Can Graffiti Be Considered as Art?

This is one of the reasons why I love Twitter. It allows you to rediscover things that have captivated you in the past.

These pictures remind me of a lecture I had way back in my first year of university. My lit professor devoted two hours of his weekly lecture not on Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath, but on whether or not graffiti could be viewed as ART (all in capital letters). It was debate time.

He asked us to define what that word meant, the auditorium lights producing a white halo over his bald, brainy head and we quickly chirped back, Anything we create, anything we put into the world.

Then he showed us a photo of a toilet in a museum. The artist argued that it was an art installation, something worthy of being preserved, but the public was split, demonstrating how the definition of art itself was ever-changing.

Okay, okay, we grumbled, holding up our hands, Art depends on our perspective. It can be anything really.

He redirected our thinking again when he showed us the controversial Guantanamo Bay doll at Disneyland.

We all grinned, knowing who had done it. Him!

Turns out the articulate voice box in the front of the room was very fond of Banksy, the British street artist, whose anonymity rivals his creations which often address everything wrong with our politics, our society, our culture afflicted with a kind of jaded malaise that can only be represented by beady eyed rats.

A female laborer stepping out of a painting to take a cigarette break
A person’s aspirations met with a stamp of rejection
Street art as salvation for the disenfranchised

I’ll be honest, prior to that lecture I viewed graffiti as a profanity laced nuisance, a mere act of aggression, but it’s so much more than that. It’s also an act of expression. Even though it can be interpreted as damaging public property, you can also see it as art being democratized, reaching beyond gallery spaces.

But it still doesn’t answer our question: what is art? In Exit Through the Gift Shop, it seems like even Banksy doesn’t even know. In this satire (shot like a documentary), he uses Mr. Brainwash, a hardcore Banksy fan turned pop culture artist,  as an example of how people buy art, not because of its artistry, but because of HYPE. Remind you of anyone? Once art has been commodified it becomes very difficult to separate its intrinsic and monetary value.

I like to think that art is something that is meaningful. Thought has been put into it along with an ample amount of blood, sweat, and tears. We’re not putting it out there for the mere sake of being controversial or making someone hurl. It’s there because it has something to say. Art is beautiful and absurd and chaotic. It cannot be defined and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Art is ___________.

[Cover photo via]

[Banksy photos via]


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