In most people's minds the connotations of the words "street art" and "graffiti" are one in the same -interchangeable, and often associated with vandalism, gangs, urban plight, and decay. While both graffiti and street art involve the re-appropriation of public space to create a finished product, there exist strong differentiations between the two forms of expression (as well as the types of people that create them).
In terms of ideology, methodology, stylistic differences, and recognition, there exist many variances between street art and graffiti. Graffiti limits an individual to what he or she can do with a spray can, on the spot. Street art, on the other hand, while employing some of the application techniques of graffiti, often involves a finished product that is ready-made and brought to the location -think stickers, wheat paste prints, and stencils.
One can say that street art is a modern art form or trend predated by graffiti. While graffiti can be considered an art form, it is also a cultural movement. In most instances, graffitists are individuals lacking in any formal artistic training. Their goal is to "tag" or "throw up" pieces across the breadth of a city, often under time constraints imposed by the risk of fines and imprisonment. Think of SAMO, the graffiti associated with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Al Diaz in the late 1970s, early 1980s or the more popular Banksy, as examples.
Street Art, on the other hand, is a more modern art form that has adopted practices from graffitists. Street artists, in many cases, are formally trained art students who pre-prepare their work before hand and arrive on location with the product. This isn't to say that street artists don't feel the same real threats of being caught and punished for creating illegal art as graffitists. But because street art is many times "ready-made", the artist's message is often
much more developed than in graffiti. Good examples of street art include Morley, who specializes in typographic wheat paste prints, and Retna, an LA based graffitist turned street artist known for creating his own alphabet.
In terms of backgrounds, one New York blogger said it best, "Graffiti is a medium for boarder line criminals and maniacs who insist on testing every limit. Street Art is for frustrated graphic designers with too much time on their hands and not enough creative control in their day jobs." Basquiat was a self-taught artist and high school dropout and Banksy is a London based underground artist and vandal. On the other hand, street artist Morley is rumored to
have studied at The School of Visual Arts in New York.
Despite this dichotomy between graffiti and street art, neither art form should be considered more culturally valid than the other. Street art and graffiti are both powerful forms of public art that use visually striking, bold images and metaphors to convey a message. And in both cases, artists are risking legal punishment for spreading these messages. There are tons of websites and blogs devoted to documenting the many instances of street art and graffiti, as well as arguing the cases between the two. Check out the California based melroseandfairfax.blogspot.com, which documents street art and graffiti, as well as the site anmag.com, which regularly highlights street artists.