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Graffiti - is it art?

Updated on August 9, 2015
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Graffiti - art or vandalism?

Is graffiti an art form? Is it legal? The answer, similar to the answer to lots of questions, is 'it depends' and that is relatively straightforward. But the other question remains - is it art?

The images you see on this page were taken by us when we attended a graffiti event locally. It was one of the best art events I have ever been to. The air was alive with an atmosphere of creativity - and the lingering smell of spray paint, of course. There was no avoiding that.

The artists started work in the afternoon as as darkness fell, and this ordinary, rather run-down area became alive with color, music and energy. It was street art at its best. Or maybe I should call it performance art? This was, after all a legal event and part of the excitement was watching the artists at work.

I was amazed at the skill and dedication they demonstrated too. The energy they showed was fabulous - the way they climbed stepladders and makeshift ladders formed from old pallets. Many had their entire families there to watch the 'show' and in addition to the art and the energy, it was also a social event.

All images © BritFlorida or Andy Royston and taken on iPhones. iPhoneography is another art which is debated by traditional critics. This, of course, is in the same way that painters decried photography in the nineteenth century or the way that doom-mongers 'predicted' that television would mean the end of the film industry...

About the event

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This was a legal event in that the artists were painting the buildings with the owner's permission. They are old warehouses in a Fort Lauderdale district called FAT Village; the arts and technology district. The warehouses, now studios for artists and craftspeople, run parallel to the railroad track.In many cases, like the one you see above, the artist (and often, his or her assistant) prepared the building in advance by painting their 'canvas' in a base color.

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In this case, you can see that the artist had prepared the wall by painting it a wonderful pink color. There I am, sitting on one of the huge used truck tires that were scatted around the waste ground between the railway tracks and the warehouse buildings. These too were 'attacked' by the artists and painted in bright colors.

In one of the warehouses, boards had been set up and others worked on those.This photograph was taken on the day after the event. You see, I had been so delighted by the previous evening, by the carnival atmosphere, the energy and creativity, that I decided that we should go back the following day.

Even though the area was now very quiet, the artwork remained spectacular.Yes, artwork. You see, I am firmly in favor of any efforts that are made to brighten up public areas that would otherwise be dowdy and run-down.

Definitions of 'art' vary widely. Mine? To me, art is, or should be, something that makes people a little happier, something that makes us smile. I'm not talking about the graffiti that features meaningless words (usually words you wouldn't want a four year old to read) or that is meaningless daubs, I am referring to artwork that is skilled and well, cheerful enough to brighten the day.

Who is Banksy?

Banksy Locations & Tours Volume 1: A Collection of Graffiti Locations and Photographs in London, England
Banksy Locations & Tours Volume 1: A Collection of Graffiti Locations and Photographs in London, England

Well, we know that he's the most famous graffiti artist today but really, that's all we know. Don't you find it fascinating that books are written about him, posters and prints are sold, even guide books are available - all about an anonymous person? The nearest guess we have is that he is a Bristol lad who relocated to London and the name Robin Gunningham has been mentioned but we don't really know ... yet. That in itself is pretty amazing in today's transparent internet-driven world.

 
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The original art form?

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A gazillion or so years ago, a caveman (or more likely, cave woman) picked up a charred stick and drew on the wall of a cave. Examples of graffiti from ancient cultures still exist today. They are often cited as a means by which historians learn more about the culture of the day. Doesn't the present day version have a great deal to say about today's culture and society? I believe it does..

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My favorite

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I fully intend to have this photograph printed onto canvas. The free-form paint is just stunning and the grids formed by the gates give it a geometry that pleases my eye. I love the colors. A definition of art is a personal thing but if my definition is 'something that makes me happy' then this is true art that I want to see on my wall every day.Jackson Pollock, eat your heart out.

I have read a report that says that recently, a Pollock was sold at Christie's for $58,363,750. Look at that number again! Yes, I'd like to own that and either resell it or leave it to my family as a superb legacy but would I have it on my wall? No, I think I prefer my photograph.It makes me happy.

Body art?

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I love this photograph. It shows someone turning up for the street art event. You can see what looks to be the artwork reflected in the chrome work of this classic car. But what makes me chuckle is that the driver has tattoos. That is another ancient art form that is incredibly popular today.

What do you think?

