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Get Your Graffiti On Without Getting Arrested

Graffiti gets a seriously bad rap because it's usually associated with vandalizing public or private property. But spray paint [KWLINK ]art can be a pretty cool[/KWLINK] thing if it's practiced in a positive and non-criminal way. We've got the 411 on graffiti and where you can go to get a (legal) start in this art form.


Graffiti may seem like a modern phenomenon, but it actually dates back to ancient Rome, when people would write public messages - often political or philosophical in nature - on walls. This was more than 2,000 years ago, after all. What were they going to do? Email everyone? Other cultures, including the Mayans, Vikings and Egyptians frequently used graffiti as a form of communication and expression. Modern graffiti is almost entirely spray paint-based. Various styles have developed since the art form got its start in the mid '60s and, in the '80s, it began building legitimacy in the art world, with many artists beginning to paint on canvas or board and sell their works in galleries.

The Law

Let's get this straight: vandalism is against the law. Spray painting public or private property - no matter how "artistic" you think it looks - can get you in a lot of trouble and lead to jail time. Graffiti can be linked to gang culture, with gangs "tagging" their turf. It's also expensive to remove, so it eats up a lot of public money that could be going to better uses.

Legal Outlets for Your Art

If you're interested in street art and need a legal outlet, your city may have workshops, legal painting spaces, or other "mural projects" you can get involved with. Ask your art teacher, check out community center programs, or ask your city hall. Here is a sampling of what's out there:

  • Mural Arts - A Philadelphia-based program that has education programs and workshops for ages 10-21. Check out: www.muralarts.org.
  • Root Division - Hosts an after school program for San Francisco high school students that teaches the history, techniques and styles of street art. Head to: www.rootdivision.org.
  • Trueskool - Has graffiti art classes for youth ages 10-19 years old in Milwaukee, WI. Go to: www.trueskool.org.
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What Do You Think of Graffiti?

  • People who graffiti should be heavily fined.
  • It's cool, as long as you don't destroy property.
  • Graffiti should be recognized as an art form.
  • They should teach graffiti in art school.

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