“On a wall, there is something that gives a hint of cowardliness, vandalism, pain and beauty. And that is what draws us to look at it, and admire what’s within it. The origins of graffiti can be traced back to the Roman and Italian empires, as early as 100 B.C. The word graffiti, is the plural form of the Italian word “graffito”, which means to write or draw on a public surface. Graffiti is one of the most controversial forms of art, viewed by many as a positive form of self expression, while others define it as an act of vandalism. On a wall, there is something that gives a hint of cowardliness, vandalism, pain and beauty. And that is what draws us to look at it, and admire what’s within it. The origins of graffiti can be traced back to the Roman and Italian empires, as early as 100 B.C. The word graffiti, is the plural form of the Italian word “graffito”, which means to write or draw on a public surface. Graffiti is one of the most controversial forms of art, viewed by many as a positive form of self expression, while others define it as an act of vandalismOn a wall, there is something that gives a hint of cowardliness, vandalism, pain and beauty” (Lynard Norris). And that is what draws us to look at it, and admire what’s within it. The origins of graffiti can be traced back to the Greek, Roman and Italian empires, as early as 100 B.C. The word graffiti is the plural form of the Italian word graffito, which means to write or draw on a public surface (If it’s Hip it’s Here). Graffiti is one of the most controversial forms of art, viewed by many as a positive form of self expression, while others define it as an act of vandalism.the most controversial forms of art, viewed by many as a positive form of self expression, while others define it as an act of vandalism. For your subtopics, have you considered discussing: 1.) Some detail about the historical significance, applications, of early graffiti 2.) The evolution of the art form throughout time 3.) Graffiti as a modern, urban form of expression. 4.) Legal implications of this art form and any attempts to legalize or promote it?
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In ancient times, graffiti was carved on walls with a sharp artifact, or painted with organic pigments. It was mainly used to express political messages, and to inform the members of an empire about an upcoming event. Although these “markings” were often created by liberal citizens, they were also sponsored by the government, to show their social ranking, and intimidate those who did not obey their commands. These forms of early graffiti, mostly displayed magic spells, declarations of love, literary quotes, and stories about daily life in society (Graffiti). However, not everyone would dare to implement this form of art, because it was constantly penalized. Many of these inscriptions can still be found in sepulchers and temples, as well as pillars of important monuments, helping historians learn more about past civilizations. As history evolves, so does graffiti.
Throughout the years, graffiti has been a cultural and aesthetical tradition that continues to cause controversies around the world. From its early days to the present, this form of art has always been among the most non ephemeral forms of human expression. As the times change, new forms of graffiti have been created. From “scratches” and paintings, to “throw ups” and “peaces”, the world has experienced the ever changing revolution of graffiti. “Having a neutral connotation in two different spectrums from two completely opposite worlds” (Shelby Sparrow), graffiti has modified and accustomed itself to “fit in” in all social classes, and atmospheres. Even though the techniques have changed, the attitudes have not. Everyone has a different point of view, agreeing or disagreeing with this act. Being a very biased subject, “it reflects culture and art, however it also influences divisions in society” (Jeremy Wegener). Now used by political activists to make statements, and gang members to mark territories, it is hard to define who is an illustrator, and who is a rebel. One can accurately infer who is involved in the modern graffiti movement, differencing a “tagger” from an “artist” by learning more about their forms of expression.
“I don’t call what I do ‘tagging’, what I do is art. It’s my thoughts, feelings and expressions. Tagging is going out and throwing up one line scribbles, I don’t do that” (Erick Ortega). In the late 1960’s, a new form of art emerged. As one of the pioneers of modern graffiti art, “CORNBREAD” started to make himself known to the city of Philadelphia, by writing his name on train cars (At 149st). This radical movement was later called motion art. In 1972, Hugo Martinez founded the United Graffiti Artists Association, just a year after the New York Times Magazine published an article on “TAKI 183”, the first recognized graffiti Artist in America. Many people question who does graffiti, and why they do it, but the answers remain uncomprehended, rather than unanswered. “To me, it [graffiti] means releasing stress or life worries, through a simple shake and spray of paint, I started hitting walls, and now I’m addicted” (Jaime Jackson). Those who don’t call themselves artists or taggers, define themselves as “writers”. Because they don’t only draw, they compose feelings, and show stories that they couldn’t express in any other way. Among the many “rules” of graffiti, there are also various slang terms for the terminologies used, some of the most common include: Tag- to make a piece of graffiti, Toy- A new, inexperienced writer, Throw Up- One layer of spray paint filling in bubble letters that are outlined in another color, Hit/Hit Up- To tag, Wild style- A complicated piece constructed with interlocking letters, Fresh- Really good graffiti (Graffiti). Although these “writers” express many words with “slang”, they have a very open understanding of language, and literacy, applying it to their pieces of art, but leaving their “thoughts” for open interpretation. “A lot of people don’t even write anymore, we are forgetting the concept of literature, and ignoring the correct use of our beautiful language. I understand that graffiti can be a big problem, but when those individuals go out and capture an idea that brings inspiration to others, that’s when I feel proud of this urban form or art. They just need a place to do it, that’s it. They shouldn’t get in trouble for doing what they love” (Crispin Sartwell).
According to the San Diego Police Department “Today, graffiti is a sign of urban decay. It has become everyone’s eyesore. Graffiti generates fear of neighborhood crime and instability. It is costly, destructive, lowers property values and sends a message that people of the community are not concerned about the appearance of their neighborhoods. It is also against the law!”. In 2009, the maximum fine for “tagging” was $2,200, or 12 months of imprisonment (Law Link). These severe punishments have been driving “taggers” out of the streets, but not even these ultimatums can wipe out the graffiti environment completely. Cities all over the world, have been trying to put an end to this vandalism, but others have taken “street art” into galleries and museums, separating it from gang graffiti, which often has a poor taste, and is done strictly for marking territories. In New York City there are at least 20 art museums that promote graffiti art, and have used it to spread messages of peace and love around the world. From stop signs that read “war” under them, to murals or “public walls” designed to show the consequences of a dysfunctional world, graffiti art is polemically inspiring people, one “tag” at a time.
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Somewhere in the world, there is a wall that is waiting to be read. Waiting to be judged, waiting to be admired. That wall is waiting to be discovered, and interpreted. This wall knows that it will be inspiring to some, maybe deceiving, or disappointing. It will bring creativity to someone’s mind, or anger to someone’s heart. But this wall will be discovered, and with it, different opinions will come. As we look around, we see that the world is in constant change, always being affected by those who habitat it. From the early days of graffiti, to the forms in which we now know it, art has shaped and rebuilt the basic idea of “writing on a wall” countless times. From hieroglyphics to carvings, to scratches, to oil pigmentations, to spray paintings, and from caves to tombs, to streets, to museums, graffiti keeps altering itself to match our world, and remain an active part of it. Graffiti art has always affected society, creating dilemmas on whether or not it is a “true form of art” or just a “rebellious act”.
Why does graffiti exist? It began as a form of expression, a way of communication, and evolved to be a form of art, showing talent, and being available to all social classes.
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