Difference between graffiti and mural

As far as I have been able to find out, graffiti has been linked to spray cans since its origins. Other forms of street art (or post-graffiti) are less so, although they also use spray paint.

1 Like

I do wonder, do you consider modern (i.e. 1990+) writings on the walls artwork_type=graffiti? e.g. COVID-19 antivaxer writings like this do not seem to hold any artistic value; yet many would call such writing-on-the-wall propaganda true graffiti (and claim that the artistic ones are just an evolution, and that the primary purpose of graffiti is to make (often repressed) idea (or other things like territory marking!) publicly visible to everyone, and visual appealing is just to make them more memorable and likely to be shared)

So, if I understand your stance, to be tagged as artwork_type=graffiti, it should be contemporary graffiti only, 1970+ ? OSM as such is certainly in position to define what some OSM tag means, it does not need to mean to what some dictionary or wikipedia says is meant by words used in that tag (although it does help with data quality in OSM database; as terms which can be understood in different ways in English than in wiki.osm.org are more likely to be mistagged, thus reducing the tag value for everyone)

I too think that to exclude the scratchings from definition of graffiti would be quite counterintuitive, as that is what they were historically, and even today, I’d still say that majority of the graffiti (depending on the region, of course) are more of message sharing (usually propaganda e.g. anti-vaccine, or territory marking AKA tagging often with stencils, or youth daring trying to prove themselves as “brave” to their peers by defying authorities or sharing messages of love or hate) then the art (which would often be closer in quality and artfulness to stuff that I tend to tag with artwork_type=mural).

1 Like

Well, I’d connect spray cans to graffiti only with about the beginnings of hip-hop culture. According to wikipedia and other sources I’ve linked earlier, graffiti term and usage in art predates that by quite a bit, but I acknowledge that you disagree with those definitions / that you’ve suggested than only 1960-1980 and newer forms of what wikipedia calls “graffiti” should be tagged as artwork_type=graffiti in OSM.

Ah, OK, I think I understand now. So some will think that paining of the dog is graffiti (like myself), but some others may think it is not, because it does not contain letters (apart from that one lowercase “d” in its mouth, which is not a whole word, although it does symbolize one).

So, if I understand correctly, your take is that

But it does have lettering, it says “Europske snage solidarnosti” in top-left corner. Although I’d agree that the majority (90%+) is a picture, it does contain text too. Would that change your take on whether it is mural or graffiti?

Quite interesting! Do you reject them as “graffiti” because they’re just scratchings (i.e. they’re just messages lacking more artful expression), or because they were made with other means and not spray cans / paint rollers?

I find this discussion quite interesting, and would like to thank to everybody who is participating. To get a better understanding, I’d like to show you 12 numbered pictures, and would appreciate if you would give a response whether you consider it “graffiti”, “mural” or “neither” (also add optional comments if you’d like to explain why in cases when it is not clear!).












Nope, here lettering is secondary. The quote I posted some days ago well summarize the concept imho:

In this image lettering is seconday, not colours and designs.

Both. Comparing graffiti art with random scratchings is a long history, quoting Vulkan again:

“How can this word define these beautiful murals on the sides of trains and on handball courts and still mean the same thing as a scribble in a bathroom stall?”

  1. mural
  2. graffiti (complex lettering, different colours, reflections, outline)
  3. graffiti (from a very mediocre writer but still, there’s an outline)
  4. plain vandalism (not artistic, not notable)
  5. plain vandalism (not artistic,not notable)
  6. graffiti puppet
  7. plain vandalism (not artistic, not notable)
  8. no idea, do we have a tag for engravings?
  9. graffiti with puppet
  10. it’s a chalk writing, but do we even care? we don’t map temporary elements.
  11. stencil so I would map it as artwork_type=street art if it was notable enough
  12. plain vandalism (not artistic, not notable)

Of course. If they are graffiti, they should be mapped as graffiti.

I have no stance on this subject, only what I find in books on street art and what I am learning from this discussion.

Some authors say that the origin of graffiti is in the 1960s. Others go so far as to establish the year of the first graffiti in 1970. However, everyone seems to agree that graffiti developed influenced by contemporary artistic and aesthetic movements, and that its emergence as a form of street art is related to the invention of spray paint cans.

In the initial post of this discussion are summarized the definitions that appeared in the wiki. Those are our initial references to deduce what type of artwork they are referring to.

