Question of the Week: Does Street Art Encourage Graffiti?

pasting.jpgPhoto by Ora: “just killin the left over paste on the brush. just gotta learn 2 stay cool when we run into a 5-0 eeek!!!”

Ed Fuentes at “View from a Loft” writes about a rise in the number of taggings in his neighborhood:

The form and composition of graffiti and street art has support in the Arts District and the works of Mr. Cartoon, Relic, Man-One and Shepard Fairey share the streets with each other. However, that support is dwindling fast as tagging is on the rise by gangs or worse, suburban art students.

To which I ask: does “street art”, including stenciling and “wheat pasting” posters, encourage tagging and other forms of graffiti? At the very least, does the work of artists like Shephard Fairey and Buff Monster give legitimacy to taggers and vandals with spray cans? And should law enforcement make a distinction between one or the other?

…More example of street art at the Los Angeles Street Art Flickr pool

22 Replies to “Question of the Week: Does Street Art Encourage Graffiti?”

  1. This feels like the old “marijuana leads to heroin addiction” argument, but there’s probably a grain of truth to it.

    There’s one street signal box at Hyperion and Griffith Park near my house that undergoes a routine scraping-and-painting regimen – often at the hands of different people who’ve decided slate-avocado matte paint (wouldn’t glossy be easier to clean?) looks infinitely better than the latest from Buff Monster or 20MG.

    This said, I never see graffiti on the box. That’s reserved for an ever-widening variety of walls, where property owners with roller-pans full of beige paint are at constant war wit’ da spraycan goonz.

    I’m an unabashed fan of graphic street art and accomplished full-color burners. But all in their right place. The fuzziness of the boundaries between what’s right and wrong is probably where most good art lovers diverge.

    And FWIW, if you think you can find those boundaries and draw sharp lines along them, consider the unclassifiable variety of stuff posted at Memo pisa el lodo. Tagging is just low bullshit eye pollution.

    Everything else is, arguably, art – until the second it lands on private property or any public fixture requiring someone to scrape it off.

  2. And that is the point exactly Mack.

  3. Personally – I love the stuff and admire the talent of those graffiti artists..at least those with the stencils and spray cans. Its Art…and art is nothing more than another visual way to communicate.

    Local govts need to designate some spots for the street art where they can knock themselves out expressing whatever it is they need to communicate. Give them places like the underpasses, hard walls of the LA River and a few other spots and see what blossoms.

    When it comes to private property they need to stay hands off UNLESS the owner gives them permission to decorate the side of their building. Yes, I know that there are building owners that do that and only rarely does the city ask them to remove. (I have a back of a garage they are welcome to decorate if then can get to it and want it and be damned old shrew in the city neighborhood review committee).

  4. The benefits of street art far outweigh the problems of graffiti. That said, graffiti is a serious problem. I’ve personally had to deal with painting out dozens of crappy tags.

    I’m with Mack, in that street art has a place, and once self-expression becomes simple vandalism, it crosses a line. While there is (no surprise) a lot of chaos among taggers and street artists over what is appropriate, anybody getting involved soon finds out the unwritten rules about where it’s cool to throw something onto a wall.

    I hope there comes a day when the entire L.A. River channel is painted in bright, ever changing colors. Where freeway underpasses and retaining walls are covered with creative messages. The soul deadening swaths of blank concrete walls I face every day are far more problematic than some asshat kid with a paint can. We need to channel the creative monster, not stifle it.

  5. I tend to agree with the sentiments above that there is probably little to no connection but that any connection there is is worth it because the street art is always interesting. Trying to tie the two together just because they share a medium has come up before and has been debated to no end. Like so many other things, the medium doesn’t dictate the content and gangs trying to tag areas are going to tag them if there is street art or not. If there is a rise in tagging, I think it’s probably better attributed to a rise in gang activity than blamed on street artists.

  6. Most of the stuff sprouting on the garage doors and stripmall walls in my neighborhood seems to be simplet tagging and crossing off by antagonists. No art there, to be sure.

  7. As I wrote, I was hoping this wouldn’t become a debate over “what is art”. Interesting comments regardless.

    Still, the harder question here that hasn’t been approached is how police should make a distinction? Should society allow more of one than the other?

  8. I love street art.R espect gang tagging. Hate random tags.

    But a lot of street art these days is SUPER lame. Even some of the wheatpastes of just some random image by some hipster who thinks he is cool or more street now. Anyone can photocopy an image and paste it up. No soul. Put some soul in your street art and make a statement.

  9. Oh, and let’s throw the whole guerrilla marketing thing into the mix. So it’s not only graffiti vs. street art. But it’s also street art vs. advertising. About half the photos I shoot of stickers are mini-billboards for bands and music companies, clothing retailers, movies, radio shows, myspace pages and other web sites. When pushingtide mentions super lame street art, it’s actually the advertising that first pops up into my mind.

