Graffiti: What is it and What is its Purpose?

Edanny Graffiti art began in the late 1960s in the United States even though its history goes back to ancient times. Possibly, the many times you have walked by it, it has annoyed you or you have admired the talent of its artists. And at other times, you just glanced at it and you kept moving. Regardless of how you feel about this form of art, it is now part of your daily visual experience. From tiny tags of experimental teenagers to detailed master protest art, today graffiti has a special place in culture.

Graffiti has its roots in Italian word graffere which simply means scratching on a surface. The scratching can be on any type of surface with any implement, temporary or permanent. Today, most individuals have known graffiti as an illicit application of a medium to the surface. The medium can include charcoal, stickers, pencil and spray paints.

Graffiti ancient beginning

Graffiti art dates back to the Paleolithic age cave art. The oldest cave painting can be traced to around 10,000 years ago in the Old Stone Age. For a long time, historians have tried to identify the major purpose of the cave paintings and there are also theories which range from important events documentations like hunts and wars to ways of young men of that age to fill time. This might sound familiar since the same conversation still exists around the modern graffiti.

As time continues, paintings and etchings document many stories of the individuals creating them. The stories widely vary depending on the artists telling them. Further, there is graffiti that date back to the ancient Greece which includes a brothel advertisement in Ephesus and the first ever known depiction of Jesus on a side of a school dating back to the second or the third century. Most people believe that the graffiti is the first depiction of Jesus.

A graffiti form Pompeii is another clear demonstration of the art. Pompeii is an ancient Roman city destroyed and also preserved by the Vesuvius Mountain over 2000 years ago. According to historians, there is graffiti that range from sexual boasting to special events documentations to statements more similar to “Joe was here.”

In this modern era, the art is evident in very many cultures. From the Viking structures to the ancient Sri Lanka palaces and beyond, evidence of the graffiti work remains. The paintings, drawings and etchings include social issues, love and the art of those days.

Graffiti in the modern era

Graffiti served as a people’s voice in opposing the government or the mainstream society’s standing. The cries for revolution, efforts to reclaim spaces and recreation to social injustices exist among personal stories. The modern American graffiti dates back to the late 1960s and 1970s. The time was a breeding ground for the artistic medium. The American society was experiencing an upheaval of war protests and civil rights movements. Color television and psychedelic art brought bright color pictures into a full view. Roll and rock music and the early hip-hop were also influential.

How do graffiti influence the community?

Generally, graffiti sends a message that nobody cares and this attracts some other form of street delinquency and sometimes crime to the neighborhood. Graffiti can government money if not well controlled. Money which the government could spend on parks, schools, roads and other improvements ends up being used for graffiti cleanup. Graffiti also reduces safety feelings of residents. The societies with graffiti see the decrease of the values of their business, decrease in tourism, loss of business growth and decreased ridership in the transit systems.

Are all graffiti similar?

According to NCPD (The National Council to Prevent Delinquency) around 80% of graffiti are “tagger graffiti” while another 5% are large or pieces visuals. Gang graffiti makes up around 10% of all graffiti. Even though gang graffiti may be more, a large percentage of gang graffiti consist of throw ups, tags, and pieces.

A tag is a graffiti vandal’s moniker which people apply quickly and repetitively. A throw up on the other hand is more elaborate and people apply it in more than one color. Generally, vandals use balloon letters left or filled in as outlines. Pieces also called masterpieces are large and detailed drawings. They are colorful and may include cartoon like characters and to complete it, an individual may take one or two hours.

Gangs use gang graffiti to mark their territories, to list their members, offer contrabands or drugs for sale and to send warnings to rivals. They may include numbers or symbols that only law enforcement and the gang members understand. The general graffiti feature random markings, declarations of love, initials, graduation events, profanity, and social commentary and some other non threatening messages.

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Street Art 101

Today, street art does not have a “one size fits all” kind of definition simply because it has evolved from when it first began. It is not just about graffiti where spray cans were used as the primary material, but its is something much larger. The definition of street art to most people translates to vandalism and its grandeur is melted down to simple opinions. In every generation, people have spoken out because of social injustices and other forms of oppression and art- in one form or another has been one of the most fundamental platforms for relaying these messages. Then this begs the question “What is street art?”

In a nutshell, street art can be described as any art form that has been publicly displayed legally or illegally in the streets using different kinds of street art like graffiti, yarn bombing, stencils, sculptures and so on. Street artists prefer to remove the confinements of galleries and choose the streets as their gallery. How else can they communicate with the everyday person, who cannot go into a gallery and appreciate a piece of art? So, the following are the methods of communication in street art, in other words; the different kinds of street art.

1. Stencil

This form of street art is used when a street artist does not have the luxury of drawing a detailed piece on the wall. So a stencil comes in handy since its a template upon which a street artist can design any figure then come and paint or draw on it on the actual landmark. The stencil is usually made away from the landmark.

2. Wheat paste

In this art form, a street artist will use wheat paste as an adhesive and piece different things together on the landmark to bring to life an interesting piece.

3. Stickers and Posters

Stickers and posters are commonly used to relay common messages and they act as a form of advertising. They can be temporary or permanent, it just depends on what the artist has in my mind.

4. Graffiti

This by far is the most accepeted form of street art. Its resemblance to the oil paintings gives it an edge above the other forms and sometimes these artists are called by town councils to relay a message that will create awareness on certain issues. Most people use spray paint as the main material.

5. Sculptures

Sculptures are becoming popular by the day and the urban sculptures are made to blend with the surroundings or simply stand out. They tend to give a 3D feel to art.

6. Chalk

Another interesting art form is chalk. Since 1890, chalk has been used as a method of street painting usually done on the pavements and streets and now it is done in 3D. The drawings are usually semi-permanent because chalk can easily be erased.

7. Yarn bombing

It is also known as graffiti knitting, where the street artist displays a wonderfully crocheted yarn usually very colorful.

These are just some of the ingenious forms of art that will make you appreciate their intricacy, hard work and talent. Consider the above as an introduction to street art, since it is much deeper than the aforementioned forms.