Opinions on how graffiti should be valued and assessed differ diametrically depending on who you are talking to. The practitioners themselves often consider it to be artistic activities, while others see painting as vandalism and a serious social problem. From a social constructivist perspective, a cultural relativist approach follows, that is, that the artistic value lies in the subject. Art is what someone defines as art and concepts such as good and bad art, fine culture and popular culture are irrelevant because the concepts do not have an objective basis.(1) Hägerström described this as moral propositions claiming nothing about reality and thus cannot be true or false. For a value judgment to be true, he said, this must be independent of the valuer (after Källström 1986:19ff). When we claim that something exists in an objective sense, we mean that we are claiming something about one of us independent reality. However, moral claims are entirely dependent on a certain feeling for us to formulate it. In other words, it does not make sense to compare different opinions about art and taste because the value is individual and lies in the inducing of a feeling, new ideas and perspectives of the individual viewer. My taste has nothing to do with the taste of others, and the main difference in this regard between me and a cultural reviewer is just that the latter gets paid to express his opinions.(2) From this perspective, comparisons between different people’s tastes become meaningless. In attempts at grading and evaluation, however, there are other purposes such as trying to legitimize one’s (“class”, “culture” and the like) position in society by showing that one has a “better taste”.(3)

From this perspective, graffiti becomes an artistic form of expression for those who think so. Many commentators confuse graffiti as a form of expression with vandalism. It cannot be the expression itself that is the problem. However, if the graffiti is erected in the wrong place, it can become a crime. In other words, it is as absurd to be for or against graffiti as to be for or against Cubism, Expressionism, or any other art orientation. However, one can of course be opposed to vandalism, whether this is in the form of graffiti, an expressionist painting or a broken windowpane.

What is described in this paper as graffiti culture should be understood as a subculture. The term subculture refers to a group united by common values, attitudes and patterns of action within a larger social entity (see, for example, definition in National Encyclopedia volume 17:391). Such a definition does not take a position on the extent to which members distance themselves from the laws and regulations of the rest of society. A subculture can be important for the individual in some respects, while in other contexts he/she is completely in line with the rules of society. A key question is how to define a subculture. For graffiti subculture, the question arises of what should be counted as a “graffiti subcultural act”. For example, should theft of spray cans and “trashing” (smashing an entire commuter train carriage inside) count as part of the subculture? If you ask representatives of society’s institutions that work to counteract graffiti, the answer is often that this is the case, if you ask the graffiti artists themselves, you get different answers. Some of these consider trashing to be part of graffiti subculture because it is partly graffiti artists who commit such acts and because they usually also paint their “tag” (pseudonym) on these occasions. Others believe that trashing is not part of the culture. Graffiti is about creating, not breaking. The same split among the painters exists when it comes to the theft of “work materials”, especially spray cans and felt-tip pens. Several of the informants in the study believe that the graffiti becomes more fair if you steal the painting tools (cans and felt-tip pens). It should not be the availability of financial capital, and thus the opportunity to buy paint, that determines to what extent one is or becomes a good painter. Others think that how to get your color is not at all interesting. This is something outside the graffiti.

In other words, graffiti artists can be said to be a heterogeneous group in terms of opinions and attitudes about, among other things, what constitutes graffiti culture. I will therefore continue to refer to what I perceive to be the very premise of the existence of this subculture; what unites the individuals who choose to join the culture, the lowest common denominator – the interest in the graffiti image.(4) This interest includes knowledge about the collective way of seeing, assessing and valuing the graffiti image, knowledge of technology, importance of location and knowledge of what gives status. Painting graffiti yourself is not a necessary criterion to be part of the culture, for example, there are young people who, by photographing and documenting graffiti, take part in the culture. However, the vast majority are active graffiti artists. In other words, trashing, shoplifting of paint cans and other serious crime will not further count as belonging to graffiti culture, but there are people in the culture who engage in such activities. The people who paint graffiti are predominantly young, which means that graffiti subculture also can be seen as a youth culture. Youth culture is its own established research field and will be discussed in section 1.3.


(1) Graffiti can be compared here to Douglas’s (1966) reasoning about dirt as matter at the wrong
place. Soil from the discount becomes dirt when we pull it into the parquet floor. There is no absolute dirt. Graffiti on a subway train, based on this reasoning, becomes color in the wrong place.

(2) Henry James describes this as saying that no aesthetic analysis can knock out the “I like”
test: ”Nothing will ever take the place of the good old fashion of ”liking” a work of art or
not liking it: the most improved criticism will not abolish that primitive, that ultimate test.”
(after Forser 2002:118)

(3) Bourdieu said that taste is a distaste for the taste of others. (after Forser 2002:131)

(4) Parallels can here be drawn to Bourdieu’s field theory where the individuals who are in the field must agree on what is important and worth fighting for. There is a lowest common denominator that even those who strive to enter the field must recognize as important. (Swartz 1997:125)

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