But Which One is Fine Art?

But Which One is Fine Art, Plate 2

But Which One is Fine Art, Plate 1

Today I uploaded two photos to my Flickrstream. They are the two photos above. One of the photos was taken at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, one of the pre-eminent fine art museums in the world. The other is graffiti and was taken on Market Street in San Francisco (it’s now been painted over already).

So ask yourself this question. Which one is graffiti and which one is fine art? Would you want one of these paintings hanging in your home over the other?

Post your answer in the comments on my blog post on this and I’ll report back tomorrow with a breakdown of the votes and who was right and who was wrong. C’mon, don’t be chicken, post anonymously if you want. Can you guess which one is which? You might be surprised.

My photoset of paintings here. My photoset on graffiti and street murals here.

Be Sociable, Share!
Loading Facebook Comments ...


  1. ryan says:

    I guess the top one. Though much of modern art is based on context, and intent. Something that always bothered me in art school.

  2. smlg.ca says:

    Top art, bottom graf. Both meh.

  3. Ken Douglas says:

    Great question!!
    Looks like I’m first with an opion…so here goes\;

    I’m guessing that plate 2 is from the museum??

    I’d rather have plate 1 (the lower of the two above) on my wall though!!)

    As for the reason why – I’ll have to come back to you on that one.


  4. greywulf says:

    I prefer the bottom one, so that’s probably the grafitti 🙂

  5. The top one is the fine art. Looks like a devil attacking a woman.

    I’d prefer the second one on my wall though.

  6. TranceMist says:

    They were probably both done by the same person. 🙂

    So the real question is, why would you buy the one from the gallery?

  7. Bo Nash says:

    I’m gonna guess the blue one is the graffiti, and I’d also prefer it in my home.

  8. Greg Tarnoff says:

    I wouldn’t want either on my wall, but I think the bottom one (blue) is the graffiti. There are distinct shapes that I see in it resembling the remnants of a “graffiti” like typography.

    That being said I have always been one to question “what is art?” and wondered who really gets to decide. It is only graffiti anyway when the canvas is someone else’s property.

  9. Anonymous says:

    yeah, the “use of white” in the top one seems a lot more “intentional”
    probably took the same amount of time, though
    i prefer the bottom one, actually, which, as greywulf stated, probably makes it graffiti, hahaha

    i fking hate the art world
    god damn money!!!
    it’s always the elitism that kills stuff for me


  10. As I see it, both graf and portable paintings are Art and neither are the only things that are. Art is in the perception, the appreciation – not in the object.

    Duchamp is often quoted with two statements that are relevant here, “The viewer makes it Art” and “The only thing that is not Art is inattention”.

    That covers this, so 20th century, issue for me.

    Thanks for posting the examples and posing the question.

  11. DrSetebos says:

    The top one is the museum piece and the bottom one is the graffiti.

  12. I like the second one more, it seems like more effort was put into it. First one seems more of a mistake and its not that interesting visually.

    Having said that, the top is probably the museum one – just because.

  13. geoff says:

    I LIKE the one on top better than the one below it. It’s more “me.” So if I hazard my guess based on narcissism, I’d say the top is “art” and the bottom is “graffiti.”

    But remember Marcel Duchamps’ R. Mutt hung in a museum when it was first made, and caused a great stir. One of the lessons learned then is that museum ownership doesn’t make something great.

  14. Tom Quinn says:

    top = art
    bottom = graffiti

  15. Jeremy says:

    Guessing that the top is the “art” and bottom graffiti. Seems to be the dominant guess, so I hope it is wrong 🙂 I am not a fan of this type of “art” personally, so this my very untrained guess.

  16. Jonny says:

    I think this one is the street graffiti. If you remember me from before, you already know my very negative view of graffiti. Of course, I wouldn’t buy either one for my wall…

    It’s not a matter of art… of course they are both ‘art’, it’s a matter of respect. You don’t break into someone’s house and nail a painting to their wall, no more than you should go spraypaint a public or private area without permission…. no matter if it is ‘art’ or not.

    I doubt anyone would disagree that graffiti is art, but the problem lies in the disrespect of public or private property.

  17. Rajiv Das says:

    Bottom One is Art

  18. Anonymous says:

    I meant, the top one is art, bottom one is grafitti.

  19. Honestly I find them both to be horrible. If I saw either in a museum I’d wonder who broke in and vandalized the place.

    No love for ‘modern’ art here.

    Esthetics aside, people have to pay to get graffit off of their buildings, whether it has artistic value or not, it’s still damaging something someone else has to repair.

  20. Katie Heupel says:

    I think the top is the graffiti and the lower is the art. I wouldn’t hang either in my house. 🙂

  21. Anonymous says:

    Graffiti is on the bottom.

