Did you know people actually risk their lives to put up graffiti or street art? 

These guys and gals double as stuntmen.

Hanging from buildings, surfing on trains and busses, risking arrest; all in the name of fame, without fortune. That’s dedication.

In Berlin alone, word on the street is that 2 artists have died this year while attempting various stunts to leave their mark. Wherever I go, I must keep an ear to the streets.

I would have loved to surf a train with an artist while they explained the difference of street art vs graffiti.

Call it what you want. It’s all art to me, and I love it.

I walked through the streets of Berlin today to check out some of the more famous works of street art, along with a history lesson of the graffiti of the pre and post wall era. As well as a facts about the origins of graffiti in general.

Street art vs graffiti can be defined. There is a difference, and I now have the answers.


street art vs graffiti

Graffiti is a form of advertisement. Artists are advertising themselves and their skills.

They want to be famous. They want to known. They want their message to be delivered. They want to leave their mark.

Some sell out to brands and make money, some don’t sell out and probably stay poor. Those that are poor may stay rich in pride, but when it comes down to it; everyone has to eat. Some have children to feed. In this case, both the street artists and the graffiti artists face the same inner struggle.

I think this is a debate within their own community that I couldn’t understand unless I was part of it. Still, it relates to any form of art. Sell out or stay true.

The average graffiti artist

The average graffiti artist is 19. More specifically the average age of a graffiti artist is 19. I saw pieces today done by those in their 60’s, but most are done by young artists just coming up. Trying to be the next Banksy. Trying to be recognized.

They could be a guy or girl. Alone or part of a crew. The average crew could have around 10 members, but no one knows for sure. A lot of this is illegal and specifics aren’t advertised.

A lone artist has his name. This is his tag. He wants it everywhere. Same as with a crew, but a crew tags in acronyms. In all cases some people play better with others, and some play better alone.

Both want the same result and will do anything to get it.

How the artists see graffiti

When the average person walks by some graffiti painted on the side of building they see it for exactly what it is, hard to read words that have been sprayed on someone else’s property. This isn’t inaccurate. In fact it’s factual. Literal.

A fellow graffiti artist doesn’t see it this way. He see’s beyond the first glance. Deeper into the lines of the piece, the flow, the colours, how it all comes together and who put it there.

To them it’s a style of writing, a story of where they are from and who they are with. What they stand for.

This is shown in their respect for one another. They live by a code of the streets of sorts. It’s bad taste to cover up another artists work. A lack of respect. There are pieces around the city where the paint is flaking off because of their age.

It was both surprising and pleasing to learn that the young kids coming up respect this. They follow the same rules and don’t try to mess with the flow. If you have ever said to yourself “these kids have no respect these days”, maybe you should be hanging out with the ones spray-painting on the front of your store. They have respect down to a science.

This is another way graffiti and street artists are one in the same.

Street Art

There has been a shift from graffiti to street art. Street art is a more acceptable word. It sounds more polite. It’s “art” after all. Graffiti brings up imagines of gangs and poverty, where in fact many of them do come from.

Many street artists come from the same. Many street artists start with graffiti. I’m curious of the transition.

The many forms of street art

Street art takes on many forms. It’s not just elaborate murals taking up whole sides of buildings. It’s smaller pieces, hidden away in places you wouldn’t notice unless you were shown.

They are sending a message in the same way the graffiti guys are. It seems unless you are told this message from someone who knows, you walk away without knowing it all. These artists sneak in late at night, do their thing, then are gone. Yet a piece of them remains.

Street art doesn’t have to be painted on a building. It can be a sticker. It can be a mural. It can even be bird house in a tree that plays music when the wind blow past.

3D street art

While I was walking around taking this all in, a couple of interesting pieces were pointed out to me.

This tour was basically taking place around the same neighbourhood I have been living in. It was great to hear about the pieces and see the ones I missed.

The first was a styrofoam 3D piece stuck high on a wall. I never would have noticed it. It read “PUSH”, the artist who made it.

The second was a little figure made of wine bottle corks stuck here on top of a street sing. This is made by a man in his 60’s, clearly with both a soft spot for art and well as a good (probably cheap) bottle of wine.

Street art takes time and money. These artists are investing in themselves. The wine that man drinks in order to collect corks isn’t free. Perhaps delicious, but costly none the less. Neither is the wood for the bird houses. It takes planning and patience. And most importantly, dedication.

