Graffiti: Crime or Art?

Colorful graffiti decorates many cities around the world. However, it is usually a crime. Luke Haley and Katy Blake look at this kind of art.

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Luke Haley.

Voice 2 

And I’m Katy Blake. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 3 

“It took me a year to complete, all at night. I used almost 500 litres of bucket paint. It was the biggest piece in the world. It was the biggest illegal graffiti piece ever painted wild style.”

Voice 1

These are the words of a man named Saber from the United States. The documentary company The Thrash Lab made a video about him. Saber is talking about a piece of colourful graffiti that he painted in Los Angeles. The painting was 70 metres long. It showed Saber’s name in large letters. Saber painted it in bright colours like green and orange.

Voice 2 

Saber did not have permission for this painting. It was on city property. After many years, the city painted over it. It cost the city over 3 million dollars to remove it. Was the graffiti a piece of art? Or was Saber a criminal because he painted it illegally? Is graffiti always a problem for a city? Or could it add something positive? Today’s Spotlight is on the “art” of the street: graffiti.

Voice 1 

Graffiti is an illegal form of writing or drawing. People usually create graffiti with spray paint. They press the top of a can and the paint shoots out. People often paint graffiti on walls or parts of public buildings. Another common place for graffiti is on trains or buses.

Voice 2 

There are different kinds of graffiti. The most common kind is something called a tag. This is when a person signs his or her name. Another popular kind of graffiti is when an artist uses large block letters to write his name. The letters connect with each other. They make new and different shapes. This is called “wild style.”

Voice 1 

The largest kinds of graffiti are called pieces. These have many colours. They can fill a whole wall. It takes more time and skill to paint a whole piece. It is also more dangerous. When someone paints graffiti he takes the chance of being arrested by police. Graffiti is almost always against the law. This is because people are painting on someone else’s property.

Voice 2 

Because it is against the law, some people think that graffiti should not be considered art. Abdal Ullah is a councillor in London, England. One of the most famous graffiti artists in the world comes from England. His name is Banksy. Some of Banksy’s work has sold for almost 600,000 dollars. Banksy painted some graffiti in Ullah’s neighborhood. But Ullah did not like it. Ullah told TIME magazine:

Voice 4 

"Graffiti is a crime. It ruins the environment. It makes our neighborhoods feel less safe. And it costs thousands of pounds each year to clean."

Voice 1 

Graffiti can be difficult to clean up. It can also cost a lot of money. Graffiti artists often use high technology paint. This is hard to remove or paint over. Large cities spend millions of dollars a year to remove graffiti. They do not want the city to look dirty. Graffiti is also often in places with other criminal behaviour, including illegal drugs and violence. Criminal gangs sometimes use tags to show their territory. Most people do not want to be surrounded by these tags.

Voice 2 

Some people say that only some kinds of graffiti can be considered art. A wall spray-painted with tags, or names, may not look like art. It may not take much artistic skill to tag walls. But to create a large piece does take skill and time. Many graffiti artists have a great amount artistic ability. Saber from Los Angeles told the Thrash Lab:

Voice 3 

“My paintings show 22 years of intense art making. Art is something very positive to me. And I think art is the number one goal for myself. Graffiti is the way I learn. Art is how I share this message with everybody. Art gets a bad name because it is considered something only for a few people in society. It is seen as something only a rich or highly educated person can understand. And that is not true. Every single child in the world drew a picture once and had that excitement.”

Voice 1 

Sometimes it is even difficult to tell the difference between graffiti and other kinds of art. Many graffiti artists have had art shows. People pay a lot of money to buy their pieces. Graffiti artists also do other kinds of design projects. Doze Green is one of these artists. He began as a graffiti artist. He now works with advertisers to help them sell products. Green told CNN:

Voice 5 

"I think I have kept that rawness and that truthfulness and excitement that comes from the graffiti artist. That will always be there. That is not going to leave. What I am doing is a new way of looking at the same thing. It does not matter if it is accepted by the rich and educated or the person in the street. What is important to me is people in general enjoy my work."

