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Graffiti: A Form of Art

Many people generalize graffiti as thoughtless vandalism in the form of gang signs. Most associate graffiti with crime and violence; however, it is worthy of being associated with urban art and cultural expression. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word graffiti as “unauthorized writing or drawing on a public surface.” The connotation of the word graffiti has been misconstrued to represent tagging, though tagging is just a small facet of the art form. Graffiti is a thought provoking and fresh art form that is a vehicle for voicing political and social opinions.

A Lightning History

The earliest known example of graffiti is surviving in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, in what is now known as Turkey. It is believed to be an advertisement for prostitution showing that a brothel was close by depicting a handprint that resembles a heart and a footprint with a number.

Graffiti was still common by the 1920s, when it covered the sides of boxcars. In the 1970s, political slogans such as “Dick Nixon before he dicks you” were painted over American public property. An example of the subgenre of rock-and-roll graffiti is the famous “Clapton is god.” inscription on the London subway. Graffiti today has progressed to a form of mainstream urban art and hip hop culture that is respected and hated by many.


Graffiti, like most modern art genre, comes in many different styles or subgenres. The most commonly known form is “tagging.” Tagging is often the example that opponents of graffiti point to as vandalism. A graffiti artists ‘tag’ is his personalized signature that often contains their crew’s initials in a cryptic message.

A genre called “pissing” is a very difficult art style. The artist fills a fire extinguisher with paint, aims as high as twenty feet, and keeps his hand style steady enough to tag his signature at this height. Another subgenre is “wild-style.” To create “wild-style” graffiti an artist interlocks the letters of his tag with many connecting points and designs.

Negative Connotations

The words ghetto, hood, poor, and lower-class are often thrown into a sentence referring to a graffiti artist. Graffiti art is not the result of just poor, urban, lower-class, African American teenagers. Not only do half of graffiti artists come from Caucasian, middle-class families, but they exist internationally all over the world. Male and female as well as old and young all have contributed to graffiti art. Artists write graffiti for many reasons. Some are begging for recognition and fame for their work. Some artists are looking for a way to express political, social, and artistic feelings. The reasons for the graffiti and the artists themselves truly make this an art form and prove it not vandalism.

In summary, graffiti becomes art according to four criteria. First, graffiti art is separated from everyday graffiti markings by the artist’s intention to produce a work of art. Second, graffiti art has an established history of development in style and technique. Third, graffiti art has been recognized by the art world. Fourth, the public response to graffiti art indicates that it is art. Art is anything that is aesthetically pleasing with its form, color, and creativity. Graffiti is truly a form of art.