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Graffiti: an eye-catching art.

20200106-Graffiti-an-eye-catching-art Photo: Streets Dept Oral History Project

Is graffiti a vibrant urban art form or senseless vandalism? When did graffiti first become popular?

Usually graffiti is considered as a very new and modern type of art, but actually the origin of it dates back thousands of years. Of course, we are not talking about graffiti art as we know it today, but lot of cave cravings and drawings are graffiti as well. Graffiti is writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place, so those cave cravings which were made in public space was also sort of graffiti.

Graffiti has always been represented as an informal way of self-expression, which led to thinking that in ancient times, graffiti was produced exclusively by lower social classes. However, there is a decent amount of graffiti in Pompeii that expresses political opinion as well as ones that can be even associated with military personnel.

This teaches us that being a member of high society in ancient Rome did not necessarily mean being exclusively formal. Even though it is difficult for us to imagine a serious member of Roman high class writing nasty things about their political rivals, it sure is fun and casts a different light on our image of ancient people.

Nowadays we can see many types of inscriptions wherever we go, from public announcements to laundry commercials. And yet, there is something rude, even violent, when we see someone’s love confession on a wall of a public building. The reason? The love confession is completely private, and as such, it violates the public space. Moreover, there is no form of authority behind love scribbles! This is one of the reasons that ancient graffiti is often disregarded as a viable source for studying antiquity. However, their presence in central and visible spaces (public spaces, inside houses, and around workspaces), suggests that ancient people did not share our views.

About modern graffiti as we know it today, it all started only at 1970s when the hip hop culture stated to develop. Also before there were signs and drawings made on walls with spray paint, but within hip hop culture these graffiti became real artworks that are not only simple images, but colorful, specially designed signs that were really eye-catching. As hip hop subculture formed in New York City, this was the place also graffiti developed. Lot of hip-hop elements was included in graffiti and they gradually became real art works. They were detailed, with complicated composition, shadows, perspective etc. Some people started to see it not only as type of protest, but sort of art.

Later, when the whole world was intruded with this art, it started to commercialize and became a part of pop culture. People started to consider as something very trendy and hip hop artists and fans wasn’t only ones who used and appreciated it anymore, although in most cases the hip hop elements were remained in art works. Nowadays graffiti is still quite popular and used for many reasons.

For decades graffiti has been a springboard to international fame for a few. Jean-Michel Basquiat began spraying on the street in the 1970s before becoming a respected artist in the ’80s. The Frenchman Blek le Rat and the British artist Banksy have achieved international fame by producing complex works with stencils, often making political or humorous points.

With the advent of the Internet and the development of various graphic software and technologies, street artists now have a multitude of tools at their fingertips to assist in the creation and dissemination of their works. Specialized computer programs allow artists to better plan for their graffiti pieces and prepare their stencils and wheat paste posters, while digital photography used in conjunction with the Internet and social media allows Street Art works to be documented, shared, and thus immortalized where previously, most pieces tended to disappear when they were removed by city authorities or painted over by other artists.