Voice 2 

Some people who paint graffiti enjoy the excitement of doing something illegal. But some artists want to be able to do legal graffiti art. One way to do this is to have special areas for street artists to work. For example, there is a group called Writerz Blok in San Diego, California. They set up 12 walls where people can legally paint graffiti. Marcus Tufono works at Writerz Blok. He explains to the radio station KPBS:

Voice 6 

“Our job and our goal is to take that illegal tag and to put it on a legal wall. And from that wall put it on a computer screen and some software. We want to help artists to make a portfolio. Then they can take their art and use it around the community. We want to create partnerships and resources and networks. Then graffiti artists have a chance to really prosper through their art.”

Voice 1 

This is one way to keep the artistry of graffiti without the crime. Other cities and organizations have different approaches. Look for a Spotlight program next month about the amazing graffiti in the city of Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

Voice 2

Is there graffiti where you live? Do you think it is art? Or is graffiti a problem in your neighbourhood? You can leave your comments on our website. Or you can email us at radio at radioenglish dot net. You can also find us on Facebook - just search for spotlightradio.

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Nick Mangeolles. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘Graffiti: Crime or Art?’

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye


What do you think about graffiti?


Avatar Spotlight
said on January 15, 2014

I think art can be expressed by someone who believes in something diferent, like to write or draw a message that explains a disagree about what you don’t like in society.
It can be taken like a crime, but if you want to express your opinion about whatever you want, just do it, but in a place considered free for making graffity.
Thanks spotlight. it has been another interesting program.

Avatar Spotlight
said on January 15, 2014

Thank you spotlight

Avatar Spotlight
said on January 17, 2014

Graffiti may be the art, in a way, these paintings sometimes are creative, uncommon, interesting. However, it shouldn’t appear in the public places or even on the walls of houses that have been painted recently. There are many other places in the cities where making graffiti could be permitted and wouldn’t be regarded as illegal activity. In graffiti ‘‘artists’’ represent their imagination, thinking, opinions. mentality and their dreamworld too. I believe some amazing graffiti certainly can also have the artistic value actually.
Thanks for a great program!

Ussuriisk's avatar
said on January 21, 2014

Dela, i’m agree with you. I am from Russia and I think that real art must brings only positive emotions and not disturb anyone… I see graffiti in my city every day and some of them are very nice and look good…
Thanks, spotlight.

Avatar Spotlight
Mabel Estrella
said on October 13, 2015

I’ve considered that like a illegal situation, because here in Ecuador, many people write something about polite, themselves or absurd situations, because they’re people that no study or work and I don’t like it. In my wall’s house, someone has painted and I’ve called the police and they didn’t nothing in that moment, it’s a shame because it was a crime and abuse.

Avatar Spotlight
Johanna Castillo
said on April 06, 2016

Here in my country in my personal opinión there are not too many art in graffiti , I had saw some of them before,  but not all of them seems me a piece of art because don’t transmit a deep message. I’m an artist or at least is what I consider , and I think the art is any thing that could transmit to people an emotion or a sensation and can make them fly, dream, or react, Within a matter for my some of kinds or sltys of gaffitti aren’t art, a true never artist only want paint a simply name with awful letters and terrible cromatic combinations, even worse a true artist gonna affect someone else or the enviroment. There’s many matirials and tecnics to express art and do it in right way.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on April 12, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Tuesday 12, April 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Katy Blake, Rena Dam, Luke Haley, and Nick Mangeolles:

First, I want to thank you for another great issue that you developed for us.
Yes, there is. Next to my house there are few graffiti. Yes, I do or I do not. If the graffiti is painted with permission and it is drawn beautiful pictures , I see it as an art. But, people usually paint many walls in the downtown with very ugly pictures so I consider them as vandals. Fortunately, next to my house have few graffiti not many. It is rare to appear a graffiti nearby. Thank God!

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos
São Paulo SP Brazil

Avatar Spotlight
said on April 06, 2018

I particularly don’t like graffiti because they bring and dirty aspect to our cities. Most of the graffiti in my city aren’t artistic paints, just vandalism. They use bridges, bus stops, buildings and even road signs to make graffiti.

Avatar Spotlight
said on April 08, 2018

Thanks, Spotlight!
I think graffiti is an art. It brings the colorful to the whole city. But I think they should have their place where they can paint what they want.

Avatar Spotlight
said on April 08, 2018

I think that graffiti is a kind of positive art because it shows many ideas to make people give their attention so i encourage this kind of art.
In Egypt there was a revaluation graffiti within revaluation period from 2011 to 2013.
You were could see many graffiti in most of streets, some of them were against the government and the president himself.
That is was a freedom period in Egypt.