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Graffiti Vandalism: The Consequences of a Non-Violent Art

by Donnell, RBVHS Graffiti Club, 2019.04.01

Sketchbook review and critique at RBVHS Graffiti Club
Sketchbook review and critique at RBVHS Graffiti Club

Graffiti vandalism is a crime that defaces and damages both public and private property. The cost of removing and covering up graffiti in San Diego County alone costs approximately $16 billion, which has led to the harsh discrimination and punishment of a subculture that has existed for nearly half a century and connected youth of different ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic status. Graffiti vandalism should no longer be classified as a felony crime due to its positive socioeconomic and educational impacts on our youth.

Many young graffiti artists grow up in unstable living conditions where the family doesn’t have a large income or has a lower socioeconomic status. As Lisa Hochtritt states, “youth are considered a scapegoat generation and blamed for problems that are mostly created by adults.¨( Hochtritt, Grounding Art Education in the Lives of Youth: Using Graffiti Art in the Classroom). The scapegoated youth begin to act rebellious to parental and authority figures.

Now, with rebellious youth searching for ways to feel “heard,” many pick up graffiti art as a method of proving they have a voice in society rather than feeling outcast from the rest of the world. Using graffiti to rebel against societal norms the youth across a large range of backgrounds are able to establish forms of communication through their art. Richard Lachmann in his journal article, “Graffiti as Career and Ideology”, discusses how these youth may use graffiti art to represent significant aspects of their life. “Members of subcultures challenge hegemony by drawing on the particular experiences and customs of their communities, ethnic groups, and age cohorts, thereby demonstrating that social life can be constructed in ways different from the dominant conceptions of reality.” Lachmann conveys that the youth use their art to reflect their environment, culture, past experiences, etc. and use this as means of having recognition amongst their families and peers. As a result of earned reputation and respect, these graffiti artists feel better connected to their non-rebellious peers only to be told once again what they have done is wrong; spiraling into a circle of transgression and wasted tax dollars. The form of rebelling through graffiti art establishes the usage of one artist’s culture and current or past social and economic status.

Graffiti art also provides youth with educational benefits; young artists learn aspects of art that can be learned in college level courses such as: composition, line, and color. Graffiti also has ties into ancient forms of art dating back to the Renaissance, as explained by author Charles Duncan, University of Chicago Press, “Subway graffiti is the only art form in several centuries that adopted the very same training technique that was used in the Renaissance.” ( Duncan, Graffiti's Vasari: Jack Stewart and Mass Transit Art). During the Renaissance, young aspiring artists would seek apprenticeships from more experienced and accomplished artists. In the current subculture of graffiti art, new taggers or someone who writes graffiti using their given nickname seek help from more experienced artists in order to learn more skills; for example: how to move the can, how to apply different effects like 3D and drop shadows, and how to blend and place a variety of different colors next to and on top of each other, ( Lachmann, Graffiti as Career and Ideology). “Considering new street artworks fosters multiple and new learnings for students...” as discussed by Kathleen Keys, Chair of the NAEA, “encourages exploration of urban areas as potential free zones for creative expression while also examining the complex ideals and realities governing freedom of artistic and cultural expression in public spaces.” ( Keys, Contemporary Visual Culture Jamming: Redefining Collage as Collective, Communal, & Urban). Writing graffiti gives young artists the opportunity to visit urban areas of the city they live in as well as explore a multitude of different landscapes. Certain conditions may require artists to experiment with different surfaces to paint on, types of paint, and techniques to achieve the piece they’re intending to create. Graffiti art offers a multitude of educational outputs that artists use to further develop their own personal styles for legal or illegal use.

Graffiti vandalism is nonetheless a criminal act defacing another individual’s property. Although the need to damage public or private property is unjust, the solution to the issue is much more simple than incriminating a child for expressing oneself. Instead, remove the punishment that follows with graffiti vandalism and put education programs in place to educate the youth about art and other methods to use their art to express themselves while following any local and state laws in place. Graffiti offers many youths across the country a form of expression and serves as a strong subculture for many generations of youth across a large demographic.

Students learning about and sharing graffiti art
Students learning about and sharing graffiti art

Works Cited

Duncan H. Charles. “Graffiti's Vasari: Jack Stewart and Mass Transit Art.” Archives of American Art Journal, vol. 49, no. 3/4, 2010, pp. 40–49. JSTOR,

Hochtritt, Lisa. “Chapter 6: Grounding Art Education in the Lives of Youth: Using Graffiti Art in the Classroom.” Counterpoints, vol. 326, 2008, pp. 101–117. JSTOR,

Keys, Kathleen. “Contemporary Visual Culture Jamming: Redefining Collage as Collective, Communal, & Urban.” Art Education, vol. 61, no. 2, 2008, pp. 98–101. JSTOR,

Lachmann, Richard. “Graffiti as Career and Ideology.” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 94, no. 2, 1988, pp. 229–250. JSTOR,

Sheridan, Linda. “What's so Good about Graffiti Art?”, 2 Jan. 2019,

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