You bet graffiti is an art form

Failure by Terrace, BC city council to consider a space for art is a shame

Dear Sir:

The Terrace Standard editorial of Nov. 21 states graffiti is not art.

Actually, graffiti art (albeit may be radical, controversial, offensive, and even illegal) is a respected popular culture art form and an important part of making connections in everyday life. Over the centuries, cultural and artistic worth of a work of art has been measured and determined by its profit-making value—this has become status quo in the art world and the world at large.

We are always striving to “fit in” or conform to what culture presents as the ‘norm’. Interestingly, culture is how we survive and flourish. It is how we understand the world around us and communicate to each other. We make meaning out of how we communicate through the things we see, touch, taste, hear, and smell.

Historically, graffiti has been a part of communication in culture, whether that was for social, political, or religious commentary or for propaganda—found, preserved and represented for example, in ruins throughout ancient civilizations.

Since the 1960s, graffiti/street art along with other art forms have focused on the act of creation (as the final product doesn’t necessarily last forever). Graffiti art largely grew out of a part of urban popular culture (e.g., Hip Hop culture in New York, USA) and was initially represented as “tags” (names) that were short, easy and could be written down quickly.

Tags soon became more elaborate, large, colourful, and plentiful—ultimately, the more tags a tagger displayed the more popular the tagger became. Tags gave way to “bombing” (covering an entire wall or door with tags). Bombing gave way to “pieces” (more elaborate use of shadows, colours, shapes and so forth in the art work)—these gave the artist more exposure.

Through the 1980s and 90s the graffiti movement spread around the world. Although graffiti art has been recognized as an illegal form of art in many jurisdictions—it has morphed into a significant part of popular culture. In 2006, works by 22 graffiti artists were displayed, as art works, at the Brooklyn Museum, New York.

Graffiti art that gives a voice today to those that require an outlet (e.g., a wall, a doorway, a rooftop, a stairwell) to display their messages visually, socially and/or politically calls attention to the complex connection between the art world and the world in which we live.

Is graffiti art? The simple answer is “yes.” Of course, there are always individuals who link into any art movement to cause serious damage and vandalism to property. This is not what I am advocating.

The individual who presented his case as an artist to Terrace city council to have a wall set aside in the community for graffiti artists to display their work, calls attention to the need for more inclusive spaces for art making and sharing in our vibrant community.

Graffiti art, when it is used as a creative source of communication, not as a destructive tool, is an important vehicle for artists to express the world around them and start a conversation of what they see through their creations.

It saddens me as a professional artist and educator that Terrace city council removed any possibility to any further community-wide conversation about this important issue. It is our shared responsibility as citizens of Terrace to support and encourage the creative, community-building endeavours of artists living and working here.

Carla J. Glen, PhD, Terrace, BC