You can travel almost anywhere in the world and you will probably see graffiti. Although graffiti art tends to be more common in large cities, the reality is that it can occur in almost any community, large or small.

The problem with graffiti art is the question of whether it is really art or just vandalism. This is not always an easy question to answer, simply because there are so many different types of graffiti. Some are simply a monochrome collection of letters, known as a tag, with little artistic merit. Because it is quick to produce and small, it is one of the most widespread and prevalent forms of graffiti.

Although tagging is the most common type of graffiti, there are larger and more accomplished examples that appear in larger spaces, such as walls. These are often multi-colored and complex in design, beginning to push the boundaries of whether they should really be defined as graffiti art.

If it weren’t for the fact that most graffiti is placed on private property without the owner’s permission, then it might be more recognized as a legitimate art form. Most graffiti art, however, is only an annoyance to the property owner, who is more likely to paint or remove than to applaud its artistic merit.

Many solutions have been implemented around the world, with varying degrees of success. Paints have been developed that basically make graffiti paint dissolve when applied, or make it quick and easy to remove. Community groups and government departments coordinate graffiti removal teams.

In some places you cannot buy spray paint unless you are 18 years or older. Spray paint cans are stored in display cabinets. In a nearby area, the city council hires someone to walk around and repaint the graffiti-damaged fences. A friend of mine has had the fence repainted 7 times at least, and it took him a while to figure out why it was happening! Certainly the amount of graffiti in my local area has dropped substantially in the last year or two, so it seems these methods are largely working.

But is removing graffiti hurting the art community? Perhaps if some of the people behind the art of graffiti were held by the hand and trained, they could use their artistic skills more productively. There is no point in encouraging these artists to deface public property and thereby commit a crime. But perhaps there are other ways to cooperate with graffiti artists rather than simply oppose them. Graffiti artists can create licensed murals for private owners and be paid for it.

Maybe we should start at a very basic level and find a way to encourage the creation of graffiti art on paper or canvas, rather than on walls. After all, who would remember Monet or Picasso if they created their masterpieces on the walls, only to be painted the next day? Finding a solution to such a complex situation will never be easy, but as more graffiti is recognized in galleries around the world, we must try.

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