  10. Suburban art school kids have been doing graffiti for a couple decades. Urban art school kids have done it for three. Gang graffiti has been done, in LA, since the 1940s. The relationship is simple: kids who like to draw letters are obsessives, and have a pretty worthless skill. (Even today, you know that people who draw typefaces probably earn less per year than designers who do ad layouts.) Street gangs and art gangs put a high premium on lettering, because good typography is essential to advertising your presence. Both organizations are advancing their “businesses”, and need signpainters.

  11. David,
    Both police and drive by taggers could stand to use a history and have it lead to some designation of content.

  12. Mack and Frazgo make some points about public and private property, and it got me thinking about how graffiti has led to the socialization of painting walls. Most cities now have some kind of graffiti abatement program, where the city or county will paint private property that’s been tagged. This is not just for the benefit of property owners, but also the public, who don’t want to see tags on other people’s private property. In fact, the public generally get upset with private property owners who don’t avail themselves of these socialized painting services.

    When it’s the public calling the service before the property owner, the public is really just paying to preserve the illusion of property owners who care about maintaining appearances above and beyond what it costs to maintain a profitable business.

    Graffiti could be almost completely eradicated by eliminating private painting. The city could establish a palette of official colors, and paint all walls facing public roads. Buffing would be almost instantaneous, as every part of the city would be managed by the municipal paint crew. Money would be saved by eliminating paint-color choice, and paint manufacture could be made municipal. Graffitists could be shot on sight, and people who paint their houses in odd colors could be issued fix-it tickets and fined for noncompliance.

    It could all be democratic, too. Every four years, you’d vote in a new president of the Park La Brea National Socialist Homeowner’s Association.

  13. Did I just read “The benefits of street art far outweigh the problems of graffiti”?

    what a crock. Graffiti is horrible scratchings of pathetic losers. they should be shot on site.

    yes. shot. with a gun

  14. “marijuana leads to heroin addiction” doesn’t really apply here.

    Though you were hoping to avoid the “what is art” debate – I don’t think you can since, fundamentally, that’s what we’re arguing. Whether or not anything is “artistic” if it is composed on someone else’s property (or on a public ediface which is everyone else’s property), then it’s wrong. It’s against the law. It is vandalism.

    It might be pretty vandalism, but it’s still vandalism.

    If someone wants to allow free reign over their wall or whatever, then hey, go nuts. Slap up those paper things that peel off in a storm. Sell your cool, cutting edge skate gear. Say damn the man or up with love. I’m all for it – I decorate my apartment with vintage advertisements, and someone has to make something to be vintage for our kids to slap on their walls someday.

    But the moment you think your content is soooo edgy, creative, vital, visionary, pretty, whatever, that you think YOU get somekind of free pass to stick on property that the rest of us own and pay the upkeep on, then you can just move it along.

    Street-art doesn’t lead to graffiti, it IS graffiti, unless it is on private property and gets there with the property owner’s permission.

  15. it’s all illegal, and that’s the point. putting your stuff up on public property brings with it the risk that it wil be taken down, and street artists accept those risks. CD doesn’t seem to get the point that we all own public space, some people choose to make it look different, which is against the law and they have to pay the price if they are caught.

  16. I should have learned by now NOT to be amazed at the rationalizations for vandalism, yet, I still am amazed.

    Artists “accept those risks?” True – the same way any would-be law-violator accepts the risks of getting caught. Shoplifters could be seen on camera. Dealers busted. Murderers caught. So in a purely logical sense, your statement is correct.

    We do all own public spaces. We all pay for them. That doesn’t mean, however, that one person – potentially a partial owner, though if you want to go down this road, I’d like to see proof of residency (no, not immigration crap, I mean county/city/local taxpayer resident) – gets to decide what EVERYONE else should have to look at or wants placed on his/her public-trust owned mailbox.

    They do have to pay the price if they get caught.

    But the larger discussion here isn’t on whether laws exist to punish those who wantonly deface what does not belong [solely] to them – the discussion originated as a question of whether “street art” leads to “graffiti.” My argument is that the question – and the presumptions underlying it – are wrong. Street art is graffiti, so whether it leads to more of the same is a less important question than whether it should be condoned as acceptable adult behavior. Or something we should allow or encourage from anyone – adult or not.

    My position will always be no, we should not.

    In the grand scheme of moral transgresions, is this the worst? No, of course not. But the broken windows theory bears out and graffiti – the cutesy kind or otherwise – is part of blight in any neighborhood. If you want to get your kicks breaking small laws, why don’t you download yourself some movies or music. Don’t vandalize.

  17. I am pro street art. There are other cities on this planet where it is more rampant, more expressive and more politically aware, so I’m glad of the relatively small amount of it we have. Gangs are going to tag shit up no matter WHAT people have to say about quote unquote legitimate street art. Cracking down on one thing isn’t going to have an affect on the other.

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