Graffiti IS Art

Mark Schultz over at the N&O’s Orange Chat blog writes:

Graffiti or Art?
So we sent staff photog Leslie Barbour to shoot a town worker painting over some gang symbols at the Chapel Hill Community Center this morning.

I was talking to Leslie about the story later this afternoon, and she said we shouldn’t call the gang symbols “graffiti.” Graffiti is art, she said, and added that we should call it what it is: “tagging.”

I got where she was coming from. But I don’t think the average person on the street makes the distinction or is up on the word “tagging.” Was I wrong? Is it inaccurate or worse to label the “LBU” tags showing up on more than a dozen locations in Chapel Hill and Carrboro this past week “graffiti”?

Leslie is right. That bit of paint is tagging. It has a very different purpose than graffiti. Graffiti is “mainstream” art now. Some people put graffiti in the category of Street Art. Check out all the wonderful photos of street art on Flickr.

From today’s Chapel Hill News article Gang signs on the rise:

Graffiti — how gangs mark territory and send messages to rival gangs — is a growing problem. McKinney called it a newspaper of the streets.

This is incorrect. I would use Tagging instead of Graffiti. I hope the Chapel Hill News writes a correction. This could seriously misinform people. Ignorance of the details isn’t going to help a community come to terms with its growing pains. Informing people about the seriousness of gang violence is important. But using graffiti as a visual shorthand for gangs isn’t going to help. It will only narrow people’s fear and cause them to “know it when they see it”. The whole issue is much much more complicated.

The article did later include,

Not all graffiti is gang-related, Cousins said. Three young men were charged with defacing the bridge on Umstead Drive with graffiti. Someone also defaced the new Army recruiting station. Neither incident had anything to do with gangs, she said.

I’d like to see the Chapel Hill News do a story on the artfulness of graffiti. Its culture is diverse and does have its dark parts. Many forms of art have similar issues. But this doesn’t diminish the importance of this form of expression.

I’m really concerned that the newspapers misrepresentation of Graffiti as solely a criminal act will cause locals to become prejudice against this art form. Many large cities with wonderful artists working in the streets have very aggressive scrubbing campaigns that destroy public beauty. A balanced story must be told.

(Comments are broken on Orange Chat: I tried to leave a comment on the N&O site but had no luck. Even attempted to register. Once I was supposedly logged in I still got an error. So I gave up and posted my comment on my blog.)

3 thoughts on “Graffiti IS Art

  1. Actually tagging is not related only to gang graffiti. A tag is basically only a signature graffiti, without colors or details. It can be done by gangs, but usually the graffiti writers that have no connection with any gangs at all… 99% of the graffiti you can find in urban centers are not gang related, so you don't have to be afraid of the kids doing them! Look at graffiti sites for some great art. Here's a good site with a lot of pictures:

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