Graffiti As Vandalism, Not Art

Museum of The City Of New York Graffiti Exhibition Doesn’t Show What The Majority Of Graffiti Is – Unintelligible Scrawls By Vandals

I caught the newest exhibit at The Museum of the City of New York entitled “City as Canvas,” which glorifies the practitioners of graffiti and their “work” during the 1970’s and 1980’s in New York City.

For anyone who thinks that graffiti is something to be celebrated in a retrospective by an exhibition at an important cultural institution, here is some evidence to contradict that viewpoint.

Iouri Podladtchikov, Olympic half-pipe king visits the lower east side with typical graffiti defacing a grand old building. photo - Casey Kelbaugh for the New York Times

Iouri Podladtchikov, Olympic half-pipe king visits the lower east side with typical graffiti defacing a grand old building. photo – Casey Kelbaugh for the New York Times

A typical display of current graffiti “art” as seen in this building covered by spray paint on the lower east side really is a better representation of the so called graffiti artist. It pains me to see old handcrafted stone buildings covered with paint. The beautiful Queensboro Bridge girders and stonework are always being cleaned and re-painted due to these miscreants who attack our public property with their spray cans, markers and etching knives.

Subway graffiti photo taken Feb 8, 1982

Subway graffiti photo taken Feb 8, 1982

The onslaught of graffiti began in earnest in the subway system in the 1970’s where riding a train was a demoralizing prospect. Almost every single car was covered in dripping unintelligible paint and marker scrawls, which obliterated any blank spaces. The stations and tunnels were just as bad.

R17 subway cars vandalized by graffiti at the 207th street yards

R17 subway cars vandalized by graffiti at the 207th street yards

The vandals did most of  their desecration at the subway yards where they could take their time to tag as many cars as possible. Often they would write over one another’s works, making it a mish-mash of ugliness.

Inside the subway cars: lots of graffiti too. photo via NPR

Inside the subway cars: lots of graffiti too. photo via NPR

The inside of the trains were just as depressing as the outside was. It gave you a real sense of the depravity that surrounded you.

Subway 1970s picture via

It was sickening to ride the subways and truly dangerous because of the constant threat of criminal activity.  It certainly didn’t help that the graffiti added a layer of despair and fear that enveloped almost anyone setting foot on a train.

The praising critics at The New York Times, Associated Press and local newspapers such as whose critic entitled her review “When Graffiti Was Great,” are in grave error.

Living through the graffiti era of the 1970’s and 1980’s New York was to live through the height of urban blight.

Yes, the graffiti “artists” shown in the MCNY exhibition were talented. But these “artists” in the exhibition made up a small percentage of the people that defaced and destroyed public property. They represent the few that had some artistic talent, however misdirected it might be. It is the criminal act of graffiti, one of public vandalism that the public should truly find deplorable.

Buildings Covered in graffiti photo via mercedesberk.comThe overwhelming majority of graffiti that plagued our buildings, civic statues, public transportation, highways, rooftops, trees, cemeteries, mailboxes and any other blank space that these vandals got their grubby little hands on was committed by no talent criminals.

Simply put, graffiti is disgusting and a crime that still costs taxpayers millions of dollars.

So let’s call a spade a spade.

To celebrate graffiti is a symptom of how far we have devolved as a society. Putting on an exhibit to glorify this behavior is a disgrace.

13 thoughts on “Graffiti As Vandalism, Not Art

  1. steve k

    The days of stylized lettering were late 1960s and early 1970s

    SJK 171 , MIKE 171 , FRANK 207 , HENRY 161 , JEC Star , CAY 161 , JUNIOR 161

  2. Shayla

    Graffiti can be either. Art is created to catch your eye. It makes the world around you more beautiful. Leaving symbols and rude comments is not the same thing as graffiti art. ANyone who thinks they are the same thing doesn’t now the true beauty of art. Art is supposed to controversial yet undeniably true. It’s more than just writing your opinion on a wall. It’s an message behind art. Vandalism does none of this. Its offensive and bothersome. Graffiti art is a world of its own.

  3. Robert Collier

    You can like davinci and hate dondi but before you judge there’s always someone else writes better than you in other words let’s appreciate life just like I appreciate art no matter what kind of art it is

  4. anon

    In the words of Trap IF (Graffiti Artist) “If it offends you, don’t look at it, move, if not, embrace it, ’cause it’s not going nowhere”

  5. Pingback: Life of the Law | Vanguard or Vandalism? Graffiti Writers and Street Artists Speak

  6. Twenty-twenty

    The dead are the only ones who can’t be offended by graffiti.
    Vandal and sociopath are interchangeable definitions unless you happen to be a member of a 5th century Germanic tribe.
    Graffiti is good when it’s stylized. Graffiti is bad when it’s ugly. Graffiti is good when it’s neat. Graffiti is bad when it’s like a toilet.
    If this is the level of thought that goes into the stuff it’s no wonder that it consists entirely of splattering your name on a surface. Having access to paint does not make you an artist any more than owning a pen makes you an writer.

  7. Pingback: Vanguard or Vandalism? Graffiti Writers and Street Artists Speak : Life of the Law

  8. Neap Tide

    first of all cemeteries are off limits and against the rules, you do not disrespect the dead! I mean we are vandals, not sociopaths! And honestly I think graffiti is just part of the character of a city, the good stylized stuff. When a city is toy (graffiti writer that sucks at it) infested it just looks ugly because they make ugly shit, when you have good graff that has been practiced and practiced and sketched and planned it turns out nice and its even better when writers have respect and leave room rather than clip (letting graffiti overlap) since it over all ends up looking nice rather than like one big toilet. Look at the old stuff before everyone tried cramming into the space, its fresh and looks good. When laws get tougher in a city tagging and bombin will always take center stage as the primary form used by writers since it will likely not last and the quicker it can get done the better.

  9. Carolyn

    I agree. For every Banksy, there are thousands of just plain vandals. There is a legal graffiti wall in st. Louis, along the river food wall. It’s ugly — there are a few nice things that are covered with layers of other tags. I doubt Da Vinci had to worry about Michaelangelo sneaking in and painting over his work. 🙂

    1. hero32

      For every Carolyn, there are thousands of just plain normal people. What you find beautiful some will find ugly what you find ugly some will find beautiful. Your opinion is yours it’s not the final say.

      Banksy is an overrated cliche driven, school boy humoured, unartistic copycat… Why does anything that has ever appeared on a wall have to be compared to him?


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