Street art, a mural or graffiti?

If a wall has been painted on, is that street art, a mural or graffiti? Living in Bristol we have lots of examples of all three but who decides which is which?

Walking down the famous Gloucester Road you see a huge variety of life – cafes, antique shops, holistic healers, a large school previously private but now joined the state system, new apartments. It is a busy road with its own bus and cycle lanes. It also has a vast selection of ‘painted walls’.

Some of it is absolutely stunning with really vibrant colours bringing a sense of art to the community. Then there are those trying to communicate with the public (not sure of the message though!). Finally there were those walls that had been scribbled on! Well, to me, it was scribble, a complete eye-sore!

Graffiti has been around (according to my Wikipedia research) for a long time – right back to ancient Greece & Rome. It has always had a dual identity either considered a public nuisance or hailed as an See No Evil 2011art form using the environment. Bristol City Council has had many battles with its graffiti artists, consistently sending a man with a bucket of whitewash to remove them from the public’s sight. This is quite embarrassing for the council given that Bristol local, Banksy, has become such a cult figure, raising thousands of pounds for the city with a  free exhibition. In recent years however, it has supported street art and graffitti festivals.

Art has always created tensions raising extreme emotions in some, whether it be a picture, a sculpture or a building (Coventry Cathedral is a good example of all three). Where though does graffiti come into this arena? When I think back to my time as a Headteacher and remember some of the pictures I was shown by youngsters who were so proud of their achievements to the untrained eye they might have been described as scribble. I still praised them as much for the effort as the finished product. If you are a parents you may have some of these works of art on your fridge door.

On our recent visit to Philadelphia we saw what embracing street art really looks like. Immense murals depicting the most astonishing stories is car parks and along side walks. The city’s Mural Arts Program was introduced to rid the city of what I would class as scribble and to encourage artists to feel pride in showcasing their work.

Street art, a mural or graffiti?

So, what’s the difference? Do I need lessons in graffiti appreciation so that my eye can be trained in this different medium? Is it all about the language that is used – street art, a mural or graffitti?

How do you feel about these painted walls? Would you give one of these artists free reign on your wall?

Please click to share


  • travelwithmrst

    I think there’s a big difference between the three. I dislike what most graffiti artists do to private property. I know it is an outlet for them, but I wonder if the thrill of placing their ‘tag’ on as many places as possible, isn’t part of the ‘draw’. Street art can be quite beautiful, and I think, overall, is less planned than a mural. Hats off to anyone who can enlarge art or letters and still be understandable!

  • Oh my these are beautiful, it makes the walls look 3d. Thanks for sharing these amazing street art.

  • I love street art and Bristol has some fab work. I know that if I painted the walls everyone would consider it graffiti but it would still be my best efforts!

  • I love, love, love graffiti!! I think it’s underrated because everybody thinks people are breaking laws and spray painting vulgar images and words, but sometimes they’re not! It can be kids that need a creative outlet and they have no where else to do it. It’s the best art show you can go see and it’s free! There are a lot of great artwork in these allies, building, and sometimes they are under our feet, deep inside of tunnels. I watched a show that showed a whole tunnel just covered with graffiti artists just doing what they do best. It’s awesome 🙂

  • Hi Julia, i think this is a case of Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I’m no artistic genius and i see some art where i think what, and others that i think are brilliant and that is in galleries, on the street and inbetween. But for the artist it represents something, i’m just not always sure what,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.