Graffiti Is Not Art

I was sipping my coffee and fumbling through the amorphous pile of New York Times on the counter at the coffeeshop and an article about graffiti caught my eye in the travel section. In the article, focused on Bristol, England being the “street art capital of Europe”, the author said this in her second paragraph:

I was astonished. This was graffiti? It turned out the answer was no. According to Mr. Dean, break-dancing Jesus is considered “street art,” a term used to distinguish imaginative urban art from gang-related vandalism. The term “graffiti” refers to the bubble-style borders that surround a “tag,” or the skeleton of words or letters inside.

This is Rob Dean in a video promoting tourism in Bristol:

Screenshot 2015-12-31 11.02.57

You can see from the photo above that Rob Dean is NOT at all reticent to appropriate hip hop – even for tourism promotion. In fact, anybody who loves hip hop should be a bit offended by this b-boy caricature he puts on. He looks like hipster spaghetti. The entitlement, privilege, and racist attitude on display is pretty blatant here. If black kids or poor kids do it, it’s graffiti – not done by artists, but by gang involved thugs. Only when your self-expression has the blessing of the establishment is it ART.


Graffiti is NOT “street art” – graffiti is a culture. Graffiti is one of the four foundational elements of hip hop, along with breakdancing, MCing, and DJing. For decades now, kids have been throwing up pieces that would blow your mind with their intricacy and detail – they’ve been chased, threatened, beaten, and arrested for it also. These artists have put in thousands of hours perfecting their craft, knowing that their work would be painted over and their only lasting legacy would be their reputation. Then people like Rob Dean came in and started putting it on t-shirts, and in galleries, they created a caste-system whereby they could anoint the “true artists” – officially endorsed by the establishment – whoever that is.

So, my point here is: Fuck you, Rob Dean.

How do you feel about that?

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