Out in the countryside, people can experience the fragrance of unknown flowers, the noises of the natural world all around and the beauty of stars never before seen.
These experiences are hard to come by in cities, which contain a different form of life. There are the smells of food frying in the multitude of restaurants, the honks of car horns with the occasional wailing of a siren and, of course, the graffiti decorating the sides of buildings.
People scratch their heads in confusion when it comes to drawing the line between street art and vandalism. Street art is often stereotyped as being associated with gangs or being found only in the “ghetto” part of town. Surprisingly, some street art, as defined by Art Republic as “art developed in public spaces,” is simply a form of expression with a message made out to the general public, though it may not always be legal.
So what is the difference between art and vandalism? First, one would need to determine what constitutes vandalism. In his article “Graffiti and the Difference between Street Art and Vandalism,” Yahoo contributor Eric Martin defines vandalism, in terms of street art, as “a destructive act … that almost always consists of lettering made with spray paint, made with a single color.” This specifically distinguishes the typical words spray-painted all around the city that mean nothing except that it is someone or something’s name. These words are not creative and thoughtful pieces of art that can be appreciated by people other than the creator. According to Martin, they have no “artistic value.”
Writing a name on the side of a building can destroy the image of a city and its overall environment. It is this action that needs to be stopped by the local authorities. The problem is that most authorities see both kinds of street art under one umbrella as an illegal act that needs to be stopped. This problem has been easily solved.
Street artists who want their art to be on the walls of some building get permission from the owner of the building first to minimize the trouble with the law. This way, the only illegal street art around the city would be vandalism. The process of obtaining permission is not easy, but it would be worth it in the end. So now that vandalism has been clearly defined, it is safe to say not all street art should be categorized as vandalism and that some street art can be valued.
Still, there are those who wonder whether street art, if it is not classified as vandalism, serves any kind of purpose. Why not paint on canvases instead of walls? Will that not make the city look neater?
What they do not realize is that street art is a part of the city. It enhances the environment of the city. One such example is a historical mural in Los Angeles that was restored. Molly Gray, from the University of Southern California, said it “provides incredible energy overall to the lives of the community.”
University of Pennsylvania Social Impact of the Arts principal investigator Mark Stern and project director Susan Seifert define murals as having “social benefits” such as “bringing neighbors together” and “inspiring reminders of cooperation and dedication.” A mural is usually painted by the members of the community, and that sense of creating something together is constantly remembered every time they look at that mural. They represent the idea a city has — the idea of making a good, functioning place people join to be successful.
As far as other street art, usually painted by one person, it has a different purpose. For the artist, painting or drawing on a wall is a “more direct way to speak to people” about beliefs and ideas that they feel are “underrepresented,” said journalist Nate Berg in “The Social and Economic Roots of Oakland’s Graffiti Boom.” It provides a unique, more effective way to send a message that catches a person’s eye as they are walking down the street.
People who have magnificent artistic talent should be able to express themselves just as writers do in their stories or speakers do in their protests. Berg even argues that street art needs to be taken to “the same place that the ads are,” meaning it needs to be everywhere you turn. One might say this statement is a little on the extreme side, but the idea of letting street art be on the walls around the city still remains. Street art, by one person or a group of people, is a vital factor of a city with more benefits than disadvantages.
Opinion columnist Zehra Abbas is an English sophomore and may be reached at [email protected]