Graffiti has become an accepted art style, as long as it’s done in studio rather than on public property or private buildings.
Malcolm Mobutu Smith is a former graffiti artist who is now an IU professor. He says graffiti is a unique genre of art.
“You’ve added a thin layer of paint to a surface, and yet there’s this glorifying of who you are and what you’re capable of and you go out and do it and it’s kind of intoxicating and you do it more and more,” he says.
Smith says true graffiti artists follow a set of guidelines that include avoiding private property, businesses, and places of historical importance.
“There are other people who support an ethic of trying to do their work, trying to do it in the truest sense, illegal graffiti, but not trying to raise alarms where people are going to get so bent out of shape,” Smith says.
Graffiti artists may look at a piece and notice color, shape, and meaning, but it is invalid to assume that everyone sees this graffiti as beautiful art.
In the past year Bloomington developed a graffiti removal program as well as a smart phone app where people can report graffiti and take pictures of vandalism. That information goes into the public works department, and is filed with the police department.
Bloomington Police Captain Qualters says graffiti is vandalism.
“I think what you have is conflicting philosophies sometimes as far as what it’s meant to be,” Qualters says. “A graffiti artist sees it as art. People in the city see it as nothing more than vandalizing and damage done to property that is owned by someone else. And that person that damaged the property does not have the right to deface.”
The city of Bloomington estimates it spends about $200 a month on materials and labor to clean up graffiti.