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Graffiti is All Over Greece. Is it by Artists or Vandals?

Graffiti slathers the walls of Greece, like on this Athens building.

Graffiti slathers the walls of Greece, like on this Athens building.

There is so much graffiti in Greece, we even saw graffiti on the PLANTS growing up the Acropolis in Athens.

Throughout our Greece Teacher Tour, we’d exclaim, “Look at that graffiti over there, and there… and THERE! So terrible. Why do they allow it?”

How jarring it is to have an idealized vision of a country (you know, Greek gods in flowing togas striding around a pristine Athens and handing out free Ambrosia)… then arrive and see the country’s walls defaced.

When you encounter this, you have to ask: “What the heck’s going on with all the graffiti in Greece?

We even saw graffiti ON THE PLANTS going up the Acropolis in Athens!

We even saw graffiti ON THE PLANTS going up the Acropolis in Athens!

Is all this writing on the walls a sign of the anger the Greek people feel at what’s going on with their economy?

Is the graffiti a result of the government being so preoccupied with its many problems that it can’t spare the resources to prevent or clean up wall drawings?

Are these wall scrawls simply a cultural difference? Do Greeks tolerate or even enjoy graffiti, rather than seeing it as a sign of disrespect or disrepair?

In Boston, we have very little graffiti in comparison, largely because our law enforcement and government officials have embraced the Broken Window Theory.

Some very, very strange graffiti on that wall in Athens. Curious mushroom?

Some very, very strange graffiti on that wall in Athens. Devious mushroom?!

To understand this theory, imagine a street in perfect repair, spotlessly clean. Would you be more or less likely to commit a crime in such an environment?

Now imagine that same street with a violently shattered house window. As a resident, would you suddenly feel unsafe? If you were a criminal, would you think, “Hey, this neighborhood is already going downhill. I might as well attack!”

The Broken Widow Theory theorizes that a city must clean up the smallest acts of disorder (graffiti, broken windows, etc.) immediately, in order to ward off larger acts of crime like armed robbery.

Graffiti in Nafplio, Greece, about how graffiti is actually art, not vandalism.

Graffiti in Nafplio, Greece. Is graffiti art?

There’s a similar theory in teaching: You must get compliance from students from small things (taking hats off, not chewing gum, etc.) to prevent larger classroom blow-outs like fistfights and chair-throwing.

Most of the time I believe the Broken Window theory and thus think that graffiti should be prevented and cleaned, and students shouldn’t wear hats.

BUT, there are some slippery, slide-y gray areas when it comes to these little transgressions.

Most notably in the case of graffiti: when is vandalism actually art?

Examine the photo to the right of the graffiti we saw sprayed on walls throughout lovely Nafplio, Greece: “We are Artists, not Vandals.”

There were moments in Greece I had to admit, that sentiment had a point. Look at the first photo in this article, for example. What a luscious splash of color on a brilliantly sunny day!

Is this pretty wall in Athens the result of paying graffiti artists to do legal public art?

Is this pretty wall in Athens the result of paying graffiti artists to do legal art?

But I know from my experience as a teacher and a human: Sometimes kids and adults can handle the small bit of lawlessness and not go on to the big transgressions… but often they can’t!

It’s a trap to cling to the glimmers of good and ignore the building wave of chaos and disrespect!

Here’s a better solution: Channel the criminal activity and develop the beauty by hiring graffiti artists to do paid, legal public art! My guess is that the photo on the left is the result of such brilliance. Pretty! And also legal.

So, dearest readers, what is YOUR take on graffiti??? Share your views in the comments section!

Want more photos and stories about graffiti and street art around the world?
• For an article on Boston street art, click here.
• For pics of beautiful street paintings (or maybe graffiti) in Granada, Spain, click here.
• For photos of CRAZY public art in Beijing, China, click here.

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Eleanna

Wednesday 9th of March 2016

Hi Lillie. Sometimes graffiti is unsightly and other times it is art. This is true. However, what we fail to remember is that it's not a modern thing! As you mentioned in your article, you arrived in Greece having an idealized image of the country in your mind, and reality being reality, simply crashed that ideal. But that holds true to every country in the world. It is a little known fact that the ancient Romans were very, very fond of grafiti and it was a rude and raucous kind of grafiti for that matter. Their grafiti was definetely not art by our standards; it was all about sex, money, wine and politics. And it was all over those "pristine" white marble monuments we admire today.

