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Graffiti – Is it art or can it go away?

Graffiti - Is it art or can it go away?
   Reading time: 4 Minutes

Meanwhile, on just about every street corner you can find a graffiti, about the beauty of which can be strongly discussed. Often they are unaesthetic daubings, without visible meaning. Is it art? When is graffiti allowed? Some see the art, others the illegal spraying that they have to clean up, and graffiti removal is not cheap. Where does vandalism end and where does art begin?

“Art, or no art, that is the question here!”

Let’s start by contrasting two quotes:

1: “I think graffiti makes the city much more interesting (…). In between, some art may quietly peek out” (sprayer).

2: “I’m pissed off, almost every month I have to remove graffiti (…). For me, this is simply damage to property and has nothing to do with art!” (A janitor)


What is art for some is damage to property for many others. And they are right! Smearings and unannounced graffiti, no matter how artistically they are applied, are illegal and are punished under vandalism. So: To be allowed to attach a graffiti legally on walls, it requires an order by a company or the like. ! Everything else is considered vandalism and damage to property and MUST be removed! 

The annoyance of cleaning companies and homeowners, as well as other affected parties, is great and understandable, because a removal of graffiti is not only complex, but also quite expensive. To have a graffiti removed, one pays 25-45€ per square meter. As a small example, which is a bit older, but still striking: in 2016, the city of Chemnitz paid over 47,000€ for the removal of illegal graffiti. In Berlin, meanwhile, it’s more than a million euros a year.

As is so often the case, it is the adrenaline rush that encourages more and more artists, especially young ones, to spray illegally, regardless of the consequences they might face. Even the well-known street artist “Banksy” sprays exclusively illegally. Graffiti carries a cool and criminal image that quickly tempts people to try it out for themselves. The director of a graffiti exhibition once concretized quite well his personal distinction between damage to property and pure vandalism:

Damage to property: The picture itself is a work of art, beautiful to look at and time-consuming, but not registered. Thus illegal and officially vandalism, but very aesthetic.

Vandalism: No aesthetic claim, pure smearing and quick scribble in which no time was put.

To counter illegal sprayers and unauthorized graffiti, more and more cities are accommodating sprayers by releasing more and more areas for graffiti, which can then be legally sprayed. Among other things, this is also intended to beautify the cityscape.

Another method is the alternative removal of graffiti: If sprayers are caught, there is the possibility that craftsmen remove the work together with the offenders. Thus, sprayers should be prevented from illegal spraying, they do not get a charge and the cleaning company does not have to provide an order for removal and saves money. That would be then, if it works so, a fair and reasonable consequence!

The question whether graffiti represent art or are vandalism. The question can hardly be answered, because art is in the eye of the beholder.

The fact is: Any graffiti sprayed on walls etc. without an order remains vandalism!

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