Graffiti: is it a criminal act of vandalism or a harmless means of self-expression? Is it an eyesore or something beautiful? Ranging from simple initials to ornate depictions, graffiti has become a part of our cities. But are the spray-painted sides of buildings and bridges something to be considered art or are they just blobs of paint, meaningful only to the people that put them there?

Although one could argue that the first “graffiti artists” were prehistoric cave dwellers, graffiti as we know it today began in the late 1960’s and was mostly used by political activists to make a statement or by gang members to mark their territory. Philadelphia is often credited as the birthplace of graffiti, a revolution that has writers and artists marking the walls of the city.

As graffiti popularized and moved into the suburbs, it became somewhat less purposeful and skilled. Any fourteen-year-old with a marker could feel inclined to write his or her name on the side of the building. However, renowned graffiti artists like England’s Banksy keep the idea of graffiti as an art form alive. Because he uses his remarkable talent to bring social issues to light, it is hard to regard Banksy as anything less than an artist, even if he uses a nontraditional canvas.

Is graffiti art? If it is, is it good art? Art exists to highlight the beauty of the world around us and to help us make sense of the things in our environment. Most importantly, it offers its creators a chance to express themselves. It can be simply something nice to look at or it can provoke emotion and ignite social change. Graffiti does all of those things in its own way. Just like anything else, there is good graffiti and bad graffiti. Disregarding or dismissing all of it just because some graffiti is less than brilliant would be similar to closing art museums just because there are some bad paintings.

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