The True Nature Of Graffiti Cultural Studies Essay

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The issue I would like to raise here is related to the art of graffiti. Graffiti is a form of art which has existed since thousand years ago. Snyder (2009), states that graffiti dates back to ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. As a matter of fact, there were found examples of graffiti in ancient Italy in 1851(Nicholas, 2004). According to Goldman (1995), art is a medium through which we can travel to other worlds. It appears unexpectedly and when we realize that, we travel to those other worlds. Besides, graffiti as Armac (2005) argues mediates between culture and everyday life since this kind of art expresses feelings and conveys messages as well as innuendos about the sociopolitical reality of a specific era.

Its impact on various fields is worthy of note. As Lewisohn and Chalfant (2008) maintain the areas that have been affected by graffiti are several forms of art, designs, music and lifestyle. A new kind of art has been introduced through graffiti which none has seen before and its influence on several religions, ethnicities and social classes has been great.

Another field which has been influenced by graffiti is graphics design. This kind of art can be considered as communication between the viewer and the design. Both graffiti and graphic design can promote products through words, images, shapes and illustrations (Susan, 1999). There is always a certain message to pass when doing graffiti. However, this message may be either positive or negative.

In the light of that evidence, I intend to raise questions regarding the true nature of graffiti. Is it vandalism or a kind of art? There are several misconceptions when it comes to this kind of art, since there are those who intend to vandalize by spraying over walls and fences. Consequently, society tends to consider both artists and taggers criminals.

I aim to clarify the difference between taggers, those who vandalize others' properties and the art of graffiti.


Literature Review

The multifaceted culture of graffiti

Reviewing the literature will help shed light on graffiti and show the several sides of it.

Around 1960, graffiti was used as a form of expression by political activists and gangs (Lewisohn & Chalfant, 2008; Cooper 2007). Around the 1970, it has become increasingly popular among both teenagers and adults as a result it received both applause and harsh criticism. In the light of this information, it is made evident that graffiti is multifaceted and requires our utmost attention.

In order to clarify the difference between legal forms of graffiti and illegal ones, I find it wise to go back to the history of the earliest forms of graffiti. Graffiti is one of the oldest forms of creating art used by people who lived thousands years ago in the form of cave paintings and pictographs using animal bones (Nicholas, 2004).

This kind of art was used by lower social classes in urban areas as a way to transfer

There have been outstanding figures in the domain of art graffiti such as Banksy and Richardo Mirando (Ganz, 2009).

Graffiti can be defined as words or drawings scribbled or scratched on a wall

(Armac, 2005). As Naar (2207) states, the term "graffiti" derives from the Greek word "graphein" which means "to write" and it is the plural from of the Italian word "graffito".

As I have already stated, graffiti has roots in ancient Italy, when people wrote on the walls and buildings of areas they invaded circa 1850 or even earlier when people carved animals and drawings on caves that symbolized rituals and other moments of their life (Naar, 2007). Taking this in account, it is evident that even in ancient times people managed to device ways to express their feelings and communicate their ideas.

Graffiti as art form started in 1960's. "Julio 204" and "Taki 183" were some of the first "tags" written on the walls in New York.

What those two started, it finally developed into "New York Style" graffiti. Nevertheless, tagging first appeared in Philadelphia and then in New York. The nicknames "Combread" and "Top Cat" were already popular in Philadelphia and when "Top Cat" became known in New York was given the name "Broadway Style" because the letters were long.

Graffiti was done mainly by African Americans of lower social status (Lewisohn & Chalfant; 2008). Both graffiti and tagging became increasingly popular in 1970's and astonished everyone as a result children and adults from several nationalities, religions and social backgrounds started writing.

Although lately graffiti has developed dramatically as form of art and spread across the world, New York is still considered the centre of graffiti (Lewisohn & Chalfant; 2008).

Graffiti Styles

Here I describe various graffiti styles that have existed so far and discuss graffiti community and entertainment (Grody & Prigoff, 2007). At last there is brief discussion on the effect of graffiti on society.

To start with, there are five main styles of graffiti (Castleman, 1984). The first one which is the beginning of graffiti art is the "Tag Style" which was first used by Takis 183, Julio 204 and Frank 207. In the course of the years those tags became more decorative (Castleman, 1984; Naar, 2007). The second style is the "Bubble Style" which consists of bubbled letters and developed circa 1970. The third style is the "Blockletter Style"; square block letters that appeared to walk and the forth style is the "3-D Style" developed by a Bristol writer, Pistol 1 (Markus & Arthur, 2003). Finally, the fifth style is the "Wild Style Graffiti Letters", a New York Graffiti development which is used to describe letters hard to read because they are connected through arrows (Cooper, 2007).

Once graffiti started developing, there were sprays and tipped markets used not only for art. However, around1974 when it started growing competitive, writers wanted to distinguish and tried to create several styles. Illustrative elements as well as cartoon heroes were introduced and brought about the mural "whole car', walls and vehicles covered in graffiti. The decades 1970s and early1980s, subway graffiti became a trend until 1989 where it faded away; graffiti taggers and artists were prosecuted and punished by the law. By that time a significant part of graffiti culture was lost.

However, graffiti community spread across the world even stronger and more decisive.

In the early 80s, they organized meetings called such as in a famous video called "style wars" to exchange ideas, styles and transfer their works into special books called "Black books" (Cooper, 2007). Those meetings posed a challenge for artists and helped the evolution of art. Hip-hop concerts were another event where legal graffiti artists could show their talent in front of many viewers something that made it quite entertaining.

