Graffiti: Class or Collapse of Art? Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 22 December 2016

Graffiti: Class or Collapse of Art?

Graffiti means writing on wall. Anything marking or writing, on anything is a common practice for humans right from the time when they learned to do so. It is not easy to get rid of the habit, but a section of refined society now gets angry at that and calls it a social problem, besides naming it as graffiti vandalism. Therefore this essay looks at this problem and tries to explain why graffiti serves more than it harms. Broad Meaning of Graffiti

Though the latest Wordpower Dictionary defines graffiti as “unauthorized writing or drawing on a surface in a public place” (Graffiti, 2008), in reality, the word contains more meanings, where it includes any expression on any surface. This is an age-old practice, and once it was the only way for people to release emotions or to share ideas. Even the word ‘graffiti’ is taken from the old Greek word ‘grafficar’, “which generally means drawings, markings, patterns, scribbles, or messages”, in “written, painted or carved form on any surface” (Stowers, 1997).

Thus, graffiti can be defined as a visible example of human expression, ranging from cave drawing to the scribbles on road. But there is more. It also has high utility and artistic value. Actually the practice of graffiti and the desire to improve it has helped the development of art in many ways. Therefore it would be unfair to see graffiti in the light of vandalism. One should consider the role of graffiti in the society as a whole – where it informs, educates and entertains people, besides passing all food for thought.

It is true that everyone wants to be noticed, and that wish sometimes gives birth to odd wall writings or bad messages. But that is just a little part of graffiti, which has developed as a serious art over the years. However, there is a link between random graffiti and the development of fine art. In fact this random graffiti practice by the teenagers in 1960s gave birth to graffiti art – which gradually has risen to rank after it took the cue from the teens of New York who would ‘tag’ or write their names and addresses on the body of subway cars.

Soon the normal improvising tendency of humans followed, which added spray painting into it, gradually various styles of writing came up, followed by local and regional styles. With time, this flow of events pushed graffiti from casual art to a serious art. And this wave of artful declaration even created a genre of artists who would devote their skills on numerous surfaces except the conventional canvases or other objects recognized as the carrier of art, like piece of wood or metal, etc.

Thus subway scribbles grew into subway art, and then moved on towards many directions – converting trains, cars, boundary walls or public places into static or moving exhibition of various expressions – some of them would be praised, while some would draw public anger for carrying wrong message at wrong place or for being an artless wonder or painting the town red with spray painting. Value of Graffiti Graffiti is valuable on many grounds and the majority of the society accepts that. Otherwise it could not have reached such a great height.

Today graffiti artists are in great demand where they are commissioned to do the beautification of large areas or open spaces, trains, bridges etc. It is now an established fact that graffiti provides much needed relief to the mind with its ‘homely’ or ‘comely’ effect. It can provide a food for thought too – especially if it contains serious social messages like anti-drugs, anti-smoking or anti aids. Why it is Criticized Today? Much like other areas of life, graffiti art too is blamed when it does anything that hurts public mind.

Bathroom scribbles are not, by any means graffiti art, yet they belong to the rank of graffiti, so are the self-expressions that make their way to the neighbors’ boundary walls or even terraces. These are pure vandalisms, not graffiti art, these acts cannot be supported, even if some of such works look beautiful or hints about the promise of future Picassos or Rembrands in their creators. Art at the cost of others suffering cannot be supported, and from this angle graffiti is sometimes criticized mainly because of the wrong selection of ‘canvases’, which belong to someone else or belong to public.

However, this practice of mischievous art is age old too – there are plenty of proofs across the globe where ancient graffitists stamped their mark on the places of interest – even “archaeologists have found ancient graffiti on the great pyramid at Giza in Egypt, on walls of Pompeii” (Graffiti, 2008). How Graffiti Fulfills the Preconditions of Art Leaving aside the little faction of scribblers, the real graffitists work even harder than the conventional artists at times. Graffiti art too takes no less imagination, skill, planning and hard work to produce an expression over unconventional canvas.

However, like a twist in the tale, quite a few of graffitists made their mark after such roadside stints in their teens. As for example, James Top, a graffiti artist now known as “Train muralist” (Carlson, 2008), who in his own words, had started his apprenticeship in graffiti at the age of 12 years when he joined the gang of graffitists, who would spare no house in the neighborhood from their ‘projects’. James has come a long way from writing his names on the building walls to create murals for the trains.

