When Is Graffiti Considered Art and Not a Crime?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on November 12, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Art is a strange business if sometimes very lucrative. But how do you even know when a thing is art rather than graffiti or vandalism? This is a serious question, since vandalism can be a misdemeanor or a felony offense.

Some things start out as vandalism and somehow graduate from graffiti to the stuff of fine art auctions. This week, street artist Space Invader arrived in New York from Paris to put up his pixelated mosaics that now sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars and were once considered trash. Does this mean you should be making or preserving the neighborhood graffiti?

From Vandal to Value

The answer is ... maybe. Space Invader was arrested on his last American adventure but not ultimately charged because it turned out he was making art, the New York Times reports. This time he hopes to avoid arrest by getting permission from building owners, who may be very eager for a little fancy vandalism.

Street art has been causing legal squabbles all over the world as those who have been vandalized start claiming valuable works as their own. In September a British court had to determine who could sell a wall that British street artist Banksy had painted on. The judge wrote, "It is fair to say that, whatever solution is adopted, one party gets a windfall."

Space Invader is not as well known as Banksy. But his work does make bank and he is an international superstar. One of his mosaics sold for $350,000 at an auction in Hong Kong this year.

As of this writing, Invader has installed more than 3,202 pieces in 65 cities around the world. He has nearly 6,000 fans playing a game on his app, earning points by photographing his work when they spot it on the streets of the world.

For the Rest of Us

So what does all of this mean? Should you get out and spray the streets with your signature style?

For better or worse, the answer is no ... unless you can risk arrest. As the Space Invader story demonstrates, it is not yet clear to anyone, including police, when graffiti graduates to art.

If you are ever charged with vandalism for graffiti, speak with a criminal defense lawyer immediately to ensure that your rights are protected.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard