This week I was sent an article basically discussing and comparing the difference between traditional graffiti writers/artists to what I call high-end graffiti artists. Simply put a Banksy versus you or me. The article is a reminder to all involved in the graffiti element that graffiti is in fact illegal. It is a crime and it is the only illegal element of Hip Hop. Unless you are commissioned to create a piece on a wall, a train, a truck, or sidewalk graffiti is illegal. What makes the harmless art illegal is where a writer decides to write. The history of graffiti is clear, write in a place that is hard to get to and/or somewhere your artwork will be seen by the masses all while remaining anonymous. In the early years writers didn’t have to worry about cameras as much. There is also strength in numbers so writing with a crew versus writing alone had its perks. There are some graffiti artists that may have never been caught and there are others who probably got caught numerous times which is why a lot of writing and tagging was done at night. Either way it was up to the judge once you got to the courtroom.
Knowing that black and brown young persons are arrested and convicted for crimes more than whites imagine how many young minorities ended up doing time in jail or prison just because they had a graffiti record. Couple that with the fact that nobody really knows what Banksy looks like! More people have seen MF DOOM’s face. I’m sure Banksy’s work has left a bad taste in the mouths of some property owners as his art gets painted over just like everybody else’s. Granted they may let it linger a little longer but it gets erased just the same. With the use of social media a graffiti writer can create a piece anywhere and take a photo of it and have that photo be seen by people all over the world so if it gets painted over the piece can still live via the internet. I’m sure Banksy has a police record for vandalism somewhere in Europe but if you don’t know his real name there’s no way to link the name and face to the artist. In the element of graffiti anonymity is the key. Even for celebrities, if they want to keep secrets they can but most of them don’t. Banksy can teach even the best publicist how to keep things under wraps.
No, you are not Banksy and you may get caught by the police if you go out and tag or write on someone else’s property. If Banksy gets caught the same will happen for him but once you enter that courtroom white privilege may come into play. Classism may also come into play. If you tag in a poor Black community you may not get in as much trouble as you would if you were to tag in a middle class white community. You may not even get arrested if you write in a poor Brown community. If you did they’d just find a bigger charge to get you on and forget all about the vandalism. Being a dope graffiti artist can take a writer to different places and elevate that element of the culture. That’s why you see murals and other “urban landscape artwork” in certain places. Not everyone can see the beauty in Hip Hop Culture but people change their minds every day. Just remember if you decide to go out and tag or write go at night, wear dark clothing, take at least one other person with you, and don’t get caught!