Is graffiti vandalism or art?

This is a question that often arises… “Is graffiti vandalism or art?” or is “Is THIS instance art or graffiti vandalism?”… The debate is ongoing. To the “artists” or “vandals” it is a form of street art which usually involves either tagging or the creation of more complex paintings.

Graffiti is mostly done outside the law with artists taking huge risks when creating their works which sometimes also leads to their arrests. The rebellious excitement and the fear of possibly getting caught is what lures most artists to the graffiti culture. Unfortunately, when caught the writers get charged with vandalism and fined, as by definition vandalism is “an action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property”. The question though is all graffiti art destructive?

Is graffiti still considered vandalism with permission?

If someone painted all over your house without your permission you would not be happy. Before you even look at it you would call it vandalism because no one has the right to do such a thing without your permission. BUT if you saw an amazing complex artwork on an otherwise dull and blank wall somewhere in the city, would you feel the same way? Even if the world loved it, according to authorities without permission, it is considered an act of vandalism.

So we wonder now that if graffiti is done legally, with permission, is it art? Of course, if it were painted on a canvas and hung in a gallery it is definitely considered a respectable form of art, though there are many successful paid outdoor graffiti artists out there who do amazing work. So the answer is In Australia we define graffiti vandalism as “the defacing of private and public property without the consent of the property owner”. (See the Graffiti Vandalism Act 2016)

Unlike graffiti vandalism, “Urban Art” is defined as legal artwork “where permission to mark the surface has been granted by the owner of the property.” Urban Art is also known as street art or mural art. Urban Art projects in cities are sometimes strategies that are recommended by authorities while working with the local councils as a form of graffiti prevention strategy.

What’s happening in the suburbs of Melbourne?

According to an article in the Herald Sun, The City of Moreland, which includes the suburbs of Brunswick and Coburg, spends about $400,000 a year on graffiti removal. The council recently identified more than 4,300 instances of graffiti. Moreland Council is considering introducing a new local law that makes a clear separation between graffiti vandalism and urban street art.

The council is looking at a four-year graffiti management plan that will include this new law. For the plan, the council surveyed local residents for their views on graffiti. 71% of participants put forward the view that graffiti was considered to them, vandalism. Just over 50% of participants said that graffiti makes them feel unsafe. 54% of participants proclaimed that public art benefited the local community.

Currently, councils don’t have a guide as such as graffiti becomes street art. It is usually up to council offers to decide based on community expectations and whether or not the building owners have granted permission for the artists to use their properties.

Moreland councillor Oscar Yildiz, a former mayor, said “There is a lot of it going on in our city and most of it is not art,” he said. The council’s new strategy said that to be considered art, graffiti would need the property owner’s permission to display the work and must not be offensive, such as using swear words.

Examples of popular public art projects in Moreland include artists being paid to paint on traffic signal boxes. Nicole Gaunt from Urban Smart Projects, an organisation that brightens up public spaces by painting traffic signal boxes, said there were many benefits to the art the organisations provided.

“As well as providing local opportunities for artists, it also saves the council a pile of money in terms of graffiti prevention*,” she said.

Around the world

There are many urban art festivals around the world, created to promote street art everywhere and to encourage young creatives to pursue their artistic talents. Many of them are city-funded as well, with the scope of brightening up a dull environment with some amazing artworks. Even big corporations such as Red Bull and Adidas have engaged graffiti talents in their advertising campaigns. In cities like Stockholm and neighborhoods such as Brooklyn’s Bushwick, you can find the world’s most famous legal graffiti wall areas. In South America street art is so ingrained in their culture and tradition that it’s impossible to imagine it otherwise.


Although graffiti may be considered a new form of postmodern art for some, nevertheless it continues to be entwined in controversy. When the topic of what is permissible or aesthetically pleasing to the eye or to the environment is put on the table for debate, it is unlikely for all parties to reach an agreeable outcome where everyone is kept happy.

If you have had an “artist” expressing their creativity on your property, feel free to give us a call.