Graffiti is a type of modern art that is considered for different purposes by different people. Some people use this as a tool for expressing their feelings and expression related to the society and to the life; others prefer it as a way to express their disagreement or agreement to the existing social and political activities. Roman Empire and some other important personalities used this method in the olden times, so it is not a new method. In the modern art, spray paint and markers are used for the creation of graffiti images or letters. Graffiti images and letters may or may not have a clear structure. Anyway in most situations the images created in graffiti can communicate with the society and can give a message to the viewers. Graffiti can be used for indicating particular gang’s activity.
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Susan Philip divided graffiti into two categories and this division is done based on the content, authors and for which type of audience it is intended. The first category is popular graffiti, which uses the national language for the writing purpose which makes it easy to understand for the audience, so people can easily enjoy the humor behind the graffiti and repress their response. One can see this type of graffiti in surroundings like bathroom stalls, beside the footway of College ground. According to the opinion of Bradley J. Bartolomeo, Additional Major in Anthropology, popular graffiti is “consistent representation in American culture inextricably links it to our contemporary social world — graffiti is a part of us.” (Bartolomeo).
The second category is community-based graffiti, which is considered a nuisance for the public. Here the pictures are exaggerated and it adopts a cartoonish style. It is difficult to understand for a common man and demands insight for the reader. It has complex meaning and its culture will depend on its native place. This is subdivided into many types and some important subtypes are gang graffiti, hip-hop graffiti, political graffiti etc.
Historical consideration of the graffiti
As mentioned at the beginning of the essay, it is not a modern method; it has a historical background. Recent archaeological study finds that our ancestors also used this art many years before. They found the evidence for it from the seashore of France. Walls of the cave were filled with Paleolithic graffitists. West America’s Great Basin area has many examples of the graffiti called petroglyphs in the prehistoric period. Another example of ancient graffiti can be seen on the walls of the Pompeii city. (Bullough and Bullough, p. 252).
A chapel at Hillerod has amazing amount of examples that are scratched in stone and these were developed in the seventeenth century. In the book ‘Windows of the soul’ its author Martin Henry Porter says that “Within the discipline of history itself, the consideration of graffiti as potentially significant evidence is bound up with the historical tradition of the history of the margins.” (Porter, p. 257).
It is an interpretive method that describes marginal and significant details like clues. Sigmund Freud also has the same opinion about graffiti. All ancient graffiti’s especially Greek and Roman graffiti give valuable information about social narration of life and events about the olden period. From these words it is clear that graffiti has historical importance and consideration.
Using graffiti in political issues
In many situations graffiti became a political issue. For example in 1972 in New York City many elected officials especially Major John V Lindsay conducted debates on graffiti-related policies and subjected public reports related to this subject. Media in New York play a vital role in inspiring and shaping subway graffiti in a good manner. New York council and Environmental Protection Agency took decision to scrub walls, public buildings and other places where the graffiti was marked. Medias gave enough support for this attempt. The city administration took a decision to ban sale of material used for graffiti, which is spray paint, to minors and Mayor announced an anti-gravity program in June 1972 and as per this program if anyone was caught with open spray was punished with fine and imprisonment. As an after-effect of this program General Welfare Committee suggested serious punishment for the people who do writing by using foul language. By this bill graffiti became an illegal activity. This bill warned people like merchants for self-regulation for the sale of spray paint to minors. Almost all people in New York cooperate with this bill and they helped the government to clean graffiti from their place.
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As the continuation of this program in New York City a work plan for the graffiti task force was developed and estimated expense around $24 million for this purpose. According to the words of New York mayor Lindsay the major duties of this project or program are “implementing and monitoring psychological field-testing for graffiti vandalism prevention and developing procedures for monitoring of procedures involved in implementation of restrictions.” (Forman, and Neal, p. 24).
This task continued and one can’t say government fully succeeded in preventing graffiti. As per the report, in 1981 also the city was fed up with graffiti. They allowed more funds for preventing this activity and they introduced German shepherd watchdogs for the patrolling.
This is an example of graffiti becoming a political issue in New York City. It is not a rare case. There are many other examples.
Regarding wall painting as crime
Graffiti or wall painting may be regarded as crime on certain occasions especially when such paintings are aimed at evoking racial or class sentiments. In modern times many consider graffiti as nuisance or as an unwanted element or a form of vandalism where a public property is damaged or defaced. Since graffiti is often associated with gang behavior its presence in a locality may cause fear or insecurity in the minds of people. This fear may sometimes badly affect the value and sale of land or property in a particular area.
Graffiti can be considered a property crime since it often involves trespassing and spoiling of private and public areas. It is the most costly among the property crimes in southern Nevada and more than 30 million dollars is spent to fight this crime there. (Crime Graffiti). Many countries such as New Zealand and some states in United States including New York and Philadelphia made attempts to curtail graffiti crimes by adopting measures like putting a ban on the sale of spray paints to teenagers and charging very high fines for violations.
Gang graffiti is also considered as having criminal associations. It is usually used by the members of a gang to mark their own particular territory, to provoke opposing gangs, or to keep the memory of a murdered gang leader. (Levinson). The extent of gang graffiti is well explained by Gottdiener and Hutchison, where they say, “The networks of allegiance and opposition signified by gang graffiti extend across metropolitan regions, into the public schools, and even within the prison system (Gottdiener and Hutchison: 2000, 224-227)”. (Gang Spaces).
