Difference between graffiti and mural

My understanding of each word.

Mural - Wall art

Street art - Art that was created or exists outside the formal art world. Modern version cultural art and handicrafts.

Graffiti - Images and writing applied to buildings and other objects.

You can these definitions or something OSM specific. Their actual definitions are often ambiguous, sometimes contradictory and usually have connotations that are meaningless when applied to the context of mapping them in OSM.

Went back, the text is intricate, several words overlaid and measured it with JOSM and paced it out, the 2 meter spacing of the guardrail posts above making it easy… 32x4, in fact there’s a whole collection there in the to and thru the underpasses cycle and service ways, all artist signed, some I remembered from previous passings, the new one titled ‘Costa Nostra’ (Our Coast) and the City name superimposed on that.


John Mayer’s Gravity plays in me head.

What words would you use to describe this piece of art? It clear painted on a wall of public infrastructure. This would obviously make it a type of “street art” and a mural. As much I want to call it graffiti, I don’t have a clear definition that I can match with the art in question. The one I have one that is muddled with a lot of cultural assumptions and many negative connotations.

For example, does graffiti have be with spray paint. Does it need to be cartoonly or can it depict objects realistically. How does taggeg relate to graffiti or is that something different. We need better definitions to describe this form art in a consistent way.

While it would be nice to have clearer definition for those values, seeing as those tag values are already in use, it is in my opinion unlikely one could rely on them for such precision. Especially as they use common words in English like “mural”, “street art” and “graffiti” – so even if precise meaning were decided on the forum, proposed, voted and agreed upon, and clarified down to the tiniest detail in the wiki, so there is no ambiguity at all (which sounds like incredibly complex and time consuming task) - many users would nevertheless just assume “common English” meaning (which will likely vary for different countries, languages and cultures, and as we can see even inside one country) and use that “commonly understood meaning” instead of the thing that wiki says, derailing that effort.

As example, just look on place=* values and it usages in the world. They vary wildly. Or highway=*. Or admin_level=*. The best one could hope for is per-country agreement, but even that varies a lot.

That is of course unfortunate, but it seems to also be unavoidable fact of reality in current OSM tagging model which is using (mostly) British English words for tags and values.
(If OSM were to use non-human-readable identifiers - like wikidata does with Q12345 - that point of confusion would be significantly reduced, if not removed altogether. But it doesn’t and likely won’t, so no point wasting time in that direction either).

Anyway, in my use, the main reason why I’d tag such graffiti/streetart in OSM at all, is to attach its picture in wikimedia_commons=* tag in the first place (and/or wikidata=* with appropriate picture linked, especially if I have more information to add). Then, when and if clearer tag guidelines are later established, people can later review and update to newer, more detailed and much clearer (and hopefully also less encumbered by their implied plain English meaning) values.

IOW, IMHO ground mappers should go map now with best guess they have (instead of sitting home and waiting for some revelation of “one true way to map things”), and leave minor details as exact tag value definitions to wikieditors and armchair mappers to tweak later to their hearts delight. (At least they’ll then have exact pictures to help make up their minds clearly without guessing).

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So today’s 2 word conversation between A and B standing next to each other facing the big work

A: Graffitone?
B: Assolutamente

There and then decided how it needs labelling. :sunglasses:

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It is. Is writing made with spray cans.

No, there are also roller graffiti.

Yep, another word in Italy is “pezzo” (piece in english).

Btw if someone is interested in the matter I can suggest to look for Martha Cooper work, or to watch “Wild Style” or “Style Wars”.

:+1: Well spoken bro … that fit’s perfect to what I have written in #3:

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Thats a good start.

Are other painting methods allowed? What are some more attributes that we can apply. We need to be able to describe what qualifies to be tagged a graffiti. Especially when there is something similar enough that thier is confusion between the two.

Words made with spray paint (or rollers) on a wall.

I am reading a book (TVBoy. La calle es mi museo. Barcelona. Libros Cúpula, 2020) which says something on this point that might be of interest. Translated from the original:

In their origins, perhaps the common point was that most of them were created using paint, usually sprayed on, but from the late 1990s, coinciding with the recognition of this art on an international scale, the techniques expanded, in what has been called post-graffiti.

(Thanks for your comments.)

Post-graffiti seems to be an umbrella term that comprehends also street art. But let me know what you find.

Speaking about books, some parts that maybe can help understand the importance of the lettering:

From “On The Go Magazine”, Dec. 1993:

The most important demonstration of a piecer’s skill, however, lies in his/her letter forms. These are a writer’s principal concern: ‘Letters should stand on their own with no help of colours or elaborate
techniques. Colours and designs are secondary, focus in on the primary concept in graffiti and master your letter forms’ ).

Interview to Drax (writer) quoted in a essay by Nancy Macdonald:

“I mean graffiti was always based around the idea of writing your name . . . the characters and all the rest of it, it’s artistic, but it loses the point of what, exactly, I think graffiti is.”

Its importand to note that lettering was so important that many writers used to choose their name on the base of how cool the letters glued together, even if the name had no meaning.

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The books I am reading agree on the importance of lettering. They define graffiti as just lettering or lettering including images.

