Because of its anonymity, graffiti produces content that is unique and sometimes even vulgar.
A study published in “A Journal of Feminist Geography” in May explored the differences between graffiti written on the walls in men’s and women’s restrooms.
“Much like many anonymous spaces, including internet sites, the unmoderated nature of bathroom graffiti may undermine the potential for democratic exchange,” the study reads.
It found that graffiti in men’s restrooms were often vulgar and aggressive, while graffiti in women’s restrooms were supportive and philosophical.
It also found that men and women interacted with graffiti differently.
With graffiti that provoked a thread or conversation, men would respond to others’ graffiti with insults, and women would typically reply to each other with encouragement.
Many people try to fit graffiti into the categories of art or vandalism.
Cary Levine, a contemporary art associate professor at UNC, said he wouldn’t call a drawing on a bathroom wall art, but he finds it problematic to draw lines and distinctions in the art world.
“It depends on the intention of the person making it and the effect of the work itself,” Levine said. “I would say that the more artistic forms of graffiti are those that confront the viewer in a way that makes the viewer see things differently.”
Levine said by nature, graffiti is illegal, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not art.
“There is a political component to street art and graffiti that is not in fine art,” Levine said. “It’s a form of refusal to follow the rules, to get consent and permission — a refusal to abide by the rules of private property.”
Levine said street art stems from a rejection of the world of fine art.
“There is something productive about it that is not necessarily self-serving. You make something for the public when you make graffiti,” he said.
Taylor Brunson, a UNC student majoring in art history, said graffiti is a legitimate form of art.
“Graffiti is culturally expressive,” Brunson said. “That’s all art is — the manifestation of human culture and expression.”
Brunson, who cites the stencil art on the outside of the baseball stadium as one of her favorite pieces of graffiti, said that the rejection of graffiti from the art world can be problematic.
“I don’t think you can invalidate graffiti as an art form because it doesn’t qualify as fine art,” she said. “Its discrimination against a cultural expression on the basis of poverty and race.”
Levine said it’s ultimately a rejection of authority.
“In the worst examples, graffiti is just vandalism. In the best examples, graffiti can shed light on institutions, like the art world.”
“At its core, the politics of graffiti is anarchy.”