Actually, nothing was really plain white in the ancient world. Ancient Greeks loved colour and used to paint their buildings in beautiful, bright and very saturated colours. Can you imagine the Acropolis painted in bright blue and red? And yet, that's how it was at the time. Museums are full with ceramics with depictions of tantalizing erotic scenes on them. Not very appropriate, right?

Oh and I forgot about Lord Byron's graffiti on the Temple at Sounion!

The ancients were just as real and flawed as we are today. The argued over politics at the marketplace, threw garbage on the streets when nobody was looking, got drunk and wrote graffiti on the walls. The only things different are technology and fashion ;)

Lillie

Saturday 12th of March 2016

Such important comments, both of you! Thanks for posting!

Konstantina

Wednesday 9th of March 2016

Just because there have *always* been vandals doesn't really excuse it, does it? There were thieves and other criminals in Ancient Greece and Rome too. The public buildings were painted beautiful bright colors in ancient times, but by professional paid artists, they were not covered in scribbled tags that no one could read. And I'm sure architects and artists were as annoyed then as they are now when someone who came along and carved their initials over their work. As an artist who struggles to buy my own supplies and works hard for commissions, the idea of defacing someone else's work or property for my own vanity is inexcusable.

John

Friday 8th of May 2015

I really did like all the graffiti in Athens and throughout Greece. The scribblings, profane language and sich seemed full of anger and made nice areas seem run-down. I love nice street art limited to a wall where creativity and thought are involved. But the random scrobblings so common place are acts of vandalism and I doubt most people want to see them on their car door or garage.

TSamson

Saturday 31st of January 2015

Thank you for this post! It seems there is very little on the internet about this subject other then by the people who perpetrate graffiti, and they have on obvious slant, and there's not much of a discussion. Street art, or vandalism...? Well if you paint on someone else's property without their permission it is definitely vandalism. It doesn't matter how good it looks. I must admit, I have seen here in Canada at least, some very good street art in the form of murals, but they have always been commissioned by the owner of the property. Often times the owner has invited the local press to review the artwork and given "Kudos" (Sorry, couldn't help myself) to the artist. The artwork always fit's within the neighborhood culture, and it is pleasing to the eye, whether it is traditional artwork, or in the abstract. If you want to see graffiti gone awry you simply need to go to Google Maps, and "street view" Corinth Greece. Absolutely shameful!!! I didn't see anything that remotely resembled art. Just writing, and except for a few cuss words in english, not very legible writing at that. It makes the place look like a garbage dump. A perfect example of the "Broken Window" scenario. Personally, when I visit Europe, and it's ancient cities I find graffiti plain disrespectful. IMHO

Lillie

Saturday 31st of January 2015

Excellent comment. Thanks for taking the time to write it!

Konstantina

Saturday 16th of August 2014

The graffiti in Athens, Rome and other historical centers makes me absolutely sick and sad. Very little of it is actually art. A scribbled word (that no one can really read) is not art. And even if it IS a masterpiece- defacing what another artist has created is not art, is criminal. Architecture is someone's art! That building is someone's creation! I wish I could go into the home of every graffiti 'artist' and tagger, and paint aaaaall over THEIR belongings. A nice big "Konstantina loves Lonny" on their TV set. Then I would wait for them to come home. "Oh I'm sorry, are you upset? I thought you'd appreciate all this free ART." In all seriousness, my personal goal is to someday spend summers in Europe, going around with a wagon of various shades of latex paint and paint over all the hideous graffiti in Venice, Rome and Athens. I'm very good at blending and faux finishing. Who's with me?

Lillie

Saturday 16th of August 2014

I love how you think! Do it!

Peter M

Monday 30th of June 2014

Hi Thanks for the info..Personally I find the hideous amount of graffiti in Athens very disturbing. Athens is such a culturally and historically significant place in the world, that the graffiti just defames the city. I believe they should significantly raise the penalties on graffiti vandalism and begin a public campaign to clean up the city. Personally I would be happy to financially contribute to the clean up, as long as the government and police took part in the operation of cleaning up the city, including getting vandals to commit community time to clean it up. I cant quite understand why all of your readers are so tolerant of graffiti. How would they feel if their home, shops and neighborhood were vandalized like that . This is not graffiti in moderation, it is reckless abuse and lawlessness. For the record, there seems to be some commissioned graffiti in Athens ( walking the streets yesterday, I noticed a huge mural being done by a commissioned artist by the gasworks) and it truely was art, not scrappy painting and random words. If someone starts up a charity or foundation to fix it, then and let me now. There must be so many others out there that want to fix this blight on a historically significant city like Athens.

Lillie

Monday 30th of June 2014

You make really great points!

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