Los Angeles is a city famous the world over not only for its street art, but also for its high crime and poverty rates. There is a fine line between art and vandalism and while all unauthorised painting on public and private property is illegal, there is no explicit law relating to graffiti. A complete ban on graffiti with stiff penalties for offenders could have both positive and negative repercussions for L.A.
Graffiti, as an art form, thrives on confrontation with authority. A citywide ban in LA would provide the offenders with an opportunity for a confrontation. Establishing graffiti artists as outsiders legitimises the antagonistic nature of the art and may end up encouraging more artists to join the cause. With high levels of relative poverty, extremely poor areas riddled with drugs and violence in contrast to the wealthy Hollywood megastars, Los Angeles is a hotbed of political and cultural unrest that a ban might exacerbate.
Graffiti as a Social Good
Graffiti performs a valuable social function, transforming depressed neighbourhoods into showcases for urban art. Neglected and crime-ridden areas of L.A. can become the gallery for a very talented group of young artists who might not otherwise have an outlet for their creativity. In addition, graffiti can make informed political statements and draw attention to issues ignored by the mainstream media. The work of artists like United Kingdom-based Banksy isa testament to the power of graffiti to make thought-provoking statements.
Cynical Use of Graffiti
Some artists and even companies use graffiti as free advertising. While legitimate advertisers have to pay for space, irritating promotions can masquerade as artistic expression. In the commercial world of L.A., this is a particular problem, with enterprising individuals seizing the opportunity to cut advertising costs and tap into a particular market. A ban would therefore limit the opportunities for this kind of abuse.
While some graffiti might be regarded as artistry, a significant amount qualifies as petty vandalism. Gangs and individuals use spray-painted tags as a way to mark territory or merely to deface pleasant areas of the city. A ban would prevent this practice, and punishments for graffiti such as cleaning up painted areas of the city might help improve the look and feel of dilapidated neighbourhoods.