Movement of Graffiti Art

Freshman (College 1st year) ・Art ・MLA ・4 Sources

In most modern set ups, there is often the eye catching art work performed on walls, trains, underground tunnels and public property. The illegal art work both painted scribbled or engraved in walls and other surfaces inside the public view is referred to as graffiti. Graffiti art work has taken a long time to be identified as a form of art due to the fact of its form of origin. Graffiti has since been identified as a form of art that expresses ideas, ideas and creativity through the use of public property. From its origin, graffiti has an affiliation with hip hop culture, funk music and rock amongst other forms of expressive arts. Despite the world vast recognition of graffiti as a form of art, most countries still treat it as a form of vandalism which is punishable like any other criminal offence.

History of Graffiti

Historically the terms “graffiti” emanates from Italy where art work was scribbled, engraved or scratched onto a surface. Ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt have traces of graffiti that were engaged on rocks, walls and caves (Fraser & Spalding, 27). However, unlike the modern forms of graffiti, the ancient forms of graffiti used basic communication and symbols as well as religious inscriptions which were not available to large audiences. The ancient forms of graffiti were not recognized as a form of art even though they were used to communicate and express emotions and cultural affiliations.

The contemporary graffiti traces its origins in North Philadelphia in the 1960s. Darryl McCray is credited for having started the art of graffiti through writing his name in different areas of the town. The art of graffiti later move to New York in the 1960s where anonymous teenagers started tagging their names in different parts of the city. After the Second World War the American economy plunged due to the reduced industrialization with an influx of people into the country. According to Fraser & Spalding (64), there was an increase of suburbs and other informal set ups mainly for the middle class and the poor people. Graffiti emerged and spread in the suburbs of New York among the African American population with the emergence of hip hop and break dancing.

Teenagers from the working class started tagging their names all over New York with the intention of sending a message of their existence, agonies and cultural affiliations. It is in the 1980s when the police and local governments declared war on graffiti in subways and on street walls that the elite art galleries, studios and artists started creating an interest in graffiti and an art. The 1990s saw the emergence of established and renowned graffiti artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey became recognized as graffiti artists and hence were accepted into the mainstream of art scene. In the early 2000s graffiti finally became recognized as a trend in art that uses public property to pass its messages (Fraser & Spalding, 80). However, graffiti still remains a controversial form of art as many of the graffiti artists still prefer to maintain the street aspect of the graffiti culture by displaying their work on the streets as opposed to the art galleries.

Types and techniques of graffiti art

Graffiti art has several classifications and among them is the street gang art. The street gang art was associated with gangs in the 1970s as a form of marking their territory and declaring their intentions. The anarchist street art on the other hand embraces the social, cultural and political agendas and expresses in-depth emotions of agony, rebellion and contempt among others. Although the protagonists of this theory argue that it is merely a form of self-expression of the artist, it passes messages and tells stories of struggles and personalities. Some of the anarchist form of graffiti include, Cool Earl, Corn bread, Taki183 and Banksy among others. In Gottlieb & Lisa’s views (26), the political protest art on the other hand embraces the political and social forms of rebellion and stratification. These types of graffiti are predominant in Northern Ireland, Belfast and Derry. The political protest graffiti tells the story of oppression, freedom and rebellion among other woes that the artists experience.

The techniques of graffiti include tagging which uses simple tags as a form of signing on a surface. Some tags however, can be complex and in calligraphic form. A throw up on the other hand is bigger than a tag and the artists use 2 to 3 colors on them. Apiece is a more sophisticated tag with a wide range of colors and an impressive form of visual arts. Pieces are particularly vulnerable to destruction by a rival graffiti group. Blockbusters are also becoming a more common form of graffiti. They get their name because of the large areas that they cover so as to stop other painters from painting on the wall. The top to bottoms forms of graffiti were more common in the 1970s in New York and hence got their name from covering entire subways. In the 1980s, Blek Le Rat started the stencil painting in Europe (Gottlieb & Lisa, 36). It quickly gained fame and spread to all parts of the world including the United States. In the contemporary world of art, most urban sets ups have the wild style arts that have interconnected letters or pictures with the aim of hiding their real meanings to unintended people.

Graffiti as a socio-political force

Throughout history, art has been a driving force for change, self-expression and a unifying factor. Graffiti art work has come a long way to be included among the other forms of art. In its hay days in the 1980s graffiti emerged as a form of voicing the grievances of the oppressed people in different parts of the world like the Soviet Union, Germany and New York among other places. In its initial phase, graffiti emerged as a form of rebellion and detachment from the working class, ethnic minorities, oppressive governments and economic exploitation by the marginalized groups in the suburbs. However, Thompson (92) denote that, the outlook of graffiti changed gradually as it became a culture and movement with the same themes but an additional purpose. Most of the people from the low set ups in the urban areas often find solace and authenticity from participation and inclusion of the graffiti art culture. Through graffiti most people that do not have a voice or recognition get attention and express their thoughts, ideas and creativity to the world as a form of street culture.

Graffiti has emerged as a unifying theme between the bourgeoisies and the working class because it does not only speak of the pain but potential. Most urban set ups have taken a new shape and transformation to what was initially considered vandalism to a form of art. Music genres like Hop-hop, funk and rock among others have greatly promoted the art of graffiti through incorporating them in their culture and themes (Thompson 67). Graffiti stands out to be a lifestyle and element that defines the streets, tells stories and changes perspectives of the marginalized people.

The double faces of graffiti

Graffiti has attracted mixed reaction from different people, although it is generally a form of expressive art, it also has a negative side. Graffiti in most urban set ups is used to brand gangs and increases crimes. Most graffiti artists often vandalize property in the process of expressing their art to the public. Graffiti brings forth a culture of chronic poverty, unemployment, economic instability and low education among the people that use it. To this effect, Guisela (134) agrees that graffiti is associated with high unemployment rates, low education levels and high crime rates. Graffiti promotes a culture of violence and contempt as well as rebellion towards authority.

On the other hand, graffiti is a form of aesthetic art that brands a certain area depending on the touch of the artist. Branding areas creates a unique outlook on one hand and helps in the gentrification process of the city. Most suburbs in the city are in a poor state and hence bring a negative image of the entire city. However, adding graffiti rejuvenates the appearance and aesthetic value of the areas giving them new artistic identities that tell the story of the people as opposed to misery (Guisela 100). Graffiti gives the people of a lower social status an opportunity to voice their political, cultural and social issues through vandalism so as to create the attention of the world. Vandalism makes the work of graffiti artists more visible and pronounced and hence gives them a chance to table their issues and get help and recognition from the governments and people from a higher social status.

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Works cited

Fraser, Benjamin, and Steven D. Spalding. Trains, Culture, and Mobility: Riding the Rails. Lanham [Md.: Lexington Books, 2012. (27)

Gottlieb, Lisa. Graffiti Art Styles: A Classification System and Theoretical Analysis. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2008.

Latorre, Guisela.Walls of Empowerment: Chicana/o Indigenist Murals of California. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.

Thompson, M. (2009). American graffiti. New York: Parkstone International.

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