(I am both reading and learning from your comments. Thank you!).

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OT, Perishable art


Ummm, any sources for that?

I’ve looked at usual suspects (should be read by interested parties):

and it seems that Graffiti is much wider / different than that definition.

Originally (and etymologically) it seems to come from “scratching (the surface)”. Historically, they were drawings made by coal or chalk, even up to more modern (post WW2) times, and only very relatively recently have sprays become prominent (and initially closely related to vandalism - even today, many graffiti are officially not allowed and are considered illegal).

That one at least is easy: artwork_type=land_art

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Nope, and I don’t think you will ever read a definition of graffiti wrote in the stone, especially from websites who mix-up graffiti art with the engravings in rest areas bathroom walls, street gang signs and archaeological graffiti. If we want to call stencils “graffiti art” because deutsch wikipedia says so it’s okay, but don’t we at least agree that “words made with spray paint (or rollers) on a wall” is the minimum acceptable threshold to call a graffiti as such? Then we can argue on every else, but are there cases of “words made with spray paint (or rollers) on a wall.” that you would not call graffiti?

What I said came from my experience, to the books I read, the movies I saw, the writers I met. I quoted some parts about the importance of lettering earlier. Graffiiti artists are even called “writers” for this reason. Graffiti styles refer to the letters. Bubble style refers to bubble letters, wild style to complicated letters, 3d style is refers to 3d letters, a blockbuster is a piece with big squared letters, tags are letters, computer style refers to digital-alike letters, a “loop” is a decorative connection between two letters, a “stick” is a structural element of the letter ecc.

Used initially mainly from journalists, trivia: it was considered a negative word from many writers at the time, mainly Phase 2.

“Saying the G-word is like saying the N-word. That’s basically it.” - Vulcan

“Odio quella parola con la G e non la userò mai piu’, che si fottano i giornali i giornalisti e la tv” - Sir2

I would not go back further than the 20th century to define graffiti as an urban art form. We could place its origins around the 1960s and its expansion in the 1970s and 1980s. The reason for establishing these dates is that it is not possible to explain today’s graffiti without the influence of other contemporary artistic and aesthetic movements.

(Thanks for your comments.)

it depends how you define it, for example here is an article about drawings on walls at the beginning of the last century.


Generally you will likely find drawings on the walls of prison cells in earlier times, not sure if they qualify for the tag (in particular, they are not “public” artwork I guess).

I don’t think we have to define dates, we should rather leave it up to the mappers. But I would like to include scratchings and similar (i.e. creating images of text by removing instead of adding) in the definition, or have something specific for it, depending on what the others think. Historically I believe scratching was at the start of graffiti, hence the name.

If you search for “ancient graffiti”, you will find that graffiti were already present as a phenomenon at the times of the ancient egyptians or e.g. in ancient Rome (although I am not sure if they meet your requirement of “urban art form”, by an inclusive reading I guess they can be seen as such)

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The dates are not important in themselves. They are only useful for understanding what kind of artwork we are referring to: a graffiti as street artwork. As a work of street art, it makes no sense to talk about graffiti without the influence of contemporary artistic and aesthetic movements (dadaism, ready-made, hip-hop, etc.). These movements have an origin no earlier than the dates I mentioned in my previous post.

Something specific could be considered. I usually use the generic street_art value when it is an street artwork that is not graffiti or a mural as defined in the wiki.

A general value for street-art. The values mural and graffiti are more precise.

(Thanks for your comments.)

Well, dunno. Maybe? Although neither “words” nor “spray paint / rollers” nor “wall” seem to be the trigger terms that would distinguish mural vs. graffiti vs. streetart.

This for example would clearly be called graffiti in Croatia (and is one of more common types, labeling fans of certain soccer club here), even if contains no words at all:

This one I however labeled mural, even if it is made with paint rollers on the wall, as it was commissioned (instead of illegally made), and big:

While I agree that legality should not be sole criteria, I do think it plays a role in distinction of graffiti vs. mural (others being the size and subjective artistic quality).

Also sometimes it seems graffiti is done with other methods (instead of spray / rollers) like this or this or this or this. I’d still call them graffiti, would you?

Not intended to spark discussion about that, but as I understand at the time graffiti usually was (and quite often still is) modifying someone else’s property without their permission (and usually quite expensive to remove), such breaking of the law is bound to be annoying to said property owners.

I’d surely be quite negatively too charged if someone decided to paint something on my bicycle (or laptop or house or car or windows or whatever) without my permission, even if they claimed it was done quite artistically (and in many cases it isn’t, to add insult to the injury). Sometimes even artistically done graffiti is vandalized with random graffiti scratchings like here:

This for example would clearly be called graffiti in Croatia (and is one of more common types, labeling fans of certain soccer club here), even if contains no words at all

Maybe I can’t explain myself with my poor english. I tried to say that “words with spray on a wall” is the minimum threshold on which I expect we all would agree that is a graffiti. This is not a word, so is not in the minimum threshold I mentioned, so I expect not everyone agrees about =graffiti.


This one I however labeled mural, even if it is made with paint rollers on the wall, as it was commissioned (instead of illegally made), and big:

I agree that is a mural, no lettering.