Graffiti as part of Modern Art
The origin of modern graffiti is in New York City and it is recognized as New York-style graffiti. It started in the period of late 1960s. Teenagers were writing their names on street boards and subways with the use of permanent markers or tags. Demetrius, the Greek American youth, used the first tag called “Taki 183” and that helped him to become famous in his region. Thereafter, many persons were attracted to tagging and followed this style. But different styles of tagging already existed in Philadelphia before New York. The styles called Top cat and Cornbread were very famous in Philadelphia. The top cat tag’s lettering was long skinny lettering; therefore this tagging was well known in different names as Broadway style in New York. (Gottlieb, p. 35).
The arrival of new tool called spray paint helped to tag in any visible place in different colors. Spray paint and markers are considered as a very essential tools for modern art of graffiti. In later years artists started to do painting on trains especially subway trains. This type of graffiti work is known as subway art. This subway art helped the development of modern graffiti art. Good painting is always noticed by many people. The painting on train or writing artist’s name in unique style would help artists to become famous. Painting on train encouraged and attracted many artists to participate in the modern type of graffiti art. Graffiti is considered the main component of hip-hop culture. In the article Graffiti Art: An Essay Concerning the Recognition of Some Forms of Graffiti as Art, George C. Stowers Professor of Goldman says “The biggest promotional vehicle for graffiti art worldwide has been the Hip-Hop phenomenon which is the culture associated with rap music.” (Stowers).
Today the law, police are very strict and taking actions against subway art. Now the artists started to do painting on air freight, railroad, freight car etc. Subway art has opened a new style of painting called freight art. This style of art will travel different continents and help artists to become more popular in the world. (Stowers).
Graffiti in the classroom
There are different forms of arts existing in the world. Many art forms become the part of curriculum. Graffiti is recognized as an art, but Graffiti vandalism is considered a serious crime in many states. Therefore the authorities established different laws and policies for preventing graffiti vandalism. Many teenagers are involved in this crime. Students are writing in classrooms walls, desks, chair boards, windows with the use of different writing tools such as spray paint, marker etc. So, graffiti classes are very helpful for children to know about graffiti and its problems. Teacher has to conduct classes with the help of projector and also collect relevant data from various places. (Wilkinson, Morrow and Chou, p. 73).
Graffiti had existed in ancient world of nomadic people. They used Graffiti for communication purposes. We cannot teach the students about the significance of graffiti without taking classes on ancient paintings such as inscriptions on Egyptian pyramids, Greek temples scripts and wall paintings that recalling the ancient civilizations. An ancient graffiti helps children to know about their ancient generation, culture and style of living. There are many types of graffiti. An intelligent graffiti can develop the child’s mind. Writing on the public places such as subway, schools, bathrooms, hospital, colleges are very offensive. Many students are getting involved in this activity due to the lack of awareness about graffiti vandalism. Graffiti classes would help students with their civic commitments. But many instructors believe that regular monitoring in classrooms tends children to avoid the writing on public property instead of conducting classes on graffiti.
Conclusion: Modern graffiti art has totally changed from the ancient world. Painting or inscriptions in public places became a trend now. Many artists are attracted to participate in graffiti because of its wide acceptance and popularity. Anyhow graffiti vandalism is considered a crime in many countries. Government officials are taking serious action against graffiti vandalism. Government has established strict laws and policies for preventing graffiti vandalism. According to government officials, graffiti is a public nuisance and causes damage to civic properties. So the officials’ opinion is that graffiti should be banned from all countries and severe punishment should be awarded to those who involve in such kinds of activities. The artists’ point of view is that action against graffiti is totally wrong and it questions one’s freedom and rights. Graffiti tool, spray paint is poisonous substance. It is better than graffiti should be banned in all countries forever.
From the above-mentioned points it is clear that graffiti is a form of modern art which existed in the historical period. Different people and artisans inspired by this art form participated in it which entailed its wide acceptance and popularity. But painting on public walls and public property raises some social and economic problems. Now it is considered a serious crime like graffiti vandalism. For this reason many countries are taking action against this art form.
- Bartolomeo, Bradley J. Cement or Canvas: Aerosol Art & the Changing Face of Graffiti in the 21st Century: Styles and Meanings of Graffiti. 2001. Web.
- Bullough, Vern L., and Bullough, Bonnie. Human Sexuality: An Encyclopedia: History of Graffiti. Taylor & Francis. 1994. Web.
- Crime Graffiti. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.2009.
- Forman, Murray., and Neal, Mark Anthony. That’s the joint!: The hip-hop studies reader. Routledge. 2004. Web.
- Gang Spaces: How Street Gangs Transform Urban Space. All Academic Research. 2008.
- Gottlieb, Lisa. Graffiti Art Styles: A Classification System and Theoretical Analysis. Mc Farland. 2008. Web.
- Levinson, David. Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment: Volums1-IV: Gang Graffiti. Sage. 2002. Web.
- Porter, Martin Henry. Windows of the Soul: Physiognomy in European Culture, 1470-1780: Marginal Graffiti. Oxford University Press. 2005. Web.
- Stowers, George C. Graffiti Art: An Essay Concerning the Recognition of Some Forms of Graffiti as Art. 1997. Web.
- Wilkinson, Louise Cherry., Morrow, Lesley Mandel., and Chou, Victoria. Improving Literacy Achievement in Urban School: Critical Elements in Teacher Preparation. International Reading Assoc.2008. Web.