant.

Many would also argue that this form of art gives the city back to its’ people. Big cities have a reputation of being cold, characterless machines that have lost any sort of communal or people-based ideologies and are intensely regulated by government. This artistic subculture brings it back to the people and creates a more  united environment that is not entirely run by an untouchable ‘higher power’ that is despondent and disengaged from its’ population.

Within Harbord and any other public school, the intents are different and yet spawn from the same idea. Graffiti is simply a means of expressing yourself within the context of a poorly disguised bureaucracy. These works of art are small, rebellious, statements within a systematic institution that otherwise allows for very little creativity and thought. This ‘vandalistic’ graffiti belongs to the students and not to the system.


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