Many cities still consider graffiti to be vandalism. Some people may still think it's an eyesore and should be removed. However, the popular perception of graffiti art appears to be changing.
True, there was a time when seeing graffiti walls meant that you had passed into a bad neighborhood. However, what has happened in the past decade has been truly extraordinary. In short, we’ve seen graffiti elevated into an art form and graffiti artists such as Banksy transformed into art world sensations.
It’s no longer the case that all graffiti is gang-related or somehow linked to economic despair.
Now, when you visit an urban metropolis like New York City, graffiti is all around you. It’s no longer the case that all graffiti is gang-related or somehow linked to economic despair. Many of these graffiti artists paint murals expressing life, with the idea that art heals and redirect thoughts of despair. These graffiti artists have even developed their own signature styles, the way painters or sculptors have distinctive styles.
Graffiti was born from inner city neighborhoods as a way to express the community’s inner feelings and frustrations. Their works normally have a message for people to interpret or to decode. And, until now, these messages have been largely ignored.
“It's sad to think about how many Picassos were overlooked because no one took the time to mentor or nurture the gift,” says abstract artist Floy Ealy Edjole.
Graffiti artists are given permission to paint some murals from city officials.
And now look how far we’ve come. Graffiti art walls in many cities are acceptable now and used to beautify the neighborhoods. It allows artists in the community to showcase their talents, which otherwise would have gone unnoticed. In fact, in some cases, graffiti artists are given permission to paint some murals from city officials.
In many ways, there are parallels between abstract art and graffiti art. At one time, both of these art forms were given little attention by the art world. If anything, these art forms were viewed as being somehow inferior. And just as breakthrough abstract artists taught the world to move on from purely representational art, and to embrace the doubt and uncertainty brought on by seeing unfamiliar shapes and styles, so have graffiti artists.
The best example of this sea change in perception, of course, is the celebrated graffiti artist Banksy. His style has become so iconic that there have even been films made about him. He is, perhaps, the Picasso or Warhol of our age.
But it’s not just Banksy. The whole genre of street art has exploded in popularity, to the point where the artwork from someone like the 1980s icon Keith Haring, who celebrated eternal themes such as birth and death in his street art, is instantaneously recognizable. New York sidewalk vendors are now selling t-shirts featuring his artwork to tourists – perhaps the best sign that a once ignored art form has passed into the mainstream.
Graffiti art walls, once thought of as an urban eyesore, are leading to a broader realization that urban art can be a catalyst for economic revitalization. Thriving art scenes in once depressed communities such as Harlem speak to the power of art to uplift an entire community. Artists attract other artists, who attract café proprietors, who attract restaurant owners, who attract young urban professionals. And that’s how a former eyesore becomes transformed into beautiful art.