As an artist myself, though not a graffiti or "street artist", I am quite sensitive to the attitudes regarding this popular form of expression. Because these attitudes sometimes get heated to the point where they affect other forms of artistic expression as well.
Take for example a recent event that happened in Portland, Oregon: a well-known street artist was visiting town and had the approval and permission of a building owner to paint a mural on an outside wall. Halfway through the work, he was approached by a couple of Portland's finest who, after discovering that he had permission, left him alone. For a short time, that is.
Not long after, the artist was approached again and harassed about not having the correct 'city permit' costing $250. He was then forced to buff his mural and told to get out of town.
The thing about that is, not only is the general public kept in the dark regarding this 'required' permit, but the officer kindly omitted the fact that he could have gotten a different permit costing only $50...but was never given the chance. The mural was intended to discourage the almost constant unsightly tagging and other actual graffiti.
A few years ago, this same cop was involved with another anti-street art event, also in Portland. He and his cronies forcibly shut down a legitimate art gallery which was having a show featuring legal works by various street artists. That too was meant to dissuade illegal graffiti in favor of legal artworks. But the city of Portland said no. The gallery itself, not just the show, was closed down; the owner of the building threatened with hefty daily fines until she was forced to break the lease and evict the tenant gallery!
Apparently there is no such thing in Portland as legal street art, even when it's created on a canvas and displayed indoors in a gallery. According to one article, the police even went so far as to follow and harass people who had visited the show after they left it.
Several times I have read the statement, "The difference between art and graffiti is permission." Yet, the very ones who say that often contradict themselves by vilifying even legal street art (a term that some refuse to even use, calling it all 'graffiti' and 'vandalism'). One website in particular (although it's old- nothing new has been posted there since 2008) roundly put down even "legal graffiti" and "graffiti walls" that some cities have made available. See the contradiction here? On one hand, they said that the very definition of graffiti, as opposed to art, is lack of permission. But even with permission, done legally, they still call it graffiti!
Make no mistake: I'm not advocating illegal acts of vandalism. Graffiti is often vandalism. It's also a crime. Much of it is ugly. I don't like to see profanity, or gang signs, or tags. I certainly do not approve of vandalizing private or public property!
But I also recognize that there is a lot of graffiti is, indeed, art. Legal or not, it's art. There are some truly talented street artists out there. And I admit that I enjoy looking at some of their work. I even have some books on street art.
To some people, I guess that makes me part of the problem. And the next time I visit Portland, I'd better watch my back lest I find myself behind bars. After all, they call the shots on what and what isn't a legal form of art and art appreciation.