Research – SortableElms

Art Can Be On the Canvas or Wall

Many negative works like incomprehensible, blasphemous, and obscene are used to describe graffiti. Graffiti is such a negative term for something that can be so beautiful. Graffiti isn’t defined as being bad as we are taught. The definition for graffiti is simply writing or drawings on a wall or other surface. It is another visual form of communication. The negative connotation revolving around graffiti artists with true talents gets lumped together with criminals or gang members. The term guerrilla art or more commonly street art is now used to differentiate the two art forms. 

Graffiti is characterized as being made up of words that are usually meant to form an idea. Graffiti predates street art, and many street artists draw their inspiration from different forms of graffiti. Street art uses images to get along meaning. Graffiti and street art are confused because there are many similarities between the two art forms, including location, politics, and materials. 

The location is the biggest form of comparison. Both graffiti and street art are forms of art that are displayed outdoors, in public and private places. They are free to view, making them valid forms of public art. Street art and graffiti can coexist in the exact same locations, sometimes they can be harmonious in a way that combines the two. At other times graffiti artists will tag over street artists’ work. Graffiti and street art are used to get artists’ political and social commentary and activism out in the world. They are both used to get the ideas of underrepresented groups to get the truth and most importantly, the uncensored message out into the public’s line of view.

The one major difference between graffiti and street art is the way they are trying to inform the viewer of a message. Graffiti is seen as unsightly and bad. Street art is used to help support a message and bring attention to it in a positive way. Graffiti is usually illegal and involves the unauthorized marking of public space. In street art, many artists will get to do it legally because their illegal work received a lot of attention. 

In the 1980s, street artists took a shift from the text-based works of the early 1960s and 70s to a more visual and artistic approach. Much of modern street art can be attributed to artists like Richard Hambleton, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. 

Richard Hambleton was an artist that emerged from the New York art scene in the 1980s. He’s most known for his street art but also had his works in galleries. His earliest forms of art are his Image Mass Murder artworks. From 1976 to 1978 he would paint outlines around volunteer “homicide victims.” He then would splash red paint on and around the outlines. It would leave behind a realistic crime scene. He did it in 15 different major cities in the United States. In New York, in 1979 he began doing what he would become known for. They were his “Shadowman” paintings. They were life-sized black silhouettes that had a splashy look to them. The shadows were painted depicting many different poses. They were painted in a way that is believed to have the most impact on unsuspecting passersby. Hambleton’s “shadowmen” have been painted on hundreds of structures in New York and around the world including Paris, London, and Rome. In 1984, Hambleton painted 17 “shadowmen” on the East side of the Berlin wall and returned to paint more on the West side. Hambleton’s artworks often had the effect of shocking people who walked by. 

Keith Haring was a pop artist that had animated imagery. He used his work to spread awareness of unpopular but necessary ideas that needed to be talked about. Much of his work includes social activism to advocate for anti-drugs, safe sex, homosexuality, and AIDS awareness. He is known for his graffiti art in subways. He created white chalk drawings on black, unused advertisement backboards in subway stations in New York. A crawling infant with emitting rays of light became his most recognized symbol. It is known as The Radiant Baby and Haring used it to tag his art work in the subways. Haring was one of only twelve artists to have the work displayed on a computer-animated billboard in Times Square in 1982. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat is one of the most recognizable artists from the street art movement in the 1980s. He was a part of the Neo-Expressionism movement. Basquiat’s art focused on portraying topics like slavery, colonialism, and the contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different, such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. He often used symbolism. Frequent symbols in his works include human bodies, boxers, and skulls and the most recognizable among them is the three-pointed crown. The meaning of all of his symbols is still debated by art critics but many different ideas and suggestions have been put forward. 

There are several blocks in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick called the Bushwick Collective where street artists have free permission to paint murals on building walls and are encouraged to let loose their talents. The Bushwick Collective was first established by Bushwick native Joe Ficalora. The first mural was created in 2011. The Bushwick is a great example of the wonders that can come from letting artists be able to be free and unleash their creativity in a legal way. The blocks have gained art from artists all over the world. Ficalora started the idea of an open art gallery in the 1980s when the area of Bushwick was only known for high crime rates. The open art gallery was made for everyone to be able to enjoy and help cope with painful memories. They hold an annual art event that has World-renowned local, national, and even international artists that are invited to showcase their creations. The Bushwick Collective Block party has been hosted every June since 2012.

Artists being able to create works in safe and legal places like the Bushwick Collective are able to create modern-day Richard Hambleton, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat without the fear that they faced when doing artwork.

