Graffiti: Disorderly or Expressive

  • Updated February 8, 2021
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“Physical disorder was constructed from four questions: the presence of dog waste on the street, presence of graffiti, presence of litter and presence of vandalism.”

In the quote above, the presence of graffiti in a neighborhood is being construed as a sign of a physical disorder. This was part of a wider assessment of neighborhood environments, with regard to the link between neighborhood characteristics and childhood adiposity. Here, however, it is assumed that graffiti is inherently disorderly. When assessing conditions in a neighborhood, this assumption could be unhelpful, as it could lead to a flawed assessment of the neighborhood. The aim of this essay is to explore whether graffiti is indeed a sign of disorder or whether it could also be an avenue of creativity or self-expression.

In order to answer this, it is first necessary to make the point that the physical features of a neighborhood can have an effect on health behavior. In fact, in a study of health-risk behavior in deprived neighborhoods compared with non-deprived neighborhoods, the link between physical environment and health was confirmed:

“In addition, they showed that the physical environment can affect health behavior through environmental exposures, food and recreational resources, the built environment, aesthetic quality spaces, services and quality of housing.”

This is very significant to graffiti art because it shows that individuals are connected to their physical environment. In some cases, graffiti has been found to be an alternative form of visual communication. Particularly in neighborhoods where buildings and surfaces are worn-down and damaged, graffiti can be a way of changing the landscape. This can result in a feeling of connection to the neighborhood or even pride. This shows that the presence of graffiti in a neighborhood may have positive outcomes in that it helps the residents of the neighborhood connect to and be in control of their surroundings. The knowledge that health behavior is influenced by the physical environment supports this.

This ability to connect to an environment is especially important to marginalized groups, such as young homeless people. It has been found that graffiti drawn by these groups can draw attention to the way that they feel and that this can lead to recognition of their problems. However, when graffiti is labelled as a sign of disorder, it becomes forbidden and frowned upon. This also reinforces the stereotype that graffiti writers are antisocial. As a result of this, the tensions between authorities and graffiti writers, including those in marginalized groups, increase. All this creates deeper divisions while also stigmatizing a creative outlet.

To assume that graffiti is a sign of the disorder is also to make a generalization. Each piece of graffiti is subject to interpretation and the effect that graffiti has on an individual is arbitrary. In fact, research shows that responses to graffiti can vary widely. In a survey of general attitudes towards graffiti, 54.8% stated that graffiti was a form of art to them, while 54.4% stated that they saw graffiti as a common problem. These numbers show that graffiti can produce both positive and negative responses, which underlines the fact that the interpretation of visual landscapes is complex and nuanced.

The study that explores the influence of neighborhood characteristics on childhood adiposity, however, fails to distinguish between graffiti as a form of art and graffiti as a sign of the disorder. It is stated that the information about the presence of graffiti, among other signs of physical disorder, was obtained from a nationwide questionnaire. The distinction between whether the graffiti is welcome or not is not shown, merely whether the graffiti is present or not. To some, graffiti is welcome and aesthetically pleasing rather than disorderly, but it is not clear whether the study takes this into account.

In this study, many neighborhood characteristics were assessed, including other signs of physical disorder.10 This means that the results of the study were not entirely thrown off. However, since the link between physical disorder in neighborhoods and the presence of graffiti is perhaps only tenuous, it might be better for future studies in this area to focus on neighborhood characteristics that are more concrete. This might improve the quality of results.

To conclude, taking graffiti as a sign of physical disorder in a neighborhood can be a superficial interpretation of surroundings. There are some who do indeed feel negatively about graffiti, but it is possible that the presence of graffiti in a neighborhood can have positive outcomes, both for the graffiti writers, to whom the graffiti has a meaning, and for other residents of the neighborhood who might perceive it as a form of art.

Putting graffiti into the category of “disorder” could be harmful because it reinforces the stereotyping and stigma that go with graffiti. Finally, this could also be harmful because it is an uncertain way of characterizing a neighborhood, which undermines the importance of the connection between healthy behavior and physical surroundings.

Cite this paper

Graffiti: Disorderly or Expressive. (2020, Dec 13). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/graffiti-disorderly-or-expressive/

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