It is perhaps deliberately that this has been framed as a loaded question, is graffiti art considered to be art? But this takes us directly to the heart of the matter, what constitutes something being art is very truly on the eye of the beholder. But some serious debates are surrounding this topic.
The term graffiti itself is problematic. Consider this article about prominent Chicago artist Dont Fret, he is referred to as a street artist. This distinction offers a more constructive spin on the entire artform, as street art is a more creative and acceptable term. You can see how celebrated the artist is from the article as he is lauded by a city official.
Should we be considering graffiti, or street art, a crime? Well, technically it is, but only in some circumstances. The crux of the matter comes down to permission. If you paint, draw, or write anything on a surface without permission of the property owner, then by the letter of the law, it would be considered illegal vandalism. Would this result in prosecution in reality? This mainly depends on the owners’ attitude since much of the art is done either with permission or in abandoned spaces, the level of prosecution these days seems to be low in most areas. What of art on publicly owned buildings? This is a subject of hot debate as it brings politics into it (more on that later).
Should we Encourage it?
Is it an art form that should be encouraged? You could encourage young people to use it to express themselves. Take an art class, equip them with some Dang Paint and find an area to let them give it a go. Many art schools and colleges have whole courses on graffiti art as a legitimate medium. Reputation still holds it back for some more conservative folks, but it is steadily gaining momentum as a serious and respected medium.
Part of the City
In many places, grafitti art has become a defining feature of the city and its culture. High-quality street art can be stunningly beautiful and show much of the culture and history of a place when done well. Take the series of stunning murals in Glasgow, Scotland that is now a famous feature that residents and visitors to the city rightly marvel at.
Politics often, but not always, plays a big part in street art or graffiti art. Take the world-famous Banksy, no-one even knows who he or she is, but many of the pieces are political, showing a real flavor of social commentary. These pieces have sparked more social debate in the last couple of decades than any traditional artform as they reach ordinary people who would never have considered visiting an art gallery. Other more overtly political examples can be seen in communities with a much more overt political struggle, the murals on display in Northern Irish communities, on both sides, are excellent examples.