Graffiti: Writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.
Oh, how far have we come. From caves depicting our four-legged dinners to fantastic landscapes of lines. Graffiti has evolved with time, as does any art form, but what makes it special now in the same way it was special a thousand years ago? What is the virtue behind graffiti?
Beyond its physical properties graffiti is a representation of a subculture. It's a demographic reaching out to be heard most ineffectively. The idea that we can make something that represents us and our achievements that will also outlive us.
I first became fascinated with graffiti when I noticed something that had been hiding in plain sight for as long as I can remember. Train cars covered in art glided through my clean town like a traveling gallery. Their arrival stopped vehicles on either side of the tracks with train horn blowing the entire time. These art pieces flew by like white noise until I saw them for what they were.
A curated society, clean and proper (depending on where you live) has no place for this renegade expression. It is undoubtedly illegal. We can’t stop at that though. Train cars, the hill we weren’t willing to die on. The idea that you can put your name on something and let it run coast to coast as apart of your own exhibition.
We all make our mark on things. Graffiti takes the power of words and focuses on the beauty of the lines. What can we do to conform to this style and still be noticed? Where is the genuine expression in this art form? Graffiti is a rare place where art takes a risk. This vulnerability is an inherent natural risk as it pertains to self-expression through art, but add the legal risk of vandalism. You have art that has limited time, limited room for error, high risk, and zero monetary rewards. Graffiti thumbs it’s nose to art for profit, and says unapologetically, “I don’t care what you believe. or what you think is beautiful, look at this!”
This brash disregard is important. We need to be reminded of passion. We need to see the different perspectives that define meaning in imagery, and sometimes, we need to see them when we least expect it. We have no problem saying no to graffiti even though advertising permeates every facet of our culture. From billboards to commercials, to radio spots, we are force-fed imagery on a daily basis. Graffiti does this without the monetary reward, an art form that just wants to be seen and heard.
The energy behind graffiti is something only born out of angst. An art form that came from humble beginnings and would cease to be if it ever came out of them.
It is undeniable that there are lesser forms of graffiti. This is true for all art. Graffiti has managed to have all levels of mastery within this art form thrown into the same pot. Either we’re hung up on the medium, style, and message, or we can't get past the hooligan aspects of graffiti.
I am by no means saying that everyone should love graffiti. I would hope that you would be able to tell me why you didn’t if I asked. It may not be important to you, but in the light of its virtue, it’s hard to say it isn’t important at all.