Is graffiti art or vandalism?

A trashcan painted with artistic skill with a chilling message.

If you have spent time in any public place such as an overpass, train station, or high school, odds are you have seen more than your fair share of graffiti. You have probably had the chance to see it in all shapes, sizes and colors. Most people choose to just walk by it without giving it a second thought.

Sometimes, graffiti can be vulgar or offensive, especially when displayed on public property. The law in Sacramento that states that “Any person who maliciously defaces real or personal property with paint is guilty of vandalism which is punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both” (California Penal Code Sec. 594.1). Sidewalks and walls were built for people to use practically, not to spray paint on. However, not all graffiti fits into the same criteria.

Occasionally, you might stroll upon a piece of graffiti that is not so harsh on the eyes. It could be a chalk drawing of a flower, or a tiny message asking you to live life for now. It could be something as moving as a huge mural painted on a wall.

When you think about it, sometimes art and graffiti can be one in the same. The definition of graffiti is something drawn or written on an outside surface. Art is the application of human imagination on some type of canvas. If the two are combined, it can create some really amazing things.

In some places, graffiti workshops are actually offered to aspiring youth artists. These workshops show the participants how to be safe and remain within legal boundaries while expressing their creativity. They do not allow defacing of property in any way, shape, or form, while also allowing people to express themselves artistically on something other than a canvas.

So in the end, it depends on your own perspective. Graffiti can convey messages varying from the offensive to the inspirational. Next time you see some, take the time to decide for yourself whether it is art, or vandalism.

If you want to learn more about the laws and regulations on graffiti and how to prevent it in the Sacramento area, you can visit  If you’d like to learn more about productive graffiti, you can visit

One Comment

  1. Kristian Manoff
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 11:38:32

    Great story! Aerosol art is an important form that is often misunderstood. Arriving to work or school to find a building defaced is frustrating; still, from this style we have seen beautiful murals and expressions emerge. Art discovers beauty. That is the contrast that I look for.


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