Friday, 8 July 2011

GRAFFITO - ART OR CRIME? (Oh, and no, that's not a typo. 'Graffito' is the plural form of the word 'graffiti'.)

Whoever loves, go to hell. I want to break Venus's ribs
with a club and deform her hips.
If she can break my tender heart
why can't I hit her over the head?
-CIL IV, 1284. (Ancient Roman Graffiti, posted on Wikipedia.)

(As always, if you are pressed for time, feel free to scroll down to the WHAT CAN YOU DO section.)

Last summer I was lucky enough to have a few good friends come and visit me.  One of them was quite taken with the graffito we have in the city;  she sought out and photographed many alley ways, buildings, and walls.  Because of her, my eyes were opened and I began to look at the incredible works of art available throughout my city. (You can link to some sites showing Montreal graffito here, and here)

Now, there are many different types of graffito, and graffito generates quite a bit of controversy.  For some, all graffito are horrible defacements of private (or sometimes public) property.  They feel that graffiti artists should be penalized  and charged with some type of misdemeanour.  Some feel that all forms of graffito  are art, social commentary, and public forms of sociological discourse.  There are those, like me, who lie somewhere in between the two extremes.  I feel that there are many genuine works of art in city...

...made available for free for everyone, regardless of income level...

...and that graffiti artists can be true artists.

Clearly, I am not the only one who feels this way, as Benjamin Moore has sponsored at least two murals that I know of in the downtown core.

Moderates (myself included) feel that 'tagging’, which is in effect a statement similar to “I was here”, is committing an offence which infringes on social space without, in my opinion,  adding anything of social relevance.  This is especially odious, in my opinion, when it actually defaces someone else's art.

My view is that art isn’t really a ‘thing’, but rather a beginning of a dialogue – a discussion of sorts between the viewer (or listener, or participant, or audience) and the art object itself.  In the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, when describing obscenity, I may not be able to adequately define it, but “…I know it when I see it.” This is what makes this issue so contentious, and therefore so interesting.

A quick Google search of the term “Graffiti” will show you how significant this subject has become (and this is an EXCELLENT SITE).  There are sites that  celebrate graffito, that try to motivate citizens to become more involved in removing graffito  and reporting graffiti artists (such as the one already listed), and there are sites that suggest a more  moderate approach approach which legitimizes graffiti as art and provides  a forum for graffiti artists in order to reduce or eliminate the use of private property.  There are sites that celebrate groups of graffiti artists that travel internationally to try to help underdeveloping countries (yup, my politics showing on that one!), and there are lots of ‘how-to’  and  'how-not-to' sites.

Whatever your opinion, I invite you to do a little reading, think about where you stand, and try to get involved on some level.


1.   Figure out where you stand on the issue.

2.   If you are against all forms of graffiti, then get in touch with your local municipality and ask if they presently have an anti-graffiti (they probably use the singular, more familiar ‘graffiti’) programmes.

3.   If they do, get involved.

4.   If they don’t, think about starting one.

5.   If you are more moderate, see if your municipality has a programme in place that provides a forum for graffiti artists. 

6.   If so, see how you can help support the programme. 

7.   If not, put your research and thinking caps on, write a proposal, and try to start one.

8.   If you own property, and if it is appropriate, consider ‘donating’ a wall to graffiti artists.  One community centre that I know of (The Westhaven Elmhurst Community Center) did just this.

9.   If you feel that all graffito are social discourse which should take place no matter where it appears, then take some photos, celebrate the art form, and enjoy!

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