Graffiti: When is it Art?

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA    When I was in Italy I saw a lot of graffiti, especially on the walls leading to and from train stations. While some of the graffiti I came across would be considered as art, depicted with great skill and forethought, most seemed to be done for no purpose other than to deface a building. That got me wondering; is there a fine line that keeps some graffiti from being called art. And if such a line exists, then when is graffiti art?

In the words of Gilbert K. Chesterton “Art like morality consists in drawing the line somewhere.” In Rome I came across a graffiti image of a woman. Done on a ten by 15 foot brick wall, it had been rendered beautifully. The wall itself, which was an extension of a building, served GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAno purpose other than to divide two area that needed no division. By placing the artwork here, the artist turned a dull, useless object into a structure with a purpose that improved the aesthetics of the immediate area.

While exploring Florence I came across the Cattedrale di San Maria del Fiore. As I circled the majestic building taking photos as I went, I came across a graffiti image of a shocked bird. Done on a construction wall used in restoration work of the del Fiore, the minimal but bright colors create a bold appearance that accentuates the bird’s shocked surprise. The simple white, outline and few other details emphasized this feeling and reminded me of similar techniques I’ve seen in comic art. This bird did no harm placed on a construction wall and, like the graffiti image I found in Rome, it beautified a dull surface.

So, if a fine line must be drawn between what is and is not art in the world of graffiti then where should the line be drawn? I think that, if it is tasteful, tactful, and purposeful, then it is art.


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