Let’s talk about the difference in legalities between graffiti art, and street art...
The term graffiti seems to go hand in hand with vandalism. The dictionary definition for vandalism; wilful or malicious destruction or defacement of public or private property. Compared to the modern day perception of graffiti; involving the unauthorised marking of public space by an individual or group. (I say modern as in days past the term graffiti referred to ANY and ALL wall markings, mostly those of archaeological significance).
Fast forward to the modern world it’s pretty understandable that Mr Henry down the road who spent 20k on his new 1.6m privacy fence is probably going to be a little angsty to wake up one Sunday morning and find some delinquent gang mark on their pride and joy. OR, the local council could argue they have enough community members breathing down their neck and would prefer not be paying for man power to regularly scrub and re-paint half the town.
Here are 3 Reasons Why Graffiti is Illegal:
- It’s misunderstood. A middle finger to social constructs, ownership of public spaces and political bigotry is punchy however offensive, derogatory slurs plastered on public places is not a vibe…
- It’s misunderstood. What some deem a form of self expression, others believe to be a lust for crime and mischief (please refer back to definition of vandalism).
- It’s misunderstood. Graffiti is associated with threatening areas, people, and groups. It can be a big deterrent for visitors, tourists, consumers, and as such business can suffer, or a safe family suburb could start to feel the opposite. Or alternatively it’s the passionate movers and shakers that express their intolerance to injustice OR simply love to create. Both alternatives hone truth. Social research by crime stoppers (2020) suggests that Graffiti is more commonamong adolescents, who are less likely to continue offending behaviour beyond their teens. Perhaps this is an expression of boredom, or a feeling of being unheard without emotional guidance.
In saying all of this there are some artistically incredible graffiti works out there that are pigeon holed alongside illegal tagging and offensive slurring simply because they were created without permission. One we globally know is Banksy, very illegal, but appreciated enormously. Locally, Melbourne’s iconic Hosier lane is a prime example of the grey zone between graffiti and street art, or guerrilla painters, as coined by the daily mail (2020). Predominately decorated without permission, Hosier lane fell into the spotlight in 2020 when a group of balaclava clad individuals ‘paint bombed’ the art covered walls. Illegal? yes. Different from the art that was covered? This is where it gets tricky. Many believe there is hypocrisy surrounding the event, and graffiti culture within the city as a whole. Not even the lord mayor can decide which side to take stating very contradicting opinions on the matter, and for the most part the street art community has accepted the temporary fragility of their creations.
This bring us into street art, doesn’t it just sound more ‘legal’? Truly, the ONLY difference between graffiti and street art is that one is coined vandalism and the other is seen to have been granted permission or commission. Melbourne and many other places in Australia actually benefit from the tourism that graffiti AND street art both bring to the table. A social media selfie Mecca and *cue indie fashion kids creating their look book with a desolate paint covered train in the horizon.
Easy's in Collingwood celebrate large street art murals and more classical graffiti painted by graffiti artists (Image source: tripadvisor.com.au)
In short, graffiti is illegal - but ONLY when it is damaging, offensive, and has not been given permission by the property owner. However there are a lot of foggy areas where graffiti is celebrated, and even encouraged as part of the culture. The debate will continue.
Is graffiti Illegal in Australia: YES
Is permitted graffiti illegal: NO
Is not permitted street art illegal: YES
Are there alternatives for budding graffiti artists like myself that want a platform to share my thoughts and creations: YES - social media, local art communities, and places like us BOA who want to nurture and get local street artists paid, look and you shall find!