Graffiti was once an underground form of illegal street art. Over the years, though, it has become more and more popular. Elements of graffiti have been incorporated into commercial and highbrow art, clothing design and popular media.

This form of painting can be a polarizing topic. Some people consider graffiti an artistic form of self-expression. The law, however, consider it vandalism. Despite graffiti’s popularity in both the underground and the mainstream, it can still be penalized as a crime..

There is a very clear line between graffiti that is artwork and graffiti that is a crime.

Graffiti as art

Graffiti is often considered a renegade form of art. However, it would be wise for would-be graffiti artists to remain within the law before they start tagging. Graffiti on private property is perfectly fine, as long as the owner grants permission. Artists are also welcome to graffiti their own property as much as they want. In Massachusetts, there are even some sanctioned areas where graffiti artists of all stripes may go to spray-paint to their hearts’ content. These are all excellent options for artists to create legal graffiti.

Graffiti as vandalism

Graffiti is considered vandalism when it is left on someone else’s property without their consent. This can include private property like houses, cars and private businesses, or public property like billboards, community parks and government buildings. Graffiti is not a victimless crime: It often costs hundreds or thousands of dollars to repair the damage inflicted by the suspect. Sometimes, artists use graffiti as a means of political protest or social commentary. But no matter how well-intentioned this “art” may be, it is still illegal. Vandalism is a crime that is taken very seriously. It can incur significant penalties like fines of up to $1500 and jail time of up to two years.