By Melanie Ullman
Graffiti is a term used to describe drawings or writings on a wall or public place. It is commonly seen in subways, alleys, or other forms of public property. Some people consider graffiti as vandalism, while others insist that it’s art.
While it’s true that graffiti is sometimes used as a weapon of subversion, it can actually be an immensely positive form of artistic expression. Crude graffiti sometimes involves cheap barbs at symbols of authority, or even vulgar messages. But sometimes graffiti can be a force for change. For example, shreds of the Berlin wall contain graffiti that expresses the feeling of the post-cold-war generation. Many of these artists have no experience of the wall except through history classes. They have no real concept of the pain, suffering, and sacrifice that the long slab of concrete represented. But they do have feelings about it, and these feelings can be understood by analysing the graffiti on that wall.
Another example of positive graffiti is the concept of reverse graffiti. It ranges from using your finger to write ‘wash me’ on a dirty car to scraping images into a dirt stained wall. The concept was popularised by street artists, and is sometimes called grime writing, dust tagging, or clean advertising. Commercial entities use it for guerrilla advertising. These artists suggested that instead of cleaning the accumulated dirt on public surfaces, they should simply modify it. They did this by using chisels, wire brushes, and other tools to scrape images into the grime. The images were mostly themes from nature like trees, animals, and fish. The clean patches of concrete contrasted the dirty patches to make calm, serene pictures.
Graffiti as we know it began in the 1960s, and mainly consisted of images painted on public walls using spray cans. The art is considered illegal, because permission was not sought. Today, some commercial companies hire graffiti artists to decorate their property. It is used as a form of advertising and sometimes promotes social causes. This form of graffiti is more easily recognized as art because of its legality.
Some argue that placing images on public walls is not necessarily a bad thing. From as far back as the Stone Age, people painted animals and other motifs onto rocks and cave walls. We generally assume that these paintings were done on the cave dwellings of the painters, so that wasn’t necessarily graffiti. The walls were private property and were painted with the permission of the owners.
But others argue that very fact that graffiti is illegal proves it’s an art. Many underground movements have produced some of the greatest art, and this is especially true in the music world. This argument is built up by mentioning the time factor. Many graffiti projects are done at night, because the artists don’t want to get caught by the authorities. Yet despite the time limits and the darkness, they are still able to produce immensely beautiful and intricate images. The ability to create such fine work under so much pressure is the mark of a true artist.
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