Since we are the street art and graffiti inspired streetwear brand for weirdos, outsiders, and misfits, we think it is important to clarify this endlessly debated argument: the difference between street art and graffiti.
Many people use the words graffiti and street art interchangeably. But, even if both are a form of public art displayed on the streets, graffiti and street art are two different things, and we will tackle the top 10 differences in this article.
In this article, we will answer three main questions:
1) What is graffiti?
– Definition, purpose, different types.
2) What is street art?
– Definition, purpose, different types.
3) Difference between street art and graffiti.
– Comparison with the top 10 Differences.
1) What is Graffiti?
If we do not consider the ancient graffiti dating back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire, modern graffiti as we know it is commonly born in the early´70s in American metropolises such as New York City and Philadelphia.
Graffiti is directly linked to the hip hop culture as it is one of its four disciplines: deejaying, rapping, break dancing, and writing or graffiti.
So, graffiti is a form of figurative art created on the streets, usually on the walls (but also on other surfaces such as advertising panels, trains, and buses, for example) by using several tools such as spray cans, markers, rollers, brushes, airbrushes, stencils, paint, posters, and even stickers.
Why is it called graffiti?
"Graffiti" is usually used for both singular and plural, and the much less used singular form "graffito" originates from the Italian word graffiato ("scratched"). The term graffiti has been used in art history for artworks created by scratching a design into a surface. The word originates from Greek γράφειν—graphein—meaning "to write".
What is the purpose of graffiti?
According to many, the goal of graffiti is to work as a tool for social emancipation or to achieve a political goal.
There have been periods of conflict where graffiti have been utilized as a mean of communication and self-expression between members of society that belong to social or ethnic minorities.
Also, the wall that used to divide the city of Berlin up until 1989 was heavily covered in graffiti that expressed the social pressure created by the oppressive communist regime.
However, many graffiti artists are just addicted to the adrenaline of the act and the possibility of being caught. But, it is an addiction addressed by producing more and more graffiti. Some graffiti artists see themselves as weird misfits and have said they purely enjoy vandalizing, which brings us to our next question.
Is graffiti legal?
Graffiti is illegal, which is often considered the main characteristic of graffiti. The style does not matter, if it is not illegal then it cannot be called graffiti. In fact, many people, and many graffiti artists themselves, equal graffiti to vandalizing.
Because of the illegality of graffiti, many graffiti artists prefer to maintain their identity secret since most countries have harsh penalties against vandals.
What are the types of graffiti?
There are four main types of graffiti, which we mention in the order of complexity: tag, throw-up or throwie, piece or character, and burner.
Let’s talk about them a little bit more in detail, starting with the graffiti tag. The tag is considered the basis of graffiti, and artists use it by itself, and to sign their pieces. It is considered the simplest form of graffiti to master before moving into more complex forms.
The second least complex form of graffiti is the throw-up or throwie. This can be of various types, but it is generally thought to be a quick and easy form of graffiti that can be executed fast enough not to get caught. There can be various types of throwies as we said, it can be only with the outline, which is the quickest, with a filling, so using two different colors, but also using more than two colors, so a bit more complex and slower.
The piece or character is a form of graffiti that is more complex, and that one should approach after having mastered the first two. It requires more skills and more time to be executed.
A burner is just like a piece but bigger and perhaps more complex.
For a more detailed explanation of the sub-styles, check out the video below.
Are there places where graffiti is legal?
To our knowledge, there are not entire countries or even cities where graffiti is legal. In all countries, graffiti is considered vandalism and, therefore, a crime.
However, there are several individual spots around cities in the world where graffiti is made legal or at least tolerated, but, technically, when made legal, it could not be called graffiti anymore as it becomes street art.
We are sure that there are others of these types of spots around the world. However, the following ones are 10 to be among the most popular:
- Hosier Lane, Melbourne, Australia
This is a famous spot that is popular among tourists and artists. It is located in the south of Melbourne. Hosier Lane allows street art and even encourages it since it has been featured in travel guides and advertising campaigns.
A fan fact is that even Banksy tagged it, and the owners of the building then installed a perspex screen over the work to prevent it from damage or destruction.
- Topiel Street, Warsaw, Poland
Topiel Street is known to be a spot where street artists can freely create their art without having to worry about the police.
- Tersnov, Prague, Czech Republic
This is a well-known spot in Prague, which is also relatively safe and offers good lighting thanks to street lamps.
- Dubbed 5Pointz, Queens NY, United States
This is an entire city block in Queens, free to the public, and almost entirely covered by street art. However, artists interested in putting up their work here must first be reviewed and granted permission by curator Meres One.
- Parc de Bercy, Paris, France
In Parc de Bercy, there is a wall against the skate park where you can paint as much as you like. The artwork on the wall is constantly changing as people paint over it.