  1. mural (but might be graffiti instead if it was not comissioned but illegally painted)
  2. typical graffiti (above-average but still not great artful letters + sends a message). Also might be vandalism.
  3. graffiti (of mediocre art quality, I agree!). Also more clear vandalism.
  4. still graffiti (very low quality, but there is basic 3D attempt at the “NHS” lettering, even if no fill-in). Also clear vandalism.
  5. vandalism in form of graffiti scratchings
  6. graffiti. I’d guess it is vandalism, but there is a chance it might have been commissioned instead (who knows with today’s guerilla marketing :smile:)
  7. vandalism in form of graffiti scratchings
  8. I’d say graffiti; it’s scratchings on the wall; even if not painted. But might be something else I agree.
  9. typical graffiti (above-average but still not great artful letters + sends a message). Also vandalism.
  10. Dunno. I’d be tempted say graffiti too, if it was on the wall protected from rain. As it is, too temporary? (but then again, many of the above “graffiti” are likely to be miniwashed / painted over soon depending on the country. Perhaps it is even more of a reason to upload them to the wikimedia commons and tag on OSM before they’re gone?)
  11. stencil graffiti. I’d tag it as artwork_type=graffiti as it conveys a message (which to me is principal requirement of graffiti – the message might be text, but it might be graphical only and requiring user to know context – see my example with bulldog and letter “d” as example). street_art implies to me that is must be art (it has it in the name!) while graffiti has no such requirement as I understand their definition
  12. vandalism in form of graffiti scratchings (although it does show bad attempt at two-color 3D effect)

few extra comments:

  • Notability is, ah, hard to say. By themselves, none of the scratchings above are notable. As a group, they are however quite a notable statement of the times. Depending on the time available, I might still be tempted to upload at least several examples of them to wikimedia commons and tag them on OSM.
  • “graffiti with puppet”, would you @ivanbranco think it is a separate subcategory from “letters-only graffiti”? What if it was “puppet only without letters”, would that still qualify as “graffiti” or would it become “mural” or “street_art” (or something else) instead?
  • regarding vandalism: every act of painting, if not explicitly allowed/commissioned by owner of the property (often wall), is illegal modification of the property and thus vandalism. Some forms of vandalism might be more visually appealing to random observers then the others, but the owners will still usually object to such changes to their property without their authorization. If someone repainted your Tesla model S in light pink with nice picture of whatever without consulting you first, you’d still probably be quite annoyed. (just an vivid example, not endorsing Tesla here or implying that you have one :slight_smile: )
1 Like

Example 8 is an engraving. I’ve ever used that value to map historic objects (flood mark).

P.S.: Here in Carreteria Street (Malaga, Spain). In this case it is a historic object, but I imagine that there could also be artistic engraving (I have not found any yet).

But isn’t their imprecision the whole reason for this thread? As you note, artwork_type=graffiti was defined solely as “A notable graffiti work”. It does not restrict it only to contemporary hip-hop and newer era. If one were to consult wikipedia entry on graffiti (as is common fallback when wiki.osm.org is lacking) it would show a different picture (e.g. it seems to me that majority of examples there are either “puppets” without letters, or texts/messages without artistic form)

That is obvious, but what is “graffiti” to you in those 12 examples I’ve linked from wikimedia commons? I’m sure we’ll disagree at least some of the examples (more probably majority of them as I seem to take quite wide interpretation of them, and you more narrow), but I’d genuinely be more interested on if there are some on which different cultures will agree are graffiti. (which is not to be taken for granted - it may well happen that Venn diagram of intersections of “graffiti” definitions of people in this thread results in an empty set. That would be unfortunate, but still better then not knowing. And if there is any common ground, that would be quite the useful thing to find out and document)

Thanks! I’d love your take on other 11 examples too; it would be quite interesting to see what is common ground on those.

Ah yes - because words can have more general meanings? It would be more apt to ask “how can a word have single precise and unwavering meaning equally understood by everyone on the planet, even through different cultures and different times”? And argue that it is in fact impossible… But such is the way of words, and usual attempt at solving it consists or inventing new words with more precise and elaborate meanings, and then repeating the process when those are found to not be precise enough.

And it’s not just “beautiful murals” vs. “bathroom scratchings” as in that quote. Sure, I’d differentiate between “Graffiti art” and “Graffiti scratchings”, but I would also differentiate between commissioned works and acts of vandalism (even if both were to result in “beautiful mural”), as I would between just a simple image/puppet and a thoughtful and inspiring wording (or a combination of both) and a just taggings (“territory markings”) or propaganda stencils. Yet all of those seem to be contained in such a small word “graffiti”.