So what is the difference between street art and graffiti?

The easy answer, graffiti is tags and street art is.. well.. art. But graffiti is also art according to the street artists. So does this make them one in the same? This man’s confused, that’s for sure.

If I had to make a choice, if my life depended on it; I would say that graffiti is art. Even if my life wasn’t threatened, I’d say the same. I like the way it looks on the walls. It’s lightens up an otherwise bland city of neutral colours. Not just Berlin, where I write this from, but any modern city for that matter.

Street art seems to be a synonym for epic. It seems to involve more time overall, especially when you see an entire side of a building covered in intricate designs. These pieces can take weeks.

Street art could also be a synonym for legal. You see, I have left out a third kind, Urban Art. Urban art is like street art but legal. It is allowed by the city to be put up. It is done at a high skill level and is always impressive. Street art vs graffiti might have to soon take on another level.

But it seems that the words ‘street art’ and ‘urban art’ are used interchangeably. Making them the same thing.

Could it be a matter of graffiti being illegal, and street art being legal sometimes? Is graffiti considered a bad word, so you ask to be called a street artist? Or maybe the other way around in some cases?

My take on it you ask?

Graffiti comes down written word, and street art takes on much more. I think there is a grey area in between the two that makes it hard to tell exactly where they divide.

I also believe they are far more similar then apart. So much makes them the same thing.

What do you think about the difference between Street art vs Graffiti? Leave a comment below and tell me what you think.  

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9 Responses

  1. Charles McCool

    Lovely pictures and something to think about. I see graffiti as illegal (but often beautiful). Street art can be legal or illegal, and uses various materials. Graffiti might be a subset of street art?
    Charles McCool recently posted…8 Great iPhone Travel AppsMy Profile

    • Alex

      I agree that is definitely illegal.. I think the graffiti transitioned into street art. Interesting points thanks for reading!

  2. Lucy Menjivar

    Great article ! Never saw graffiti as art although those kids might become great artists in the future . Nice pictures really left me thinking and changed my perception that I had towards graffiti & art street .

    • Alex

      Thank you for the kind words Lucy. i am glad you were able to take something away from it 🙂

  3. Mitalee Parikh

    I’d say graffiti is markings on walls. It includes tags, throw-ups, pieces. And when this art evolved illustrations and graphics started to be included, qualifying it more as ‘art’ by traditional definition (if there is any). Street art is a more recent and broader term for murals, sculpture, interventions like those done by yarn bombing, LEDs or any other media, on the streets. Street art may or may not be ‘legal’ depending on whether its done with the knowledge of the property owner, whereas graffiti, by definition is always illegal. Moreover ‘urban art’ is the term used for the studio work of street artists. It is the art that is meant to be ‘sold’, unlike street art which is done for various other reasons, monetary gain not included.

  4. kugendran

    well, in my opinion graffiti is a form of street art. This is because some of graffiti style such as stencil are being applied in street art. Apart from this many says that graffiti is seen as illegal art, whereas street art is a legal art form. Not all street art legal but there are illegal ones too? so it makes no difference based on this. The main differences between both graffiti and street art is that graffiti art is more focused on tagging and getting other taggers to decode their tags. Whereas street art contributes to the society and focused more on the public in order to convey messages. Overall based on my definition, street art is the transformation of graffiti art which takes on art to a new level.
    kugendran recently posted…I Woke up and Bought a One Way Ticket to NicaraguaMy Profile

    • Alex

      Hi Kugendran,

      Thank you for sharing. This is the same sort of idea as I was going for. Looks like we agree!

  5. Jehovani B

    Great article and articulation on the difference between the two – titles. For class, I am writing an objective paper about the difference between the two, which brought me to this diamond of a webpage. I was also able to meet you, Alex. Be safe on your travels. I have been in the US Navy for many years and I have traveled to many countries.
    I feel that street art is an evolved form of graffiti, and “urban” being a more accepted (legal) word for graffiti. Graffiti to me are words, painted and sprayed with cool colors. Street and Urban Art go so far beyond just the simplicity of words. As you mentioned, it uses the environment and allows the artist to think outside the box. A person most people know, and one I have just have been introduced to, is Bansky. WOW! What skill! He exemplifies the street “art”. Its all graffiti. But, I love the more modern graffiti, the street art kind. Thank you.