Street Art or Graffiti?
Public art is on the rise more than ever before, with paintings and messages cropping up in our urban environments on what feels like a daily basis. Each one breathing a unique and dynamic life into the streets that were once blank canvases. To describe these urban creations, the familiar terms ‘graffiti’ and ‘street art’ have been used interchangeably. However, whist it is fairly common to unify these terms, there are actually significant differences that characterise and separate these two styles.
What is Graffiti?
Taking art to the streets all started with graffiti. Graffiti is generally defined by words or letters written in public places and under most laws is considered vandalism, though many appreciate it as an art form. The most recognisable form of graffiti is known as tagging, often considered the most traditional form of graffiti writing. Tagging utilises a particular symbol, word or collection of letters to create a personalised signature or ‘tag’. A lot of the culture behind graffiti art revolves around the challenge of tagging difficult locations and artists gain a lot of respect from other artists when their art is found in challenging places. Although graffiti art is technically public, most graffiti artists do not seek public recognition and most aim to remain anonymous, with the golden rule of graffiti being don’t get caught.
What is Street Art?
Street art is quite literally art that is found on the street. It is essentially synonymous with ‘public art’ and can encompass a variety of mediums including painting, sculpture, stained glass etc. The most common and recognisable form of street art has to be the mural; an often larger-scale work of art that is typically painted on open walls or on the sides of buildings and is frequently made in partnership with companies, brands or organisations. Street art is also commonly commissioned by city officials and as a general rule, street artists will usually seek permission before painting.
The main differences between these two styles, therefore, lie in technique and intent. The technical differences with these two styles mostly lie in the subjects, with street art tending to be more imagery-based, and graffiti being most commonly word-based. With regards to intent, graffiti artists are, generally, indifferent to the public response to their work. Graffiti isn’t about pleasing an audience or creating a piece of artwork, but is more considered a means of self-expression. In contrast, street are is created with a public audience in mind, particularly when it is specifically commissioned. Street artists often aim to provoke interest and interaction through their art, or at the very least a degree of appreciation for their creations.
Having said this, of course, street art and graffiti obviously overlap in more ways than one and just as they can technically be separated into two separate and neat little boxes, in truth the two art forms have long interlaced since their first appearances on our streets. Even artists themselves have their own definitions of the terms and very quickly the lines begin to blur. Banksy is a prime example of this, as he is known for his political statement pieces, creating his work illegally whilst working under the alias ‘Banksy’ to avoid arrest. Under technical definitions anyone would classify his work as graffiti however much of his work is also image-based, with an intention of portraying a message to the general public, which of course dances on the line of street art. Ultimately both of these styles can be beautiful pieces of artistic creation and though they are technically different, art is, and always has been, subjective and certainly cannot be restricted by language definitions.
Artwork by Caparso, the August 2021 ScrawlrBox featured artist