Graffiti Project





Graffiti Project: Vandalism of Arts vs. Arts of Vandalism

The purpose of my project is to call attention to the problem of art vandalism. Specifically I would like to force a deep consideration on the difference between arts and vandalism. From Wikipedia, art vandalism refers to the intentional damage of an artwork that is exhibited in public. In this project, when we put the two words, “arts” and “vandalism” together, distinguishing them becomes tricky. The definition from Wikipedia cannot help because we do not know whether an action is a “damage” or not.

The context for this assignment is a graffito of a lady, with a splash of red paint. It is among many street arts that were damaged by a mysterious “splasher” in Brooklyn and Manhattan. As pointed out in our discussion, the differences and judgment between arts and vandalism are sometimes controversial. For this splashing action, many people believe that it is an intentional damage for the old artworks, some of which are created by famous artists like Banksy and Swoon. Others think that the splashing is for some particular purpose, like protest against commercialization of street arts since the “splasher” always chooses the ones created by famous people whose works are sold at auctions. They consider this splashing as a kind of new street arts (Vvoi).

My stencil graffito is composed of two parts. The first one is a curly “Help!” circumscribed by an ellipse. When putting it right beside a figure, it looks like the figure is telling the words in the ellipse, like in a comic. Languages, one of the three dimensions in McCloud’s theory on the universe of comics, are important in communicating ideas (56 – 57). As he points out, ideas are one of the components of self-awareness (35-36). This comic-style “Help!” could enhance the interaction between viewers because it is viewed as the ideas of the figure, which is splashed with red paint. Though it is a graffito, this “Help!” would make the graffito lady perceived as a human because of the idea communication.

The second part of the graffito is a handgun followed by a slogan “VANDALISM TO ARTS, VIOLENCE TO HUMANS”. The gun, on one hand, is a symbol of violence. The interpretation of symbols depends on cultural background. As a weapon, especially being involved in many crimes, handguns should be interpreted quite universally as a symbol of violence. On the other hand, the red paint in the background can be imagines as the flow of blood. A gun here is an interaction with the context because we can conceive that the gun shoots the lady and causes the blood flow.

The slogan below the gun comes from Cordess and Turcan’s paper, which states that art vandalism can be regarded as an intermediate form between an attack on a thing and an attack on a person in so far as it entails an attack on an artwork (95). The word “VIOLENCE” here indicates that vandalism is a very serious problem. “VANDALISM TO ARTS, VIOLENCE TO HUMANS” is not only informative; it also plays a role beyond the information. As indicated by Drucker, language provides leverage and brings about reevaluation to the landscape (94). The slogan is an annotation to the background. It reveals the interaction between the gun and the original graffito. While the vandalism caused by the red paint destroys the old artwork, the gun and lady symbolize the violence to humans. Language and the landscape are integrative.

The choice of fonts is also important in conveying ideas. Wysocki claims that various typefaces are used for different purposes and she classifies the typefaces into two categories: decorative and for extended reading (127-129). The font for “HELP!” is a very curly script type. It is decorative and usually treated as a very fancy and artistic font. Because “HELP!” is the word of the lady, which represents the original artwork, this artistic font will enhance the perception that the lady is a fabulous artwork. For the slogan, all the words are of Helvetica font except for the word “VIOLENCE”. Helvetica has no serifs and is supposed to function rationally like machine (Wysocki, 129). It is suitable for instructive language, like the traffic sign: STOP, which is of the Helvetica font. The font for “VIOLENCE” is a specially designed one that looks horrible. One the one hand, it seems that the word has droppings, which echoes the blood flow of the red paint. On the other hand, since the font of “VIOLENCE” is different from that of other words in the slogan, the contrast will highlight “violence”, which is the theme of the second part of the graffito.

A linear, straightforward, thesis-driven essay can surely explains the difference between arts and vandalism and leads to a deep consideration. However, in choosing the format of graffiti, the story will become more interesting because graffiti are sometimes considered as arts and sometimes considered as vandalism. The affordance of graffiti is similar to that of comics, where the picture plane, reality and language constitute the whole universe of these visual arts. However, unlike comics that can have many panels, graffiti are often short, so we need to express all the ideas in a single or a few scences. Also graffiti are created in public areas so the audience is mostly the passerby. Then graffiti should be able to attract people’s attention in a short time. Based on the analysis above, this project is soundly engineered.

Considering the difference between arts and vandalism, we may not be able to distinguish them clearly. Once graffiti were regarded as vandalism, they now become victims of it. This soundly engineered project is designed carefully, not as arbitrary as the act of splashing red paint. However, we face a dilemma here. If we put this graffito on the wall, it may potentially create new vandalism to the artworks, both the original one and the one with red paint, though it says that vandalism is violent. If not, this project fails somehow since only few people have access to it and it cannot interact with the context any more. Or we have a third option. We may classify it as arts, not only the ones literally about vandalism with a vandalism slogan, but also the ones of vandalism that create vandalism to arts.


Cordess, Christopher, and Maja Turcan. “Art Vandalism.” British Journal Of Criminology 33.1 (1993): 95-102. SocINDEX with Full Text. Web. 1 July 2013.

Drucker, Johanna. “Language In The Landscape.” Landscape 28.1 (1984): 7-13. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 1 July 2013.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. William Morrow Paperbacks. 1994 Print.

“Vandalism of art”, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 11 Jun. 2013. Web. 30 Jun. 2013.

Vvoi, “Using walls (p.2): the Splasher controversy.” 24 Mar. 2007. Web. 30 Jun. 2013.

Wysocki, Anne Frances. “The Multiple Media of Texts: How Onscreen and Paper Texts incorporate Words, Images, and Other Media.” In What Writing Does and How It Does It: An Introduction to Analysis of Text and Textual Practices. Edited by Charles Bazerman and Paul Prior. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates, 2003: 123-163.

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