Graffiti: Art or Vandalism?

Maya Murillo, Writer

If you’re from Phoenix it’s safe to say that you’ve seen graffiti around town since you were just a youngin. But is it art, or vandalism? 

In Arizona graffiti is illegal, and minors aren’t even allowed to purchase spray paint or wide-tipped markers. 

“No minor may possess graffiti implements on any public or private property without the prior written permission of the responsible party for the property in such a manner as to give rise to an inference of intent to make graffiti.” (Sec 19-11. Graffiti Prohibited.)

But what happens if you do partake in graffiti? Well, you can be convicted of a class one misdemeanor. Punishment for this includes at least one day in jail, a fine of at least $575, and/ or 40 or more hours of community service in which the perpetrator must remove other graffiti or related vandalism. 

But even with many laws to prevent graffiti, for some it’s worth the risk. I sat down with an adolescent graffiti writer here at North to get the inside scoop. For legal reasons the writer will remain anonymous. 

The now sixteen-year-old writer first became interested in graffiti when he was only fifteen. He and his friends were by an empty wall and nobody was around, so there it was, he tried it, and like magic, he knew it was something he’d stick with. 

“It’s something that has no limits. There’s endless possibilities.”

Since then the writer has continued to partake in the artform and has improved his skills. He particularly likes “bombing” which is to get in as many tags and throwies as you can in one night. 

Tags are super quick, and should only take a few seconds to complete. They go anywhere and everywhere. 

“Tags are like your mini soldiers, you want as many as you can everywhere.”

 Throwies, on the other hand, are a bubbly version of a tag, and take a little longer. There are also straight letters which are more of a font style and take around the same amount of time as throwies. These can be turned into larger pieces which often take at least 2 hours for this writer to complete. The difference between a tag and a piece is the difference between a doodle and a great artwork. 

Now that we know some graffiti terminology, let’s discuss some of the unsaid rules of graffiti. Writers avoid private property like cars, houses, churches, and hospitals to use as their canvas. Schools are also avoided many times, especially for adolescent writers because it’s not worth getting caught up for. City property like vans and walls, however, are pretty much free reign.

The risks of being a writer mostly have to do with other writers or gangs that don’t want anyone on their turf. It’s about asserting one’s dominance. For many, cops are actually seen as a small threat because it’s relatively easy to run from them. 

The writer I interviewed explained a situation in which he was spray painting the bathroom here at North and got caught up for it. Security searched him and looked through his sketchbooks to see if he was involved in any “crews.”

All in all, graffiti is an art form that has broken boundaries and norms for decades. It’s something that has changed many people’s lives and allows people from, typically low-income neighborhoods to express themselves in a fun, but powerful way. Graffiti should be respected and celebrated when it is done in a way that isn’t harmful to anyone.