Graffiti teaches life lessons?

Like many Lower Mainland communities, graffiti plagues New Westminster. Typically blamed on ne’er do well Burnaby ruffians (surely our own sons and daughters wouldn’t dare!), here in the West End it seems every lamp post and electrical box is tagged with the “artists'” arcane scrawl. Recently our own back fence was hit. Every inch wasRead More




Like many Lower Mainland communities, graffiti plagues New Westminster. Typically blamed on ne’er do well Burnaby ruffians (surely our own sons and daughters wouldn’t dare!), here in the West End it seems every lamp post and electrical box is tagged with the “artists'” arcane scrawl. Recently our own back fence was hit. Every inch was marred with gobbledlygook in giant bubble letters. We were furious. How dare those (Burnaby!) scallywags come down our alley and scrawl all over our fence! The offending oeuvre had no discernible message or artistic value, at least not to our eye. As Will stood in the drizzle and spent several cans of black spraypaint to restore our fence, we gnashed our teeth over the little punks who think this sort of thing is fun.


Yet today I came across the blog of a ‘graffiti artist’ who swears he learned important life lessons while tagging lampposts and fences. What are these lessons?
  1. Never give up – Even though I was terrible at doing graffiti in the beginning I stuck it through because I really wanted it to work out. I wanted to be good at graffiti for some reason. Fast forward to 2008, I am the same way. When I want something not much can or will stand in my way, that’s an awesome trait to have. I never give up I just get pissed off, I mumble and I move forward. I hate being sh*tty at anything so I work long hours so I get good fast at whatever it is I’m into at the present time.
  2. Resourcefulness – I order to survive in any business and in graffiti you need to be resourceful and have some way to adapt. Many times police would find out about the “artwork” and we had to find new locations to paint on. Part of the process was to scour “spots” (places to paint), under bridges, abandoned walls and so on. I had a pretty good gift for finding graffiti spots all the time. I took that trait and I can usually find a way to make money from any type of topic I start researching from loans, car accessories etc. I can find what many other people cannot find, and make it work. That is a huge skill in a competitive world.
  3. Dedication – I saw many kids come ago when I was a graffiti artist. Most people where never dedicated to getting good at graffiti, I like some others were. It was important to me that my “pieces” looked good. i tried to make them look as good as possible. I didn’t see the point in writing on walls if it looked like junk. Personally I really wanted to make the place look better not worse. I dedicated lots of my free time to drawing and also painting the “perfect piece”.

One lesson graffiti artists don’t seem to learn is empathy. While they may see alley fences, light posts and abandoned buildings as canvases, their legacy is typically nothing more than an eyesore that property owners must clean up. The worst part is that graffiti that is not removed has now been proven to increase other incidents of crime in the neighbourhood.

The Economist reports that the ‘broken windows’ theory of crime (that one broken window leads to many, and that allowing litter and graffiti to remain in a city correlates with higher instances of other crimes including theft) has now been proven to be correct:

A place that is covered in graffiti and festooned with rubbish makes people feel uneasy. And with good reason, according to a group of researchers in the Netherlands. Kees Keizer and his colleagues at the University of Groningen deliberately created such settings as a part of a series of experiments designed to discover if signs of vandalism, litter and low-level lawbreaking could change the way people behave. They found that they could, by a lot: doubling the number who are prepared to litter and steal.

I didn’t know this, but the New Westminster police have a graffiti task force. You can report graffiti on the website and sign up to be a graffiti volunteer specialist.

Here’s what graffiti volunteers do:

Volunteers with this program work in cooperation with New Westminster Police and New Westminster Bylaws. They provide education and resources to victims, and encourage merchants and residents to remove tagging and report problems to the police. Our volunteers do not clean graffiti, but do document and photograph graffiti vandalism in hopes of assisting police with information that will lead to an arrest.

Here’s more from the NW police:


Graffiti may never be entirely eradicated. However, incidents of graffiti can be greatly reduced. Most importantly, do not ignore graffiti. The longer it is left, the more costly it will become for you and the rest of the community. Graffiti generates fear of neighbourhood crime, instability, and declining property values.

Email the police at graffiti@nwpolice.org if you see graffiti. They will investigate, and may also be able to provide some cleanup tips if it is your own property or neighbourhood that has been hit. If you’re looking for advice on cleanup, the Graffiti Hurts website has a helpful table of common surfaces and best methods of removal.

Briana Tomkinson

Briana Tomkinson is a Montreal-based writer and original founder of Tenth to the Fraser. She really likes to write letters by hand.

Briana Tomkinson is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.

3 comments

  1. It’s interesting, because Never giving up, Resourcefulness and Dedication are seen as good traits. You do want to be resourceful, don’t you? Shouldn’t everyone be dedicated? I admire people who never give up, unless, of course, they’re wrecking my frickin’ property. The graffitti artist has a different ethical standard.

  2. Also, I personally feel there is a difference between "tagging" and real "graffiti". What hs happened to your fence sounds like tagging, not graffiti.

  3. Yes we were definitely tagged … to me it is still graffiti. I have seen some graffiti that is recognizable as art, but I still think that it doesn't make it okay to paint up someone else's property!

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