Graffiti became very popular and as writers argued, graffiti is a kind of addiction in that those who are involved get obsessed with it (Martinez, 2009). This could be evidence why graffiti has never died.

Later on, graffiti was introduced to galleries where everyone could see it and make their own judgements regarding the value of those works, the power and techniques employed as well as considering whether it is a legal form of art or not.

Big industries such as Coca cola and Sony have used graffiti in their commercial since graffiti attracted many people especially teenagers (Martin, 2009; Stewart 2009). For instance, Sony created a game called "WipEout Pure", where one can see and live the writers getting up live, something that helps developing skills and promotes legal graffiti since children can practise graffiti at their home instead of vandalizing others' properties (Cooper, 2007; Martinez, 2009).


Illegal forms of graffiti-Legal forms of graffiti

In this chapter, there will be reference to several illegal acts of graffiti as opposed to legal graffiti. Over the years, the art of graffiti has excited many people as a consequence it has grown into a highly competitive activity (Ferrell, 1996). The competitive nature of graffiti has led some gangs to tag others' properties to mark their area. Illegal graffiti has turned society's fascination into rage and desire to eliminate graffiti once and for all.

Even today, the situation is so uncontrollable in some areas that there are many writers who are beaten up if they cross other gang's territory (Barnard, 2006). According to anti graffiti association, graffiti is any kind of mark on others' property without their consent (Ferrell, 1996). Graffiti grows into obsession as a result it is hard for someone to abstain from this kind of "drug" (Felisbret et al., 2009).

Therefore, the authorities have been trying hard to tackle this issue and spend considerable amount of money to recover the walls that have been vandalized (Barnard, 2006; Cooper). The government tries to eliminate "street art'', through the legislation of strict laws and antigraffiti actions that aim to create anti vandal squad in graffiti areas and banned spray paints to under 18 (Castleman, 1984; Ferrell, 1996).

However, there are those who allow graffiti artists to spray on their properties either because they own places such as skate parks or they just value the beauty of this kind of art (Felisbret et al., 2009; Gastman & Smyrski, 2007). Besides, there are graffiti artists, who consider illegal graffiti crime and those who are involved with it criminals rather than artists. Legal forms of graffiti are usually respected; carry artistic value and some of them are displayed in galleries and museums.



Here I refer to two of the most predominant figures in graffiti art whose works indicate that graffiti as a form of art is not only legal and permissible but also crucial in that it mediates feelings just like every piece of art should do. However, it can be found in unexpected places with bold letters and unconventional presentation something that makes it seem illegal; it is a piece of art though (Mailer, 2009; Markus & Arthur, 2003).

The first artist is Richardo Mirando born in 1961 in New York. He is known as "Seen" and can be referred to as "The Godfather of Graffiti". Although he started as a member in "United Artists"and painted on subways in 1973 his works are now displayed in galleried around the world. He is famous for the 6,5 and 2 lines as well as producing full colour wholecars.

In 1980, he started painting on canvas and some of his works included artists like Keith Haring and Dondi (Stewart, 2009).

Despite his fame across Europe he preferred New York subway trains until he admitted defeat to Metropolitan Transportation Authority. In the late 80s, he opened tattoo studio in New York. Recent works of him include mixed media with discarded material, three dimensional sculptures and a series of hand-painted limited edition MTA New York subway maps.

The second artist is Banksy born in Bristol UK in 1974. He has gained reputation for combining original street art and a distinctive stenciling technique, to promote alternative aspects of politics (Clarke, 2007). He is also known for his contribution to charities fon instance Greenpeace (Clarke, 2007).

Although his works are valued are also criticized. Those who support his work believe that his stenciled graffiti represents the voice of those who live in urban areas and add to the aesthetics of the urban surroundings. Nonetheless, there are those who argue that his works are vandalistic and that he is a careerist and sellout (Clarke, 2007).

His works are displayed in several museums around the globe; he also managed to hang one of his works in London's Tate Modern. A piece of his work hung in the British Museum, shows a primitive cave and a figure which is hunting while pushing a shopping cart.

He has also published several books depicting his works where his ironic attitude towards politics is evident (Banksy, 2003).


By and large, graffiti seems to constitute a domain with rich history and leading art figures. It is a vast area of contentious history which has exerted influence on the history of art and humanity. None can deny its effect on culture since many are those who got involved and tried to interpret or imitate graffiti art.

In this essay, I am interested in studying graffiti as a form of art rather than as a criminal act. I give a comprehensive account of the origins of graffiti, several graffiti styles in an attempt to get a glimpse of this miraculous kind of art.

Although it was first used by those of lower social standing, it has now become a means by which people of every social and financial standing can communicate with. In other words, it can be considered a kind of language that unifies people from different ethnicities, gender and social backgrounds since it goes beyond any boundaries of language and religion. Now the majority of writers paint on canvas whereas years ago graffiti was used by writers only for tagging their name.

As it has been seen, graffiti has received harsh criticism since there are those who used it to damage rather than to beautify and promote this art. Nevertheless, I maintain the view that there should be a line between vandalism and graffiti.

However, graffiti has been proved by Seen, Banksy and other artists, an ultimate moment of creativity that manages to elicit several feelings and ideas instantaneously, as a result none has found to disqualify this kind of art.