Graffiti: street art or vandalism?

Graffiti has been around for centuries. The Romans in Pompeii and the Vikings in the Orkneys showed a distinct bawdy tone in theirs. Graffiti can portray the spectrum of artistic and linguistic expression, from brilliance and innovation to blind rage, loss, despair, and garbage. It can be political, apolitical, satirical, sardonic, funny, sad, artistic, whimsical, ribald, or just plain vandalism, depending on the viewer.

Graffiti is usually defined as illicit drawings scribbled, scratched or sprayed on a wall or other surface in a public place. Authorities are often ambivalent about graffiti, but recognise that prohibition usually doesn’t work. Sometimes therefore, limited acceptance occurs. In Melbourne, the city council authorises controlled street art that has become a major tourist attraction. In Valparaiso, Chile, the local authorities have at times commissioned and encouraged street art, although recent moves in Chile suggest a negative approach through plans to regulate graffiti by punishing parents for the actions of their children.

On my daily train commute to work in Melbourne, I was always amused by the slogan painted on a bridge beside the train track: ‘Don’t vote, it only encourages them’

Melbourne

Here are some recent photos taken in inner suburban Brunswick, Melbourne.

Chile

Valparaiso was once the major port on the South American Pacific coast for ships crossing the Straights of Magellan/Cape Horn to and from the Atlantic Ocean. When the Panama Canal opened in 1914 Valparaiso lost most of its maritime port trade and declined. The city is now having something of a resurgence, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s renowned for its colourful housing, lanes and stairways, its ascencores (funicular railway system) linking the steep residential neighbourhoods with the port, and has some truly noteworthy graffiti.

2008-06-02 07.33.36

2008-06-02 06.01.56

Even an old car can become a canvas in Valparaiso
Even an old car can become a canvas in Valparaiso, as the old graffiti behind it fades away

IMG_1322

I left the previous photo at a wonky angle to allow those with Spanish skills (or who want to translate) the chance to read the sign. Deposed former President Salvador Allende’s image appears on the red door, and I’ve written more about Chile and Allende here.

India

If you might be offended by strong language or sexual connotations, don’t look at the next photo.

Graffiti in Fort Kochi, India
Graffiti in Fort Kochi, India

Rome 2008

I’ve left the worst for last. Without claiming to be the arbiter of good taste, for which I am grossly underqualified, I share the general view that some graffiti is bad. In Melbourne, crude scratches mar the windows of many expensive new train carriages, and pathetic and meaningless swirls of paint appear in the wrong places. However, generally in Melbourne and elsewhere, there is a level of respect for older buildings and surfaces.

I haven’t selected Rome as my candidate for a bad graffiti award because of dislike for the city, as it’s one of my favourites. I was dismayed to visit in 2008 and discover that large numbers of classic centuries-old stone buildings were indiscriminately and unattractively sprayed, with no message, appeal or communication. Perhaps that was the point: a sign of urban decay, despair, powerlessness? It was the year of Silvio Berlusconi’s return to political leadership as prime minister for the third time, surely evidence that Italy had fundamentally lost its way. Of course, there may be other factors not readily apparent to a visitor.

Rae&Stu2 280-001

Rae&Stu2 289

Advertisements

Published by

retrostuart

I like to travel while having a base from which to roam. Home is a small farm on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia, where I grow organic vegetables and fruit, keep a few chooks (chickens) and Dexter cattle. The place offers some country peace and quiet, and wildlife, as well as quick access to the inner suburbs of the city for my regular contrasting visits. I enjoy walking, camping, swimming and snorkelling, photography, reading, listening to and playing music, and good food and wine. A major flaw in my character is being susceptible to sales of air flights.

11 thoughts on “Graffiti: street art or vandalism?”

  1. The graffiti in Venice brings many of us to near-tears. There’s such disregard to the ancient stones of that city, also. Just ugly, damaging scrawls as you’ve displayed in Rome.

    Like

    1. Is it possible that the authorities could provide spaces, encouragement and opportunities for people to legitimately practise their activities, and lure them away from the ugly stuff?

      Like

  2. An excellent post Stuart. I often take photos of graffiti and have been thinking about doing a post about a specifc artist in Brisbane. Not sure if you’ve been to Buenos Aires (bet you have) but there are rich pickings there, my friend. I must agree with the bombing sentiment.

    Like

    1. Thanks, Fiona. Your idea for a post focussed on a particular artist is a good one, particularly as much graffiti is quite ephemeral and the post might be the only long term record. You lose the bet on Buenos Aires. My shortish visit to South America was restricted to just Chile, unfortunately.

      Like

    1. You’re very kind. I think that you’ve identified the ultimate dilemma about graffiti. Good or bad artistically is one issue, but what relevance do the interests of someone directly affected (their wall, view…) have?

      Like

  3. Living in Sydney’s inner city/inner west it’s impossible to avoid street art or graffiti… anyway, I love it for the most, much better than boring walls, even some of the tagging is talented… But of course destructive graffiti is simply offensive and undermines the other great offerings. Great pics, great post 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s