One of the popular words in computer world is “hacker” which can mean both “person skilled in information technology who uses their technical knowledge to achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle, within a computerized system by non-standard means” and (completely opposite!) meaning of “criminal breaking in critical systems by unathorized means and destroying or stealing data, often without lacking even the basic skills themselves but by using tools written by others”.

I also included the definitions in other languages. Note that the artwork_type page defines graffiti as a form of street art, different from the mural.

I have no personal opinion on the difference between graffiti and mural. I created this thread to know the suggestions of the community on this point.

However, everyone seems to agree that graffiti developed influenced by contemporary artistic and aesthetic movements, and that its emergence as a form of street art is related to the invention of spray paint cans.

I don’t think “everyone” agrees, because there were already examples of newspaper articles speaking about graffiti for drawings older than the spray paint cans. What seems clear is that before their invention you would have had to use a different technique :wink:

1 Like

So far all the books on street art that I am consulting agree on the characterization of graffiti as an art form of our days. I’m not saying that all people around the world think that. I’m just talking about the authors I’ve been able to read so far.

I am aware that letters can be written/painted with other techniques, although it is not the art form referred to by these authors. They do not make a study of graffiti from the cave age to the present day, they limit themselves to studying the graffiti explosion of our days as a form of street art.

As I said before, I have no opinion on whether the difference of a graffiti with a mural is the one we are discussing here or another one. I am still researching that topic and learning from your comments. I’m not defending any stance, just commenting some things I’m discovering in case they help to focus the discussion.

Example 8 is an engraving.

this one is somehow similar to https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Reichstag_russisch_17864_duhanic.jpg which shows preserved WW II graffiti in the German parliament. The Russian “I was here” scribbles qualify as graffiti and also clearly as historically significant (otherwise the architect wouldn’t have chosen to preserve them, would he?), but aren’t suitable for “artwork” tagging I think (or maybe they are, with the conservator as “artist”?)

They were certainly preserved for their historical value. I would not qualify them as an artwork. For history enthusiasts (like me), these things are extremely interesting, valuable in themselves and worthy of preservation, even if they lack artistic value or are not particularly notable artistically.

1 Like

exactly, can they be tagged? Would they qualify as “graffiti” for you, maybe without “artwork”-tags?
There is a proposal for historic=epigraph Proposal:Epigraph - OpenStreetMap Wiki that would work for the Kilroy example, but I guess not for the Reichstag example?

Looks good to me.

I have added a new section with a preliminary draft about when not to map graffiti due to its temporality or illegality. Suggestions?

(I think it would be convenient not to go into too much explanations and not to establish strict rules, just enough for the local mapper to understand this problem).

When not to map

You can add any artistically notable graffiti to the map. However, there are some exceptions to this rule.

We don’t map temporary features. Since graffiti can sometimes be very ephemeral and is often done without permission on public or private property, the aspect of its temporality and legality should be taken into account before adding it to the map.

Some city authorities prohibit graffiti and remove them from their streets. Others just remove some and leave those that are artistically notable. In other places it may not be officially allowed but the authorities tolerate it (for instance on concrete pillars or abutments of bridges, retaining walls and the like).

Some municipalities offer spaces where graffiti artists can practice their art. Keep in mind that many of these graffiti, both in spaces provided for them and in other areas of the city, may end up disappearing quickly (sometimes within a few days or even hours), even if they are notable graffiti, so they should not be added to the map.

The legality aspect is also problematic. Each city has its own rules regarding graffiti. The knowledge and collaboration of the local community can be essential to know when not to map graffiti.


I’m a bit late here but like to add my 2cent to your list: I’d see No.1 as a mural, No. 10 as a temporary chalk thing and all the others as graffiti - some of very poor quality, others quite artistic but nevertheless graffititi to my understanding and the common definition by different public sources.

I am sure a member of the sprayer scene or a graffiti expert could add more details and probably the one or other argument why some of them do not qualify to be “real” graffiti, but I think OSM is primarily a geo database and one cannot expect every mapper to become an expert for graffiti or other artwork to be able to map such stuff.

That is why I still vote for keeping the mapping of street art, murals and graffiti as simple as possible (… KISS) and allow mappers to interprete the objects they find by their own discretion and tag accordingly. Btw. I myself would not map any of the above samples at all except No. 1.

1 Like