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Barnes Foundation Re-Write

playcity23's picture

When I think of graffiti, I don’t equate it with the same art I saw in the Barnes Foundation. In the eyes of the law, graffiti is a punishable offense. It is “writing or drawings that have been scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.” I believe if the word ‘illicitly’ is omitted from this definition, it would take on a whole new face. Whenever I go to a new city, I always make sure to look at the graffiti because it provides a very public window into the social, political, and economical climate of said city. It can almost be considered a form of propaganda. It is a way of communicating to the Man. There’s an excellent example of graffiti in my new favorite movie. In Catching Fire when Katniss and Peeta are on the train to the Capitol, Katniss’s mockingjay symbol flashes by as they enter a rebelling district. When the train slows, they see more graffiti vehemently declaring “The odds are never in our favor.” 

It would seem that graffiti should be accepted by society as a form of art because it does everything “accepted” art does: it expresses, communicates, and reflects the current climates. What might be holding graffiti back is the stigma of its own illicitness. But painting your name in wet concrete is considered graffiti as well, and yet it is considered much more innocent than a stencil of a tank on the London Underground. Throughout history, archeologists have looked for graffiti to gain understanding of a lost culture. Ancient etchings on the catacombs of Rome are considered invaluable from a historical standpoint, and yet by the modern definition, they are still illegal and therefore must be covered up. 

Take the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. According to their website, the program grew out of an effort to “eradicate the graffiti crisis plaguing the city.” The graffiti artists had to have their “energies redirected.” A Jane Golden gave them legal opportunities to practice their craft and changed the name of the pieces to murals. By decriminalizing the art, all of a sudden their work was being praised for its “color, beauty, and life to an old, industrial city.” However the color and the beauty was there beforehand, just a bit more chaotic and dispersed (the murals painted were a group effort). Today, the program “targets at-risk youth” to develop their voices and senses of selves through legal graffiti. 

Banksy, one of the most recognized graffiti artists in the field, remains faceless to evade authorities. He’s self-published several books and his work can be spotted from Bristol to Palestine. He’s even held exhibitions featuring a live, beautifully painted elephant. His style is distinct and his motives are mostly political. Bombing Middle England was auctioned at Sotheby’s for £102,000. No matter which way you look at it, Banksy is a very successful artist. His art just carries a stigma because he does it illegally. His most recent piece, a sculpture of a boy shining the shoes of Ronald Mcdonald in New York, doesn’t even deface public property because it can be removed without a trace. And yet, the NYPD’s vandal squad are after him for it. 

What if graffiti is decriminalized completely? Will society still look down on it? Through my research, the biggest beef society has with graffiti is that they didn’t ask for it to be put on their property. But some of the greatest photographs like world were not asked for, like the Pulitzer-Prize winning photo of the dying Sudanese child being scouted out by a vulture. In the words of Banksy: “If graffiti changed anything -it would be illegal.”


"Graffiti." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 June 2013. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.

"History | Mural Arts Program." History | Mural Arts Program. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.

"Banksy." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 June 2013. Web. 08 Dec. 2013.

"World's Famous Photos." Worlds Famous Photos. N.p., 16 May 2007. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.