During my recent painting trip to France, I was surprised to see so much urban graffiti throughout Paris and the countryside of Provence.  At first I was upset by this, then strangely enough I began to enjoy looking at it.

I noticed that many of the graffiti ‘artists’ were quite talented had sense of respect for where they painted.  That might sound like an oxymoron, but most of the ‘art’ was relegated to abandoned buildings or alongside the urban highways.
I didn’t see any graffiti on special historical buildings or sites, although I am sure it does exist.  In Paris, some areas of town are legally designated for graffiti artists to create.

In my opinion, fine artists should stay informed and attempt to understand all forms of art.  Today graffiti is influencing much of the current fashion and decorating trends.  I saw this while walking down Champs de Ellyse Avenue in Paris.

Even Louis Vuitton has a Graffiti Collection of handbags and accessories – and I like it!

This is why I am sharing the following article with you.  Although I do not condone vandalism to private or public places, I can’t help but appreciate the artistic qualities of graffiti.  The following article is the quick history of urban graffiti, I hope you find it interesting.

Guest artist/author: Bret McNee

Graffiti today and what it has evolved into has become a large part of our pop culture whether people realize it or not. Clothing, shoes, toys, design, and more are influenced by graffiti on a daily basis. To the vast majority of people, this is great as long as they don’t have to see it on their buildings and walls in their cities. As soon as they see it on a wall, it becomes vandalism. The artistic properties are gone.


(all credit is to the artists, not me)

Now, to be honest this is a hard blog topic to write about because I stand on the fence about this subject. Before you read, please note that I am not an authority… I am simply a guy with an opinion. I have tagged graffiti in my past, I have friends that do it, I keep current with the scene and culture… etc. At the same time, I can see the properties of vandalism and why people despise graffiti, and as I have grown older I have come to respect that opinion.

To start this post, let us define the two terms:

According to
Dictionary.com Art is defined as:

  • The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
  • The class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria; works of art collectively, as paintings, sculptures, or drawings: a museum of art; an art collection.

Also according to Dictionary.com Vandalism is defined as:

  • deliberately mischievous or malicious destruction or damage of property.

I believe a big reason Graffiti is looked at in a negative light is because of the origins in modern day.  Graffiti has been around for centuries (the Romans carved faces of disliked politicians into walls and statues.)  But in the United States, the origins of graffiti began in the early 1920s with the famous “Killroy was here” pictures.  As for the “pioneering era,” that was between the years of 1969-1974.

A guy named TAKI 183 started writing his graf all over the subways, and this started a trend and soon hundreds were following the trend.  This became a competition The goal of most artists at this point was “getting up”: having as many tags and bombs in as many places as possible. Artists began to break into subway yards in order to hit as many trains as they could with a lower risk, often creating larger elaborate pieces of art along the subway car sides. This is when the act of bombing was said to be officially established (early 1970s.)


Now, I could start writing a huge history… But not in this post.  Basically what happened is gangs began to take over the scene and tagging became a gang right to claim territory and this led to violence.  Also because of the cost to clean up graffiti, it became illegal, so these “artists” we vandals or criminals. This is when graffiti was labeled as vandalism.

Now I don’t disagree, in these early days of graffiti, it was indeed vandalism.  It was not until the late 1980s-early 1990s that “burners” were developed and things began to change from vandalism to art.  Burners are basically murals created, either tagging a name or depicting images that require time and artistic properties.  People started seeing the time and appreciation, as well as the artistry it took to become a good graffiti artist.  It became less like vandalism and more like art.

Now for my personal opinion, and the whole reason I wrote this article.  In the graffiti scene there are rules believe it or not.  The scene is not really gang related anymore, but has moved to artists who are out to show each other what they can do.  It is not really for public appreciation, but more about getting recognized and respected in the graffiti community.  People who run around and just write things to just write things are considered “toys” and that to me is vandalism.

There must be purpose and thought behind your work.  There must be artistic properties.  It must adhere to the definition of art: self expression.  Burners and some throw-ups are considered art in my opinion.

But, here is the catch… Art that is still vandalism.  That’s right, it is both.  Because it is still done on public property and can still offend some one out there.  But there is no doubt that with the influence on culture and emergence of these artists actually getting paid for their work… Modern graffiti is art.

What do YOU think?


Big thanks to my son, Bret for sharing this interesting article on such a controversial artistic expression. You can check out Bret’s amazing 3D computer generated art at his website, Bret McNee.com

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