The art outside galleries tends to be done by unpaid artists. Not only are they unpaid but more often than not they have bigger meaning than the artwork in the gallery. Street artists use unlikely canvases because it’s a way to pay attention to bigger problems or a way to be more expressive than what galleries will allow. Street art is regarded as one of the largest art movements that have achieved huge popularity and is still rapidly growing as an art form. Street artworks mainly appear in urban areas like walls of buildings, highway overpasses, bridges, and in underground areas. Art defines the outlook of many neighborhoods and cities all around the world. Since the beginning of time itself, people have been adding color to natural surfaces, like cave walls during the era of cave art, or man-made surfaces, much like the modern building walls of New York or other big cities.

The earliest form of art making Paleolithic Art or Cave Art can technically be considered the first form of street art. The painting found on the walls didn’t display political messages but it does give us a way to try and figure out how prehistoric people would live their lives back then. The art style of most cave art is being interpreted differently by archaeologists, historians, and scholars alike because of the abstract nature of the paintings. The importance of prehistoric art is just as important as modern art: it tells a story and keeps history alive through the years with how much information is given in simple pictures with no words.

The idea of painting on property not owned by a person is rebellious and illegal. The art form tends to convey social or political messages that provoke people to discuss and react to the pieces. Street art is connected to creating awareness about social and environmental issues. 

Before reaching international fame Banksy, an enigmatic English-based street artist uses a stencil to spread his messages of dissatisfaction with certain aspects of society, certain political situations, or even certain decisions taken by world leaders. Banksy was expelled from school at the age of 14 and served time in prison for petty crimes. When he was 18 Banksy was painting on a train car with his fellow gang members and a police car showed up. His friends disappeared so he hid from police under a dumber truck with oil leaking from him. Some of his earliest art produced more conversations than the likes of Pablo Picasso. Banksy’s Girl with Balloon had the inscription “There is always hope” next to it. Girl with Balloon depicts a young girl in a black dress releasing a red heart-shaped balloon. The painting was originally done in 2002 on a wall in London. In 2018 the painting was redone on canvas and sold in an auction. After the hammer was dropped the canvas started to be shredded by a hidden shredder in the frame. The way of destroying his own work was a way to represent the greed in the art world and anti-capitalism. 

Keith Haring’s artwork is now a fairly common sight being iconic for its bold line and its bright colors. His original canvas was not that of walls or canvas but chalkboards in subway trains and stations. Haring had been arrested multiple times on charges of vandalism. In 1980s New York, Haring’s art was a code to common social issues in the world then. He uses dogs to represent and stand in for big powers and the oppressive nature of the world. What was originally a spacing accident became a symbol of greed with his three-eyed smiley face. Haring uses pyramids to represent the past and otherworldly elements, like UFOs, to give distance to the pieces. His most famous symbols are anamorphic, non-gendered human figures colored with bright colors. The figures normally embrace or interact with each other. The human-like forms represent human love and embrace the importance of advocating for safe sex and AIDS awareness. Haring was openly gay and represented the hardships of the LGBTQ community in his artworks. He used slogans that were quick and easy to understand to spread messages about the dangers and negative effects of drugs. 

William Najger aka Will Love Strong is a current-day street artist and is not known to many people. He is the founder of the Love Strong USA Campaign. He is on a journey to spread the message of Love, Unity, and Peace throughout the United States. He does this by making signs in bright colors that have positive messages using old wooden boards. He posts signs on telephone poles, front yards, community spaces, store windows, and fences. A difference between Najger and common street artists is that he gains permission on being able to post his signs. Even if they are only temporary and able to be removed, his signs still spread the positive and powerful messages that other artists are trying to spread. His idea is that love is more important than ever before with everything going on in the world. He documents his journey on his YouTube channel Will Love Strong.

The most important message behind the art is being able to bring change. With more critics looking for art to just be pretty, mainstream art is losing what really matters: it is locked behind tickets and price walls, much like the advanced weapons that are in video games. Most of the artists in the streets are not being paid and are doing art to get their message across to their message out into the world in a way that everyone can see. The lack of a paywall frees the artist and the piece can be seen and gain attention. There is no lack of the ability to share pictures online which helps the message spread as far as online media can take it. Everyone knows that today’s media is limitless in its reach which spreads messages of art.

Street Art is a form of expression and an evolution from the graffiti that gang members would use in the late 80s. Famous graffiti artist turned street artist Banksy explains that graffiti is the natural art of expression for kids that have been told to hold their opinions. Though not everyone is a fan of the expression or the ideas behind the pieces of art as it is technically illegal still. A typical depiction of the word graffiti is that of an old man being critical of the newer art form. One of its critics is American filmmaker, visual artist, and actor David Lynch. Lynch believes that scrawled and spray-painted inchoate messages on “every corner of every city” does not help the world.