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    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @ideadesigns: I love that shot too :)

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      ideadesigns 3 years ago

      Love the body art pic! Great lens topic, love art. :)

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Brite-Ideas: Exactly! Although if it was Banksy it could increase the value :)

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      It's art, without question, it's art - but if it's painted on the side of MY house, then it's vandalism! lol

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      tonyleather 4 years ago

      The great graffiti exponents are genuine artists, and things like the work produced by ROA or Banksy are excellent examples of stunning street art!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @anonymous: Thank you so much for visiting!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I struggle with the "right" answer, if there even is one. I think each has to be looked at what it is, where it is, etc. I love when cities donate areas for artists to do their craft. I have seen such beautiful work making old run down places look wonderful..When someone is just defacing personal property, no permission and such, then no.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @merfzel: Thank you!

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      merfzel 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      "My Favorite" is amazing! So beautiful and rustic....love it. Nice lens

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @gamingprotips: That's a very good response indeed. Thank you.

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      gamingprotips 4 years ago

      I'm open to a lot of different types of art forms. In the past some of these forms were made under oppression so while it may be easy to think that graffiti is not art, I'd take that on a case by case basis.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @girlfriendfactory: Yep, and that's why the event I described was so interesting. By giving people the ability to showcase what they do, rather than seeing it as defacement, events like these can only be a positive thing. They brighten up horrible buildings, provide a 'canvas' that people otherwise don't have and allow them to entertain others plus make some money at the same time. A good thing for everyone, I think.

    • ManfromModesto LM profile image

      ManfromModesto LM 4 years ago

      In the states, in August, 2013, police shot and killed a graffiti artist. He was spotted and ran. The cops said, "We told him to stop. He didn't." So, they killed him. Personally, those cops should be jailed- for a long time. But, graffiti is not art. It is a sub-culture of vandalism- for the most part. A small segment of graffiti vandals have a social message- a SMALL segment. Most are just taggers, real scum bags who virtually hate their neighbors, small business owners, and old ladies whose life savings are in their home, in a neighborhood de-valued by spray paint vandalism. Still, even the social message painters are wrong. The message can't be easily removed, causes tension and upset in neighbors, and costs money to be removed.

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      girlfriendfactory 4 years ago

      I agree about graffiti not being art...it's artistic sometimes but usually it's tags and gang signs. We saw it all over Europe, too. If they are so passionate, hop over to the junkyard and pick up some metal scrap to paint instead of defacing something that doesn't belong to you. Or get permission from the building owners. I'm sure that takes away "they're" purpose, but oh well.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @ManfromModesto LM: Wow, I didn't know that story about the shooting. Thanks for letting me know - I'll look it up. Regarding your other comments, that's why I believe that events like the one I described above are so important. Others seemed to agree because the work that was done on boards was selling very well indeed. It also demonstrated well to the truly skilled that they could make money from their work, rather than being furtive.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @DuaneJ: Thank you Duane - me too!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @SamanthaHaupt: It can be so lovely, can't it?

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @SamanthaHaupt: It can be so lovely, can't it?

    • DuaneJ profile image

      DuaneJ 4 years ago

      I love the artwork featured here. Have always been a fan of graffiti.

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      SamanthaHaupt 4 years ago

      Graffiti is mesmerizing and very pleasing to the eye. I'm always amazed at the talent behind the work.

    • kmhrsn profile image

      kmhrsn 4 years ago

      Goldenecho said it well. Art no matter where it is. But remember that one definition of a weed is a flower growing where you don't want it. We should definitely respect other's property. I love street art, though.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @goldenecho: Very true!

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      Gale 4 years ago from Texas

      I agree with Cashguro. It is art, in the right place. It's even art in the wrong place, but our artistic expression should respect other's rights. I honestly wish thought that trains would just invite people to graffiti them, legally. It's so much more interesting to be stuck at a crosswalk looking at a train with graffiti than one without. :-)

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @CASHGURU: Thanks for visiting!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @jupiter justice: Thank you so much!

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      CASHGURU 4 years ago

      Graffiti is art in the right place. excellent lens

    • jupiter justice profile image

      Asher Socrates 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Art for sure when its more than a tag! Great lens you have here, I like the quality images and colorful artwork. Asher

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @GoldstarBizCoach: Lovely comments - thank you!

    • GoldstarBizCoach profile image

      GoldstarBizCoach 4 years ago

      Great question! As a teacher, I worked with a tough group of students - jail to release to school, abuse, drugs, poverty you name it. I used their love of rap and graffiti to engage them in science and keep them wanting to come back. It is art and brightens our world.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Greathaul2013: Thank you!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @JenwithMisty: That's true!

    • Greathaul2013 profile image

      Greathaul2013 4 years ago

      Of course it is art. Cool pics!

