Street Art or Graffiti?

Street Art or Graffiti?

“Street art is graffiti.”

“Graffiti is street art.”

“Perhaps this piece is post-graffiti street art.”

“Actually, maybe we should just call all of it urban art?”

The terminology used to describe the images, stencils and tags that we see in our cities everyday is enough to give anyone a headache.

So are graffiti and street art one and the same thing or are they two very different entities? Graffiti is seen as being an illegal act committed by disenfranchised hooded adolescents with an unhealthy appetite for spray paint. This oversimplified stereotype goes some way to explain the poor reputation that graffiti has. Street art on the other hand is graffiti’s polite, well-to-do, better dressed relative. After all, they do call it art.

Most people agree that art is created to convey a message, provoke a reaction or an emotional response. The social commentary of Banksy’s stencilled kissing policemen fulfil this criteria. It’s debatable whether the youth who spray paints his initials clumsily over train carriages and derelict buildings is thinking about his (or her) message other than to claim a selfish notoriety.

As people walk past walls of graffiti they may try to decipher the jumbled up layers of colour and words. Each collection of tags has its own story to tell. It may be many years worth of evolving graffiti; a hot-pot of neon creativity from a generation of graffiti artists that have never met one another yet are connected through an artistic medium.

The origins of graffiti can be traced back to New York in the 1920s when gangs would illegally tag the side of box cars in the Bronx. A subversive culture was being formed nearly a hundred years ago. Graffiti is not a modern phenomena, although euphemistically utilising the phrase street art most definitely is. For every Banksy in the world, there are hundreds of unknowns with the same motivations for their artistic creations.

Graffiti is exciting and challenging. It gets people talking, whether that is the faceless creators themselves forming an underground movement or those witnessing their work and declaring how much they appreciate it or loathe it. It’s provoking a reaction. Is this not the very aim of art?

Street art or graffiti - the debate rages on...

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