It is an age old battle with advocates and detractors on both sides. Graffiti has been with us for a long time, since humankind first decided to live together in cities.
The formal definition of graffiti includes its writing or drawings that have been scrawled, carved, or sprayed illicitly on walls and surfaces in public places. In other words: vandalism. Despite that it represents some form of human inspiration, be it personal, gang-related or political, the act itself embodies breaking rules, laws or customs about what is acceptable or not. Those rules about order and acceptability have financial implications for property owners or the public that pay to clean it up. When it's tied to gang activity, that's one thing, and the practice can bring down the spirit of a community as it is a sign of disorder. However, although we know that graffiti is not always tied to criminal activity, it tends to appear in places where that activity occurs and so the negative association is cemented.
Can rule breaking ever be a form of art?
There is another definition of graffiti that is just as valid about graffiti, which go back to the terms roots as a method of art (scratching images into wet surfaces). Ancient tourists in Rome, Egypt, Asia and the Arab scribbled sayings and poetries on the walls of great monuments, making their presence known to the world. It was acceptable and visitors came to reach the graffiti of others! Now these scrawlings are a window into past cultures. Over time, graffiti has evolved to embody creative, underlying messages that are political or social in nature. The styles of graffiti itself have also branched off into whole subgenres of the art form (scratched, stenciled, spray paint, markers) and cultures (tagging, political, hip hop) where whole genres of artistic expression is based upon spray paint graffiti styles. Modern forms and techniques of graffiti have spread globally and have now become a commercial art form, providing a platform for street artists to enter the mainstream. What will future civilizations make of our graffiti today?