What is the Connection Between Art and Vandalism?

G. Wiesen

The connection between art and vandalism can be fairly complicated and concerns a number of different aspects of artistic creation and criticism. Some of the most unfortunate connections between these two concepts are acts of vandalism that are taken against works of art, such as the defamation of a painting or sculpture. Certain creations, usually different forms of graffiti, have also stirred controversy regarding the connection between art and vandalism, as some viewers regard these works as nothing more than vandalism, while others defend them as legitimate works of art.

Graffiti is sometimes considered art and sometimes is seen as vandalism.
Graffiti is sometimes considered art and sometimes is seen as vandalism.

Arguments concerning the natures of art and vandalism have erupted for decades, if not centuries, and these arguments typically focus on the creation of vandalism and its legitimacy as a form of artistic expression. One of the most unfortunate ways in which art and vandalism can connect, however, is when works of art are vandalized by someone else. This can take a number of different forms, from attempts to physically alter or destroy a work of art, to theft or arson that could remove the artwork from the public eye. There are many different reasons that someone would want to vandalize artwork, but in general, these attempts are condemned both by artists and art critics.

Street art is not made to be viewed in a gallery.
Street art is not made to be viewed in a gallery.

One of the more unusual and potentially controversial connections between art and vandalism is the creation of graffiti and other types of vandalism that some have argued are works of art in and of themselves. This type of graffiti usually surpasses the typical simple images and words that some people use in the creation of graffiti, and instead serves to create an image that tells a story or imparts a message. In this capacity, the graffiti is often argued to surpass simple acts of vandalism and builds a bridge between the realms of art and vandalism.

Street artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey have become famous for their work in graffiti and the statements that their works make with regard to society and the public. These works can also serve to bring the role of the viewer into greater importance since the artwork is created outside of a studio and is displayed in public rather than in a gallery. When art and vandalism are brought together in these types of works, the reactions from critics and viewers can vary widely. In some areas these works of graffiti art are removed or painted over, while other cities instead choose to preserve the work as an example of artistic expression.

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Discussion Comments


Permission - that's the difference between art and vandalism. If I paint a picture on your car, what would it be?


There are many people who believe that street art, more commonly known as graffiti, is vandalism. I am kind of on the fence about it.

On the one hand I can see how certain works on certain buildings are nothing more than vandalism. You will see curse words scrawled on the sides of building or windows painted over or artists who have really bland and sloppy tags. These kinds of street art have little to no value and probably constitute vandalism.

But on the other hand some street art is beautiful and it enhances structures both abandoned and in use. Some of the most breathtaking art I have ever seen has been on the streets. To call this vandalism is an insult to the creators and the spirit of their work. It has to be outside on a wall because the art has been liberated from the gallery space. Public art requires public display, sometimes it just happens to be unsanctioned.

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