My opponent has a point with his idea of not wanting to have spray paint and the negative messages on streets but what he isn’t taking into account is the beautiful street art that has come from graffiti artists. Saying that there is only a tiny amount that is creative is foolish. There are just as many examples of graffiti that are creative, sharing a message, sharing culture or all the mentioned before, and more.
The words that are used to describe ideas behind graffiti and the art form as a whole is that the “vast majority of graffiti is ugly, stupid, and vaguely threatening.” Only acknowledging “a tiny portion of it is witty or creative.” There are many examples of bad and downright negative expressions on walls and fences that are just tags or a list of negative curse words. I acknowledge that. Talking about the negative slides leads to having to talk about the positives.

Located in any major city there is bound to be graffiti. Unlike my opponent who believes graffiti is just tagging words and scribbling in spray paint. I can see that there is a history behind graffiti. Take for example if you look up graffiti murals on Google it brings up everything from cartoon ghosts to Animals from the Muppets with an explosive color background to realist portraits of some of the biggest names in music like David Bowie and Micheal Jackson and messages supporting Black Lives Matter using faces like Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks.

The article talking about Lynch’s idea on graffiti leans heavily into just acknowledging the bold spray-painted words. The article never mentions that it is a form of a way of getting ideas out in the world without violence and is a way to make a concrete jungle more vibrant and colorful. Even the type of illegal graffiti can rise in status and become art, a gift that is given to us by talented individuals who may have no other outlet for their creative drive.

Lynch admits the idea that it is negative and nothing good can come from Graffiti. The usage of graffiti has many positive effects, one of which is that it brings a form of art out to the public without being locked behind the paywall of museums. A problem with art in the 21st century is the notion that it’s sometimes just not seen, thanks to a lack of interest from people. The younger generations don’t go to museums and art exhibitions. They are stuck on phones and computers. Meaning they aren’t exposed to works of art. Well-made graffiti helps to reassess this problem by bringing art directly to the public. Pushing it in their faces, and helps to grow an interest in artwork that will drive individuals to explore the art world further and get their ideas into the world.

It is a form of self-expression that can’t be taken away from the artist or limited by galleries. Graffiti gives people the advantage of being anonymous and the freedom to express themselves in a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise. This freedom comes from the accessibility of graffiti, the only thing that is needed is a spray can and an idea. The artist can create what he or she wants, as opposed to having to purchase expensive supplies to get started and expensive canvas. For other graffiti artists, the advantage of the medium is that they can express an opinion or idea, such as a political point, and get it seen. If the art is seen most of the time, it can create an impact.

As mentioned above graffiti can turn a skyline of gray boxes into a rainbow of colors of various tones and ideas. Well-done graffiti art is typically colorful and bold, and thus it changes the mood of the particular area where it appears. In most cases, this change is positive, since the art turns drab and monotone boxes and bare walls into interesting and eye-catching exhibitions of the imagination. Neighborhoods are brightened up without local authorities needing to engage in helping to clean up buildings since the paint covers them.

The idea of graffiti seems negative to Lynch but in reality, if a piece is done well it can bring attention to a previously unknown area. A group of high-quality graffiti contained within a particular area can raise that neighborhood’s profile significantly as an arts scene and spot in a trip that can bring thoughts to a group of people or just smiles, depending on the piece in question. Other artists will begin to travel there, and the cultural value of the area increases. This can in the long-term aid the local economy, as tourists head to the area to look at the graffiti, and locally made tours pop up to show visitors around and show off the works of art littering their streets.

Art is often taught to children as part of their education, but not everyone likes it. Some individuals might not enjoy traditional forms, such as painting and sculpture, while others fail to find art relevant to their lives. When graffiti is taught as an alternative to traditional, it may inspire individuals.


Auriemma, R. (2019, June 19). Banksy: the best paintings and the meaning of his art. Auralcrave. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from

Five Things to Know: Keith Haring. (n.d.). Tate. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from

Hencz, A. (n.d.). What is Street Art? History & Famous Artists. Artland Magazine. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from

Picasso, P. (2022, March 17). Cave Art Movement Overview | TheArtStory. The Art Story. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from

Jones, J. (2015, March 13). Graffiti is ugly, stupid and threatening – there’s more creativity in crochet. The Guardian. Retrieved April 13, 2023, from

Laboy, S. (2011, July 13). Miami graffiti artists free to leave their mark. Washington Times. Retrieved April 13, 2023, from

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2 Responses to Research – SortableElms

  1. davidbdale says:

    The overall effect of your paper is quite persuasive.
    Graded TUE MAY 02


  2. davidbdale says:

    My Very Short Novel about graffiti:



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