This gives another twist to the debate – even childhood tagging can spark the artist in a person – and it is still really unknown that how many of today’s famous artists taught themselves through this mischievous dose of adventurism. The working methods or the principles of drawing or painting, all are equally applicable to graffiti art like any painting job, especially if it involves spray painting (Chalfant et al. , 1987), besides the application of the tricks of varying perspective or other fine touches of art. Graffiti art has also come a long way establish numerous branches of application.

It also has its own language, like “Crew”, “Writers”, or “King”, “Queen”, etc. , which indicates a thorough cultivation of this form of art (Farrell, 1994). It’s Not Terrorism Anyway No matter how much a dull, black scribble on a white wall creates visual pollution, it’s not a third degree offense as to arrest the person for antisocial act. In fact this inherent habit of humans to commit nuisance command a fresh look at the subject itself, because this habit is not limited into graffiti vandalism only, it equally works at eve-teasing or street vandalism.

Thus it would be unfair to push graffiti from the rank of art on account of a common human habit that shows up in all other areas of life. On the other hand, if someone wants to look at this subject from a considerate point of view, one would surely discover that not everyone could rise to a stature of finished painter, though inwardly wishing to be one – and thus it’s that deep, unfulfilled desire eventually makes way to such nuisance. Nuisance is, however is not as menace as terrorism and it does not make sense to blame a form of art only because any visible human expression technically can be included in its category.

Possible Reasons Behind Such Acts Under the blame-game, one important question often takes a backseat – Is it good to block the age-old learning habit by practicing art in an open space? Even in the ancient times the artists and painters practiced their skills over the rocks or any other places that would prove suitable to their chosen form of expression. Those days are gone. Now cities are crying for space, where the skyscrapers block the skyline. From this angle, graffiti vandalism could be seen as a side effect of too much urbanization. Mirror Reflection

Off late, a term like reverse graffiti is often being heard, referring to a “number of street artists around the world have started expressing themselves on the soot covered surfaces through images, tags or positive slogans on environment” (Chapman, 2007). This proves a point in favor of the graffiti artists – not all of them supports graffiti vandalism. Since these artists are over their teens, it indicates that most of the graffiti vandalisms are mostly the immature enthusiasm of the teenagers. Conclusion There cannot be any doubt that graffiti is an art.

It is only a misconception arising out of the wide meaning of the word ‘graffiti’ influences the protesters of graffiti art. Hence it would be wrong to generalize graffiti art as vandalism. However, it is also a fact that even graffiti vandalism has proved to be the breeding ground for future artists – perhaps it is the lack of space or peer influence that encourages the teens (mostly) to ‘tag’ or ‘write’ on walls or public places. In any case, it is not a crime of a great degree – unless it shows it purposefully shows hatred or uses filthy language.

Leaving aside these, graffiti art too commands creativity, imagination and skill, besides a desire to meet the challenge to express ideas on an unconventional canvas. Therefore, the writing on the wall is – graffiti will stay, irrespective of recognition or debate, so long the humans would think and want to express their thought.


Carlson, J. 2008. “James Top, Graffiti Artist”. 1 April 2008. http://gothamist. com/2008/02/18/james_top_graff. php Chapman, M. 2007. “Reverse Graffiti: Clean Green Street Art”. 1 April 2008. http://www. inhabitat. com/2007/01/11/reverse-graffiti/ Chalfant, H. & Prigorr, J. 1997. “Spraycan Art”. London: Thames and Hudson. Farrell, S. 1994. “Graffiti Q &A”. 1 April 2008. http://www. graffiti. org/faq/graffiti_questions. html “Graffiti: Vandalism posing as art? ” 2008. 1 April 2008. http://www. users. bigpond. com/rdoolan/graffiti. html Stowers, G. C. (1997). ” Graffiti Art: An Essay Concerning The Recognition of Some Forms of Graffiti As Art”. 1 April 2008. http://www. graffiti. org/faq/stowers. html

Free Graffiti: Class or Collapse of Art? Essay Sample


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 22 December 2016

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