Graffiti: A Gray Line Between Art And Vandalism


Grace Wesselhoft, Staff Writer

The phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has never been more true than when talking about graffiti.

Graffiti is something that most everyone knows exists. Residents likely see it in on sides of buildings in town, on sidewalks, or even on the sides of railroad cars as they pass through. When people think of graffiti, most mainly think about how it’s illegal and frowned upon in the community. Moreover, the people who participate in this act should be in jail or fined.

However, they don’t realize that–for some people–graffiti is the only source of expression that they can portray. Mr. Matthew Hartman, in the Arts and Communications school of study, says, “Graffiti can be a wonderful form of expression if it is done on appropriate surfaces. If done without permission,” he cautions, “then it is considered vandalism, so there is obviously a very gray line between art and vandalism.”

Elkhartans may have noticed Kelly Love’s giant mural at 1045 S. Main Street. Many see it as an artistic representation of the non-violence and peace that is wanted throughout the community; others may view it less favorably. Why? “Depending on the location, graffiti can either draw people into a community or it can have negative connotations,” Hartman clarifies. As a case in point, he adds, “There are several communities that are known for their graffiti painting. They actually draw people into their community because it is done with respect and permission.”

Hartman suggests people visit Canada’s Toronto Graffiti Alley in the city’s Fashion District, located in Ontario. “My family actually visited it a few years ago,” he stated, noting how impressive some graffiti can be. “However, often graffiti has a negative connotation and makes the community seem unsafe,” Hartman admits. 

As with any form of art, the feelings about graffiti remain varied. For the artists, however, they may be gratified in just knowing that their work is  being seen and generating a reaction.