Contemporary art News Canada

Graffiti: is it art or vandalism?

Toronto sets up official panel and the wrangling starts over what to preserve

Toronto's Graffiti Alley

Toronto is taking a hard look at street art, going so far as to create an official five-member Graffiti Panel, made up of city staffers with backgrounds in “the arts, urban design, architecture and other relevant disciplines”, which met for the first time on 2 November. The first session was contentious but civil, with panel members facing off against property owners who were appealing notices of violation for “markings” on their buildings. “Even if it’s Picasso, you’re not allowed to paint on other people’s walls,” says Elyse Parker, a city official who is leading Toronto’s crackdown on graffiti.

At the same time, the city has begun to open its eyes to street art, realising that there is something of merit in the best of it. Toronto’s council has already given its blessing to what is known as Graffiti Alley, a series of colourful backstreets only a few blocks from City Hall. David Liss, the director of Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, who also has some background in street art, applauds the move. “Certainly the Queen West Alley has some great work, so I’m in favour of preservation,” he says. “Maybe they could start marketing it as a tourist attraction.”

The Graffiti Panel considered nine controversial sites at its first meeting. It was careful to avoid the word “art”, almost as if were an obscenity. “Questioning what is art is what we wanted to get away from,” says Parker.

However, the term would regularly creep into the discussions. At one point, the head of the panel Glen Sharp referred to a work under scrutiny as “art”, then corrected himself, saying, “Excuse me, I mean graffiti.” He also made reference to “the artist” more than once. A panel member subsequently referred to “the art pieces”.

Reaching a consensus will be difficult. One building owner appeared with his lawyer to defend his graffiti covered walls, more than happy to let them stay. The panel wasn’t so sure, first opting to defer judgement, then reopening the matter before deferring it yet again. The owner was asked to reappear at the next session on 30 November. “You can’t win,” he said.

The panel had only photographs of the works to look at, and judging the subject matter could be difficult. “I’m concerned about what the character is holding in his hand,” said one member about a lion figure waving an unidentifiable object. Additional photographs were requested for the next session, to be provided 18 days before the panel sits again. But who is to say graffiti artists won’t revisit the site in the intervening time?

“If anyone thinks that an official programme will reduce graffiti, they’re sadly mistaken,” says Liss. “Many graffiti artists will intentionally not participate and continue working unsanctioned. There is a strain of thought among certain graffiti artists and taggers to ‘destroy’ and vandalise, while others see their markings as a way to claim space from ever-increasing corporate control.”

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Comments

28 Mar 14
20:50 CET

AIMEE MEIKLE, ABERDEEN

I think graffiti is amazing because it expresses you inner self and I know this because I am an graffiti artist I graffiti myself. But I only graffiti nice happy graffiti not sewers thank you

6 Mar 14
21:30 CET

JHASMIN GAMBON, PORT HUENEME, CALIFORNIA

Is graffiti art? Is art graffiti?

26 Feb 14
15:20 CET

BEN, CHELTENHAM

It is a fascinating subject and it is very difficult where to draw a line between vandalism and street art. I often think in really run down areas or industrial estates that it helps brighten up the area.. but is difficult when people often think it increases petty crime in the area.

12 Dec 13
18:52 CET

DABIN, LOSANGELES

Not Bad, Not Bad, Not Bad at All

4 Dec 13
18:44 CET

JAINABA DRAMMEH, GEORGIA

I think graffiti is a way to express yourself publicly but the sight of graffiti makes my skin crawl because i don't do dirt.

16 Oct 13
1:19 CET

MICHAEL GARMS, SANTA ANNA

i think this is a good article but i need something with a little more information all of you guys and lady's opinions are great but i need a little more arguing but you guys helped me with a project of mine and i want to thank all of you guys!!!

14 Oct 13
20:4 CET

MICHAEL GARMS, SANTA ANNA

i agree i think that they are trying to express themselves in a way that is art

14 Oct 13
15:44 CET

BELLA, LONDON

i was looking for a debate not the background of graffiti art. however i have to say this is an excellent article for readers who want to know about graffiti. and yes graffiti is an art!

10 Oct 13
15:54 CET

MICHAEL GARMS, SANTA ANNA

i think it is art

16 Sep 13
18:10 CET

SKYLER JACKSON, SAN ANTONIO

I love graffiti. Personally I do but i only do it on big sheets of dry wall or canvas. And people are ACTUALLY buying some of my pieces for their sons or daughter for inspertation

28 May 13
17:5 CET

KEVIN, HOUSTON

And i Like Graffiti c:

14 May 13
16:23 CET

TAMMY, ROLLA, MO

This is a great article. Only what I was looking for... I'm a street artist but I do much in the streets i'm not allowed to. Only if it would be legal everywhere that would be great!

1 May 13
18:28 CET

LEXI, SOUTH BEACH

i think graffiti is beautiful. graffiti artist i think just want to show the world their talent they want to make a statement to the people. i think there should be more graffiti museums. it's amazing what people can do with their imagination and a few cans of paint.

22 Apr 13
15:10 CET

NATSUMI, MELBOURNE

It's both to me but don't think of it as an in couragement.

7 Mar 13
15:28 CET

GABBY, HUGHESVILLE

dude, youre right!

4 Mar 13
18:17 CET

CALEB, SOMEWHERE

It is art!!!

29 Jan 13
14:32 CET

KNW, LONDON

What a shame about the advertisements of naked men and women scrolling with this article, I am a teacher looking for interesting articles for my class to read online. article great but wholly inappropriate due to ads. What a shame!

8 Jan 13
15:16 CET

RAMBOW AFRO HOTDOG UNICORN, NEW ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM

i like this article very much, and i agree with you.

26 Nov 12
16:2 CET

CHRISTIE SALATA ARTIST , ORLANDO

Found your article through another artist and murals are art and graffiti is political vandalism.

19 Nov 12
14:45 CET

FARATI FEMI-BABALOLA, CALGARY

I personally think that it is graffiti because you can't go spray painting stuff, without permission.

12 Nov 12
14:57 CET

LOZANGE, TORONTO

Another way Toronto has of aseptizing art. It can't help itself.

8 Nov 12
16:26 CET

DAVID FRICKER, COLCHESTER

What are you doing to my cave,

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