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The subject of graffiti often brings out different reactions from people, who question whether it is a public art or not. Graffiti is the name given to images, paintings, scrawling, paintings and scratches that have been made in any manner of property. Ever since it was established as an art form in 1960, graffiti has been developing ever since. Unfortunately, graffiti is not readily acceptable by a majority as being art like those works that can be found in a museum or gallery. In modern time paint, marker pens and spray paints have become synonymous as the most commonly used graffiti material. Believe it or not, graffiti has become part of everyday urban world.
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The question has often been asked: is graffiti public art or not? Many graffiti artists believe that graffiti is public art because it serves the same purpose as other public arts such as street furniture, civic statuary, monuments and memorials. To them, graffiti is a way of expressing thoughts and ideas as well as bringing color to a dreary world (Lewisohn & Chalfant, 2008). I beg to differ with these assertions that graffiti qualify to be public art. On the contrary, I presume that graffiti can be considered as one of the many forms of private art. I argue that by virtue of it being presented in the public domain or space does not necessarily make it public. May be a quick glance at the definition of the public would enlighten the naysayer regarding this subject. To me public means "concerning or belonging to the people of a state, nation or community as a whole." Therefore, public art is any form of art that is open to common use, open to the knowledge of all people, known by the people or open for the benefit of all. However, graffiti hardly fits to any of the above qualifications.
In fact, critic and fans alike have always asked some compelling questions regarding graffiti: who writes graffiti? For what reason? And Who is the audience? Answers to these compelling questions might shed some light on whether graffiti deserves the label of public art or not (Fedorak, 2009). To me, graffiti is just a visible reminder of urban delinquency, degeneracy, and decay in urban youth therefore; calling them public art is just a justification of their fears and prejudice. This means that the graffiti tag is nothing but a mark that is imposed on others with little or no consideration to anyone, except the graffiti writer. This can be attributed to the fact that graffiti writers usually adopt pseudonyms, execute their works in secrecy, and shroud themselves in anonymity.
I believe that the distinction between public art and private art lies in the connotation of the two terms. In my opinion, public art is usually created in a private place without the concern of the context for which it is intended. Furthermore, public art is and should respond to an outgrowth of the context in which it is sited. Apart from this, public art should not only be site specific, but historically, socially, and culturally specific as well. Putting these assertions in mind, one would not fail to notice that graffiti fits nowhere. As a matter of fact, graffiti is more akin to guerilla plot art than public art (Lewisohn & Chalfant, 2008). If graffiti was a form of public art, then why is it that city authorities not only consider it illegal art but also spend million of shillings each year to clean it up. In my understanding, public art should be maintained and protected by the same people who are working day and night to ensure that graffiti does not appear anywhere in the vicinity. Some would wondder, what exactly is the point of risking or spending so much time doing something that would be removed within a few hours or days? The answer is simple, graffiti has not yet been approved as a form of public art, and the chances of it being approved are still limited.
If graffiti was public art as many would want us to believe, it would not have been illegalized in many countries. Public art should not be demeaning or harmful in any way, but graffiti art has change all this. First off, graffiti arts infringe on people's right to have their property look nice and clean. Graffiti is a crime, just like stealing as it steals a person's right to have their personal property look clean, and it might take a lot of time and money to repairer the damages caused by graffiti art (Fedorak, 2009). Since public arts are meant to be revered and appealing to the eyes, some graffiti arts are very disgusting to the eye, let alone to the public. This can be attributed to the fact that some graffiti arts convey obscene literature and pictures that might not be appealing to the public. Some may convey threatening messages and no one in the public likes it when an anonymous threatens not only him or her, but also someone that they know.
In conclusion, I would like to call upon all graffiti artists to seek for alternative means of conveying or presenting their art work not only to a selected few, but to the general public. It is very disheartening to see that this form of art that has been in existence for many years has not yet been appreciated but many years. By looking out for alternative means of conveying their art, graffiti artists will change the negative attitude that people have been having in regards to graffiti arts. Until then, graffiti art will still remain a private art and not public.