    • JenwithMisty profile image

      Jen withFlash 4 years ago

      I think it's an art. But not everyone is qualified to be doing it... LOL

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      Embeegee 4 years ago

      Some graffiti is definitely art work, some is most definitely not. Just like paintings on canvas or paper.

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      rubiduong 4 years ago

      cool lens, i like it

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @karencurtis: What a lovely comment - thank you!

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      karencurtis 4 years ago

      Its beautiful... people do such creative things on the sides of ugly buildings. One of my favorite things is turning a random corner in the city and stumbling upon something that an artist gave to the community for free!

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      creativecreditcooperativesociety 4 years ago

      I believe its pure and natural art

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @JackCohen: I think so too :)

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      JackCohen 4 years ago

      Graffiti is actually a legitimate element of hip-hop, which is as true as an art form as painting is. There's a long and rich history behind graffiti that many do not know about...it's quite interesting actually!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Deadicated LM: I think it's a good idea to beautify derelict or ugly spaces with art. Here, professional mural artists are employed at a cost to the city and ultimately the taxpayer (me!) I prefer the less formal way as it adds more excitement and is truly street art. Thanks so much for visiting, by the way!

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 4 years ago

      Some of it is; as long as you don't damage someone's property in the process. They have an old building in LIC (Long Island City) NYC that was dedicated to graffiti, its slated to be razed for condos.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @JohnTannahill: It's always a pleasure to see you visiting, John - you forgot 'bring back the birch' :)

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      John Tannahill 4 years ago from Somewhere in England

      Bring back National Service I say! Seriously, is it art? If it was created by someone who calls themselves an artist and displayed in an art context, then yes. A street art event would be such a context. The other side of my garden fence would not be. Your favourite is my favourite too.

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      JaspinderKaur 4 years ago

      so beautiful posters.great lens.i like colors

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @josietook: Thanks so much!

    • josietook profile image

      josietook 4 years ago

      Graffiti can look amazing, great lens!!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @tiamanton: I think so too.

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      tiamanton 4 years ago

      graffiti is an amazing art

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @mel-kav: That's what I loved about this event. I hope there'll be more.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @tok2gman: Thanks for dropping by :)

    • mel-kav profile image

      mel-kav 4 years ago

      I am always amazed by graffiti. Some of these people are wonderful artists. It's a shame they don't put their talents to good use, though, instead of vandalizing property.

    • tok2gman profile image

      tok2gman 4 years ago

      I like your lens and its subject matter. Thanks for sharing. Graffiti is definitely an art form with a lot of political and socioeconomic history attached to it. Cheers.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Carol Houle: That's true!

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      Carol Houle 4 years ago from Montreal

      Your favorite is mine, too. Though I wouldn't like to see it in front of my door year after year.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I think graffiti can be beautiful yes. Tags on the other hand, where these boys and girls go out and 'tag' silly looking ugly words on walls and other public places are ugly and unwanted and even more silly.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @mjo78910: I think so too :)

    • mjo78910 profile image

      mjo78910 4 years ago

      Graffiti is cool!

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      Manisgreat 4 years ago

      Its Awesome.Do Visit My Travel Lense Of Mauritius.https://hubpages.com/travel/travel-to-mauritius-an...

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      k4shmir 4 years ago

      put a control on the quality and quantity . too much will become vandalism. thanks for sharing

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      i think graffiti is art but as long as it is not done sneaky and meant to deface a place.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @SheGetsCreative: That's an interesting observation. In a way it's strange that graffiti can have regional variations but sometimes I'm amazed at how similar it can be throughout the world.

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      I've seen some amazing urban art and some horrible destructive graffiti. Having lived most of my life on the west side of the US, I was amazed at the stylized graffiti I saw in some Brooklyn tunnels visiting NYC a few years back. Most of the "tags" in LA and the OC are just boring and seem to serve no other purpose than destroying property. The Brooklyn "tags" were multi-colored, puffy style letters that looked way more artistic.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @maryseena: That's a very good way of putting it:)

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      maryseena 4 years ago

      There's art in graffiti, but not all graffiti is art!

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @katespetcorner1: I love it when it brightens up the day.

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      katespetcorner1 4 years ago

      I love graffiti when it is done properly. I don't like tagging.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Angelee1027: Well said!

    • Angelee1027 profile image

      Angelee1027 4 years ago

      I think graffiti is absolutely art! However, I don't believe that means it's okay to put that art on property that doesn't belong to you. Art or not, it would still be considered destruction of property in my opinion.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Scarlettohairy: Exactly :)

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      Peggy Hazelwood 4 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I think graffiti is just as much art as any other art form. Why not?