- Ximending District, Taipei, Taiwan
It is considered the hearth of youth culture. It is a safe haven for street artists. A few blocks off the busy street of the Ximending district, Taipei Cinema Park is among the legalized zone for street artists.
- Rote Fabrik, Zürich, Switzerland
This place used to be a silk mill. It is now independently run by a group of artists and sanctioned by the city. Now, this center is one of the few places in this city where street art is legal.
- Sydhavnen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Sydhavnen is a super popular location with a long wall where street art is not legal, but we heard that it is definitely tolerated.
- Burghausen, Germany
Here you can find an awesome 150 meters long and 8 meters high wall where street artists can freely paint.
- Venice, California, United States
This is a worldwide famous spot for graffiti artists with one major downside: your artwork will probably not last long!
Check the exact spots we just talked about in the video below!
Are there rules in graffiti?
Yes, usually there are a few unwritten rules that are recognized among graffiti artists.
- You do not paint over someone that has been doing graffiti longer than you unless you have consent.
- When you paint, throw-ups can go over tags, pieces can go over throw-ups, and burners can go over pieces.
- You never paint over a tribute piece.
- Do not paint over a work of a graffiti artist who passed away.
- Do not snitch on the police or anyone over other graffiti artists.
- Do not paint on people’s houses and cars.
- Do not paint on memorials or religious buildings.
There might be other rules. These are what we believe to be the main ones.
2) What is Street Art?
You can define Street Art as a form of visual art appearing on walls, but not only. It is a public art available for people to experience for free on the streets, which is a similarity to graffiti. It is considered a more commercial art and thus widely more accepted than graffiti, which remains more underground.
What is the purpose of Street Art?
As we said, Street Art is displayed in public on surrounding buildings, streets, trains, buses, and other public surfaces. Some define street art also as a form of guerrilla art. This is because street art is often created to make political statements or raise awareness on specific social issues.
In other instances, street art's purpose is simply to bring beauty to the viewers, for example, by embellishing buildings.
What are the types of Street Art?
Street art usually uses a wider range of tools than graffiti, and it also comprehends more media. In fact, street art can be in the form of murals, mosaics, posters, stickers, stencils, mosaics, video projections, sculptures, and even video projections, which are becoming more and more popular. You can see an example of video projection street art below.
Is Street Art legal?
Yes, Street Art is legal! This is the biggest and most important difference between Street Art and Graffiti, which is one of the main reasons that makes Street Art more mainstream.
In fact, to be called street art, the street artist should have received authorization from the owner of the building or the place.
Often, street artists are hired and paid to create their artwork on buildings. It also happens that street artists create and sell their artworks, and do shows within art galleries, like regular artists.
As mentioned before, the legality of it is the key difference with graffiti or vandalism as many calls it.
Check out the very interesting video below about the legal street art of Singapore.
3) What are the main differences between street art and graffiti? (Our top 10)
Now, we will list the top 10 main differences between street art and graffiti. The main differences are listed in order of importance according to our opinion.
- Street art is legal, while graffiti is not legal, and that is why it is also called vandalism by many people.
- Street art is more mainstream and accepted. Graffiti is more underground and often called vandalism. The two cultures sometimes clash, and graffiti artists often make fun of street art.
- Street artists are often professional artists who get paid to create their artwork. Graffiti artists usually do it for passion or other personal reasons and do not make money out of it.
- Street art artworks are usually bigger, more complex, and more refined than graffiti ones. This is because street art is legal, therefore, artists have all the time and tools they want to create their artworks without having the time pressure related to the fact that they might get caught at any time as graffiti artists do. Also, graffiti focus mostly on lettering, even if it comprehends characters from time to time. That is also one of the reasons why graffiti artists are also known as writers.
- Because of its illegality, most graffiti artists prefer to stay anonymous to avoid issues with the law. Street artists have no issue showing their identity because of the legality of their work.
- Street art uses more media than graffiti. As we mentioned before, street art can be in form of mosaics, video projections, and sculptures, for example. Even though it must be said that if artworks using these media were created illegally, in theory, they could be considered graffiti. However, often, graffiti artists prefer to express their art differently using different and more traditional media.
- Street artists and graffiti artists, even though have some of their tools in common such as spray cans, rollers, and brushes, they also use different ones. For example, markers are commonly used by graffiti artists, while street artists might use a tool such as projectors, and even use aerial lifters to paint their big murals.
- Even if graffiti is illegal, its community has unwritten rules like the ones we mentioned above. Street art, by being legal, does not follow any internal code.
- As we said above, many cities have parts where street art is legal or tolerated, and artists can often paint there without asking permission. This cannot happen for graffiti simply because the illegality of it is what makes graffiti what it is.
- Street art can be protected by copyright; graffiti usually cannot be protected because of its illegality and the anonymity of graffiti artists.