  22. Jay says:

    I’m going to guess that the top is art and the bottom is graffiti. I actually like the bottom blue/yellow one. I’d hang that in my house! The top one looks like a kid’s finger painting…

  23. Anonymous says:

    they are both art, and if i were to purchase one for my home, I’d get the top one

  24. The one that didn’t violate anyone’s personal property rights is art. The other one is graffiti.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I prefer the top one as it has better composition and movement. the other is too chaotic and staccato… Regardless of where either is located, the top one is more interesting IMO.

    – Superchou

  26. kathleen crane, devil duck says:

    i’m no chicken. i’m a duck.

    from a philosophical perspective, they’re both fine art and graffiti.

    but to answer your question, my guess is the one with primarily blue and yellow was intended “graffiti” and the other is “fine art”

  27. Heidi says:

    I like the blue one on the bottom (so it’s probably the graffiti!)

  28. Rich says:

    the question is moot. graffiti is not an art form. graffiti is a way to place art. graffiti is about consent. If I post my photography in an art gallery without the consent of the owner, it would be graffiti.

    In the end it does not matter.

  29. ~Kooz~ says:

    I would guess the top one as the fine art, but I prefer the look of the bottom one(It seems to have more emotion).

  30. Anonymous says:

    It doesn’t matter which is which – because graffiti is vandalism regardless of it’s artistic merits or the lack thereof.

  31. mark says:

    Graffiti is vandalism, no matter how beautiful it is.

    If someone buys a red car, then someone else comes along and paints it yellow, the owner is going to be pissed off… no matter how good a job the yellow-painter did.

    You can’t differentiate between abandoned buildings and non-vacant buildings. Graffiti is graffiti, no matter where it is. It is still defacing someone else’s property, it doesn’t matter if it has artistic merit or not.

    I can’t believe some people don’t get this concept.

  32. Jonny says:

    Also…. Thomas, you argue so much regarding the rights of ‘artists’ to own the copyright to their work, but then in the same breath completely disregard the rights of property owners.

    So the rights to ‘intellectual property’ are more valuable than the rights of physical property owners? I come here and read your blog all the time, but you have got to drop the double standard on this issue.

    I love art, but the right to art doesn’t overrule the right to property.

  33. The Kyle says:

    My guess is that the bottom one was taken in a museum, as seems to be the more complicated and time-consuming of the two pieces.

    …not that there isn’t graffiti out there that has taken more time and talent than many of the pieces in most museums I’ve seen.

  34. fswerk says:

    top one from the museum, bottom one from the wall. i like neither

  35. ChiliMac says:

    I’m gonna guess the top one is fine art. Mainly because it looks like their are some distinctive brush stroke. Personally though, I don’t care for either. Not my taste.

  36. Ray says:

    They’re both appealing. I actually prefer the blue. That’s also the one I think is grafitti.

    I’m not trying to down it, or say it’s not, but I’ve always had a problem with this type of painting as fine art. That is, I have a hard time appreciating it as art. There just seems to be no craftsmanship in it. I’m much more concrete than this Pollockesque type of art. I’d much rather have a photograph that I can actually process.

  37. The blue on is the graffiti.

  38. j03 says:

    The top one is fine art, the bottom grafitti. Grafitti is art too. I like them both.

    However, It doesn’t suprise me that most people prefer the blue one (grafitti). It’s color palate is far simpler and more accessable to the masses. It’s also suggestive of spring time which everyone is anticipating.

    That people dislike the top one as an example of their dislike for “modern art” in general doesn’t suprise me either. The brown and orange and black colors give it a much more depressing mood.. much more autumnal.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Bottom ‘fine’ art, top wall.

    But seriously, anything that I could potentially paint at random really stretches the word “fine”.

    Both are kind of interesting for a glance, but I wouldn’t hang them on my wall.

  40. Anonymous says:

    It’s a trick question. Neither is fine art. The top one is a random oil painter’s palette. The other is the floor of Jackson Pollock’s studio.

    Sorry, but I say the Emperor has no clothes. Guess that makes me a philistine.

  41. CJPhoto says:

    The top one is the “art” …

    But I prefer the second if we were rankning them as modern art.

  42. The soft brush strokes of the first were probably made with an expensive brush. I’ve never seen brish strokes like that on graffiti, which is usually made with sprayed paint or marker. However, there is evidence of brish strokes on the bottom image.

  43. mattbg says:

    Neither of them look like fine art to me.

  44. Mystrish says:

    The top looks like a child designed it, so it is probably the graffiti. The bottom looks, to me, like a musical splashed on a canvas.

  45. Nice post.
    i’d prefer ther the bottom one in my home

    the top one is almost ugly

  46. mbg says:

    Top one is de Kooning. So, the bottom must be the graffiti.

  47. […] Flickrite Thomas Hawk posed that question on his blog today. He has posted two images, one is a painting in a well known […]