Is Graffiti Always Vandalism or Can it Be Art?

Campbell Patch reader David Steele shared this image with us over the weekend. Do you have any images of similar graffiti in Campbell?

A black and white ballerina made an appearance under the E. Campbell Avenue bridge near Campbell Park, facing east.

Campbell Patch reader and blogger David Steele shared this image with us over the weekend and for us, begged the question: is all graffiti vandalism or are there some forms that are public art?

How does this ballerina, although pretty to look at differ from, say, the various incarnations of Felix the Cat? Or does it? That individual, Robert Saddik, racked up $30,000 in damages for various South Bay cities and was arrested in June by the San Jose Police Department.

On the flip side, museums like this one in Miami, Florida dedicate entire exhibits to showcase graffiti created by, in this case British graffiti artist Banksy.

You tell us, Campbell. Is there ever a time that graffiti is no longer vandalism but public art? Or is vandalism just that?

Gini Wallace October 08, 2012 at 08:14 PM
I think it's splendid! Love the cat that you can see driving on 17 near Hamilton. I'm a big fan of Banksy and other street artists like him. I also like the Felix's around town. Just hate the tagging. Tagging can be beautiful...the colorful tagging on the NY subways...but the plain, hurried, black spray paint squiggles are ugly.
David and Darlene Steele October 08, 2012 at 08:31 PM
It is pretty... but not legal. Hard to tell good grafitti artists they can do their thing but tell the bad ones and the taggers that they can't!
Deb R October 08, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Graffiti (different from simple "tagging") is art. Absolutely. It is expression and, as such, its beauty (or lack thereof) is left to the eye of the beholder. There are graffiti artists whom, over the years, have become infamous for their artwork and aren't we art-lovers all the more fortunate for it! Some graffiti artists are now sought after and command a pretty penny for their art. I completely understand the frustrations of site owners who, without their permission, are graced with graffiti - at the end of the day, it is not ok to deface another's property without authorization. No one appreciates someone taking their property for granted. That said, I am always pleased to see public & private property owners who hire, or simply invite, urban artists to do works on their walls, bridges, etc. - what a great way to welcome street talent into our cities & neighborhoods. I, for one, am all for giving these artists a canvas for their works of art - much more interesting than all shades of gray & vanilla.
Mayra Flores de Marcotte October 08, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Gini: Thank you for your comment! I know exactly what you are talking about [the cat]. I will post a pic of said cat [taken in Los Gatos] in a moment but for now, what about the property owners that suddenly have unsolicited "art" on their property? I agree. I think there's a difference between the colorful graffiti of NY's subways and the hurried spray paint squiggles that you commonly see on freeway walls, underpasses and newsstands, from an artistic standpoint but where do you draw the line, but more importantly, how, when it comes to a vandalism standpoint?
Randy Campbell October 08, 2012 at 10:20 PM
The answer is actually easy..... no matter what it is, or how artistic it may be, if it is done without permission, on property that does not belong to you, then it is vandalism, and a crime, period!
Mayra Flores de Marcotte October 08, 2012 at 10:21 PM
David: True. It IS pretty [for some of us, not all] and illegal but how does it morph from illegal vandalism in some cities to public displays of urban art in others? Does it boil down to permission? And even then, there will be some that still think its ugly and without purpose. Interesting conversation either way. :)
Mayra Flores de Marcotte October 08, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Deb: Thanks for the detailed explanation on where you stand! It does help add to the conversation, which is why we are all here, right? I agree: art is much more interesting to look at than blank walls waiting to be "tagged," but is there a better way for these "artists" to reach out to cities such as Campbell and find a legal way to beautify the city's blank spaces? I've read on various sites (and have heard from local artists) that many find the system difficult to navigate and that once permission is granted, creative freedom is severed. I obviously don't have the answers but would love to see beautiful murals, public art displays, etc. etched on our blank walls both in Campbell and throughout the South Bay. These are just a few more thoughts to keep the conversation going.
Mayra Flores de Marcotte October 09, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Randy, I see where you're coming from. It is a crime, which is why even "famous" graffiti artists have all done time and paid back their local communities, but for argument's sake, is it a crime if the property owner didn't give permission but ended up enjoying the work?
Gini Wallace October 09, 2012 at 01:10 AM
I'm in absolute agreement with Deb. And, in my opinion, I'd much rather see the City of Campbell spend money on a cool mural done by a talented grafitti artist on the underpass of 17 & Campbell Ave rather than those disco lights.
Bryn Clark Boepple October 09, 2012 at 07:10 AM
Keith Haring aside. . .with a property owner's permission, it's art. Without it, it's vandalism. (What if it were your house or car door?) Even Michelangelo had a consult! Bryn
Deb R October 09, 2012 at 06:18 PM
I agree, Bryn - art on someone else's property is considered vandalism (defacing of property). I think there were two questions here: Is it vandalism? and Is is art? Yes, to both, unless permission is granted. That said, I'd like to see permission granted more often - what a great outlet for great talent. Short of that, graffiti artists beware (and most are - I'll repeat the earlier comment where many, even infamous, graffiti artists have done time for their deeds).
Alan Zisser October 13, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Some graffiti can be art but is all vandalism if done without permission. Even on public locations, residents have right to decide if graffiti art should be done. That is what community is about. And one man's art is another's scribblings. Tagging is destructive.
Mayra Flores de Marcotte October 13, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Oh Gini tell me how you really feel about the colored lights under Hwy. 17 ;)
Mayra Flores de Marcotte October 13, 2012 at 12:07 AM
Good point, Bryn! Not sure how I'd feel about that kitty stencil on my car ...
Mayra Flores de Marcotte October 13, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Alan, you bring up a really great point. Even if permission is granted, the resulting piece should at least be something most of the community will enjoy. Not to say that you can please everyone since art IS subjective. I wonder how cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York with their oversized urban murals, engage both the artists and the community?


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