How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Graffiti. Kind of.
Much of Europe is now awash in graffiti and I hated it — until we arrived in Athens and one neighborhood helped me see things a little differently.
One of the more disheartening aspects of Brent’s and my recent visit back to our former hometown of Seattle, Washington, was discovering an epidemic of graffiti across the city.
I wasn’t a fan.
I’ve always hated graffiti.
Brent and I are former Seattle homeowners who once had a beautiful cedar fence that a thoughtless graffiti “artist” had to make his own. Even after painting over their “art,” it was never the same. It was cedar!
Call me a hopeless bourgeois if you must, but I still believe in private property. I think defacing someone else’s property makes you an asshat, not some edgy, artistic rebel striking a blow for personal expression.
Of course, graffiti isn’t just a problem in Seattle, or even America. It’s common in Europe too. Did it get worse during Covid when so many businesses were closed and unguarded? Opinions vary — does anyone measure these things in an official capacity? — but it seems to me like it has.
To be clear, graffiti is not the same as street art, which I am on record as having loved in past places we’ve visited, like Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Split, Croatia; and Istanbul, Turkey.
What’s the difference between street art and graffiti? There’s definitely an “eye of the beholder” element. But is there a difference in artistic value?
That depends on the eye of the beholder too.
As for me, I feel about graffiti the way U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote about obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”
If I mostly like street art, I almost always hate graffiti.
Here’s one definition between the two: graffiti is typically word-based, illegal, not meant to be understandable to those outside the graffiti community, and often involves tagging, which is the creator’s “signature.”
Meanwhile, street art is usually image-based, is intended for the general public, and is often (but not always) legal. It can range from huge murals covering the entire sides of buildings, to much smaller works of art painted on utility boxes, doorways, and even stairs.
Maybe I’m simplifying things, but street art is often awesome and open-ended, saying something positive about the world, but graffiti is almost always petty, hostile, small, and selfish.
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