What is street art vs graffiti?

Street art is usually painted with permission or on request. Graffiti (left) is based on words, while street art (right) is based on images.

What is street art vs graffiti?

Street art is usually painted with permission or on request. Graffiti (left) is based on words, while street art (right) is based on images. In terms of technique, street art tends to be based on images, while graffiti is more commonly based on words. Labeling, for example, is the most basic result of traditional graffiti writing, in which artists repeatedly use a single symbol, word or series of letters as their own signature or personalized “label”.

These “urban autographs” were first used by gangs seeking to mark their territory, but since then they have evolved and served as a stepping stone to newer and more intricate forms of graffiti. Graffiti is usually word-based art, and street art is more commonly based on images. There are a million reasons why graffiti exists and many others for street art. In the preparatory process for artists, there is a significant difference between graffiti and street art.

Interestingly, by bringing art to public space, these movements challenged the structures and limits of the art world itself. In other words, this theory indicates that urban disorder and criminal activities are related to graffiti, which some may also interpret as street art, leading to a negative perception of these practices to this day. In this sense, street art interventions tend to be placed in very emotional places with which locals feel a strong connection. Although graffiti and street art are constantly evolving, their fundamental values are likely to remain intact, while polarities over the use of their terminologies will also continue to exist.

For spontaneous works of graffiti and street art, the forms and meanings of the place are working material. On the contrary, street art is created with a specific audience in mind, especially when commissioned by companies, local organizations or municipal officials. Many street artists consider the possibility of someone painting, destroying, or even adding something to their works as part of the beauty of this art form. Addressing the study of street art, murals and the creative instincts of graffiti is a fascinating study of human psychology and art history.

Because they are so similar, graffiti and street art are often combined and used interchangeably even in some artistic circles. Although street art has its origin in graffiti, it differs from graffiti in terms of its perception. Both graffiti and street art use the spray can as the main medium and the city walls as the main canvas. As for the art world, although works of graffiti and street artists have appeared in galleries and museums around the world since the 1970s, their legitimacy is not widely recognized either.

Another major difference between contemporary graffiti and street art is that graffiti writers take great risks by destroying public places. Unlike graffiti, street artists can create art with permission (from the building's owners) and even through commissions. According to Will Gompertz, art editor at the BBC, the popularity of street art is related to the fact that it originally explores current topics, often political ones.