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @CrazyHomemaker: I'm so pleased that so many people who have commented feel the same way I do - thank you!

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      CrazyHomemaker 4 years ago

      Your lens brings up a really cool subject! Love it! I love graffiti. I sit at the RR tracks and watch the cars go by. Some of them have really cool stuff painted on them. A lot of these artists are really good. The ones I don't like are just for vandalism's sake. You can tell which those are.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Mary Stephenson: That's what I love - the humor and the unexpected. Here artists are encouraged to paint murals on those ugly fences you see around construction sites and they make the place so much more attractive. My other half also is doing some work or the city to create pleasing graphics on those ugly utility boxes seen round in most towns.

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      Mary Stephenson 4 years ago from California

      My city is tired of the graffiti on buildings and power boxes. They have started painting murals on them. For some reason they don't usually vandalize them after that is done. It is a shame that most of the graffiti is due to gangs and who wants that kind in your neighborhood. Cleaning up right away helps to cut down on it. Done with the art in mind, much of it can be extremely interesting. Tell a story or amuse me, just don't put your gang graffiti in my city. The artist work in London is priceless and well worth the keep. Don't we all want some humor and enjoyment from the unexpected.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Susan Zutautas: They really should. It makes people appreciate the artists and gives the artists a legal platform. Let's hope more events like this take place.

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      Susan Zutautas 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I'd say it's art. More cities should have street art events like this one.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @bluelily lm: Which is why it's so often used for social comment.

    • bluelily lm profile image

      bluelily lm 4 years ago

      Definitely graffiti is an ancient art form, it's lettering alongside depiction of images gives it a distinct look and feel which not look unique but grabs your attention instantly.

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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @RinchenChodron: It really was an incredible event.

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      RinchenChodron 4 years ago

      I agree art should make you happy! Not all of it does. This looks like a great event. Turned out bright and beautiful.

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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @CampingmanNW: That's why I wrote about a legal event:)

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      CampingmanNW 4 years ago

      Graffiti as Art? Defacing private or public property without permission is never considered "Art" regardless of the 'free expression' angle or 'energy' or whatever descriptor is used to justify doing so. When freely commissioned to paint a mural, then is can be classified as "art." Just a thought.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @rattie lm: If a building is defaced, then that is certainly vandalism. If it takes time and money to restore the building that's an even bigger headache. But as you say, as an art form I love it when it's done responsibly.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @SteveKaye: I agree Steve. That's why I loved the organised event - it was such a treat!

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      rattie lm 4 years ago

      Not so fond of the graffiti on my neighbour's newly-renovated home. What is inside the head of people who do this? Graffiti as an art form I like.

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      SteveKaye 4 years ago

      Some graffiti is art. And some is trash. The big issue is where people put it.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @anonymous: That's a very good way of explaining it.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @CelebStyle LM: I agree. As the grandmother of a little girl who can now read, I hate to see certain works scrawled in public places!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I agree that graffiti is an liberal art as long as not disturbing the other people...

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      CelebStyle LM 4 years ago

      Graffiti art, as long as it's tasteful (no swearing etc and more than just a gang logo or name) is one of my favorite art forms.

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      kswat07 4 years ago

      I've seen some amazing pieces of graffiti and some of the people who create them are very talented artists.

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      dancingdiva02 4 years ago

      amazing

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @smine27: Yes, I agree. Different countries have different laws but in most it is seen as vandalism if it's done without the permission of the property owner. I wish that the artists were given more legal ways to do it, like the event I've described here. That would be wonderful.

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Wow, some of the artwork are stunning. Of course here in Japan, people don't do graffiti as much as it is illegal. I actually like graffiti if it's done with prior permission but not when it's vandalism.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @LoriBeninger: They must definitely be done with the approval of the property owner, I agree,

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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @LynetteBell: Tagging is vandalism certainly if it's done illegally. However, I do believe that graffiti is an art under controlled circumstances. Best of both worlds :)

    • LoriBeninger profile image

      LoriBeninger 4 years ago

      The examples you show are beautiful and I quite like them. But we see far more mindless tagging than art in our neighborhoods. Maybe "rules" could be considered (although I'm sure that would already go against the grain of many): must contain multiple colors, must be done with the permission of the person who owns the "canvas" and must be done in broad daylight!

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      LynetteBell 4 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      In Christchurch since the earthquakes we've had some lovely works of art painted on the side of the buildings sill standing but the taggers that deface people's property make me sad and angry. Tagging is not art it's vandalism.