The purpose of this article is to get a greater understanding of what the art form called “Graffiti” is and how I can use it in a positive way to further my career as a Designer or Artist.
The problem I have is although I like Graffiti and recognise it as an art form, from it’s small sketches and font styles, to large multi-stories murals and stencils. Graffiti is still wildly seen in two very contrasting views.
The first view on Graffiti is how I myself see it. Graffiti is a true form of art that is recognized as having a profound positive effect on many different lifestyles. Graffiti, if done right can be used in many different positive ways. These include brightening otherwise dull areas of space, and advertising new products in an exciting method.
For me, Graffiti is a release from day to day life and the norm. It gives me the opportunity to express myself. My ideas and my feelings can be shown through the medium of art. My drive is the need to see art on blank spaces, to breath life into otherwise derelict sites. A wall can become a canvas in which art can be made. The use of the urban landscape, as a canvas is always a constant to me and will continue to provide me with new and challenging ways in which to produce my work.
The second view is the one I feel most people view Graffiti as. They see it as a form of vandalism, which should and is punishable by law. To them it is an unsightly image of criminal behaviour and one of the main reasons areas of the community become abandoned and because of this they choose not to recognise the artistic merits and creative thought that goes into some of these artworks.
While I do partly agree with this view and do recognise that some Graffiti such as quick “tags” and poorly done messages like “mark was here” and “Jeff 4 Kate” for example are pointless. I do however believe these few examples give the rest of Graffiti a bad name and because of this gives people the wrong idea of what true creative Graffiti is.
In this Dissertation I will explain how graffiti can and is being used in positive ways to benefit communities, industries and the lifestyles of others. I hope to change the ways people view forms of Graffiti and give them a chance to see it as a true art form with it’s own artistic merits.
To understand how people and mainstream industries can use graffiti in a positive way we must first understand what graffiti is. What is its meaning and history? How it has been influenced by this history and how it has become accepted so it can be used in modern day communities.
The word Graffiti is devised from the Italian word Graffiato meaning “scratched” and is the name given for any type of lettering or image that is scrawled, scratched, marked or painted in any manner on someone’s property or any object.
The related word Graffito involves scratching through a layer of pigment to reveal another layer of pigment underneath it. Potters, who would glaze their pots and then scratch a design onto the surface, used this form of artwork.
As long as there has been written communication there has been a form of Graffiti. In fact Graffiti can be traced back to the very earliest forms of written and drawn communication such as cave paintings and carvings.
They were carved on walls and ceiling within the caves that people lived in and also on the tools they used such as bones, stones and pieces of wood. They were most commonly made by scratching images onto the surface with sharp tools. However the best examples were painted by using different chalks and types of coal and other ground-up materials to create the colours and paints.
These types of early communication carried on for thousands of years and evolved into early written languages such Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese calligraphy. The only known source of an early Arabic language came from a piece of graffiti in southern Syria. This was scratched onto the surface of rocks and dates back to the 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D.
These images and writings provide us an insight into the normal street life and how ancient communities worked and communicated.
Ancient forms of Graffiti can be found not just in the Mediterranean, but also around the world. Examples of Viking Graffiti can be seen at Newgrange Mound in Ireland and at the Mayan site of Takal in Guatemala images of the Mayan’s way of life can be seen in Graffiti scratched along side sculptures on their buildings.
These forms of messages and writings from ancient times form the basis of what Graffiti is today. They are ways for people to communicate to one another and to make an expression or point of view stand out and be noticed.
In modern times Graffiti has evolved into many different styles and forms. Spray paints and markers have replaced the crude scratching and chalks as the most commonly used tools and materials, however they are still wildly used to this day.
Due to the advancements in materials there has also been an evolution in the methods and styles in which Graffiti is done. While there are far too many different styles to name and each country having there own ways of communicating them, there are some main groups that different types of Graffiti fit into.
These groups are often classed by how big an artwork is, and how elaborate they are. In this way is has become easier to see the skills of each individual artist.
The first of these main groups are called “Tags” and are by far the most commonly seen and wildly used forms of Graffiti. It is also the type of Graffiti that “enjoys” the most negative views and feedback by the majority of people and governments.
A Tag is the most basic form of modern day Graffiti and is most commonly used as personalized names or signatures of a Graffiti Artist. They are designed to be simple and quick to do. In this way large numbers of them can be done in a small amount of time. The object being is to “get up”, to have as many tags in as many places as possible, therefore to be seen by as many people as possible.
Tags can often contain cryptic messages within them and also the artist initials and other letter of importance. Sometimes they can include the year that they were produced. So an artist’s name like “Hox” can become Hox04, Hox05 and so on.
Tags, which become larger and more elaborate with the use of more colours and techniques, are sometimes called “pieces”. They often include the use of stylized “bubble” and “block” lettering. These artworks take more time to do that the simple Tags and therefore increase the risk of a Graffiti Artist getting caught.
The final evolution of a Tag design is called “wildstyles” and involves the use of interlocking lettering, arrows and other shapes, all connecting to one another. These wildstyles are harder to read by non-graffiti artist as the letters and shapes can merge into one another in an undecipherable way.
Larger types of Graffiti, which cover bigger areas can go by several different names, most commonly they are called “Blockbusters”, “Rollers” and “Fill-ins”.
These types of Graffiti have two main purposes, which are firstly to been seen from a distance, to stand out from other artworks and secondly to fill spaces and block other writers, artists from using the same area.
With the development of computers and programmes such as Photoshop and Illustrator, there are more ways in which Graffiti can be shown. These examples include cut out stencils and large wallpaper type designs, some of which can be several stories high or cover whole buildings.
Stickers are also being used as quick ways to “get-up”. Some artists find this method to be lazy and it could be seen as a form of cheating. However they can be colourful and detailed in their own right and are often used beside other materials and forms of Graffiti.
So far in this dissertation I have explained the history of Graffiti, how it’s modern form came to be and shown some of it’s main styles and types. Now I have to find out what effects Graffiti has on the communities they are located in and how they can be used in a positive way.
Different lifestyles, languages and social views influence different forms of Graffiti. These influences can be in the form of different types of music, such as Hip-Hop and Punk, which can be seen, has having a renegade feel to them. This is one of the main reasons in which Graffiti can appeal to the “rebellious” youth of today.
Graffiti is seen as being one of the main elements of Hip-Hop along with DJing, Rapping and Break Dancing. The relationship between the Hip-hop culture and Graffiti comes from the increasingly elaborate forms of the culture in places where other elements of Hip-Hop were mixing and evolving.
Both the Hip-Hop and Punk cultures are seen as being responsible for creating a new wave of Graffiti styles and methods since they began in the early 1970s. Teenagers with nothing to do and who would most likely get into trouble in the form of gang and street life now had a way of expressing themselves in new ways that didn’t involve violence.
Hip-Hop MC Kid Lucky quotes “people used to break dance against one another instead of fighting”.
Music such as Punk and especially Hip-Hop were not centred on drugs and violence, as many people believe. They can and are still today, being used in positive ways in which today’s youth can be encouraged to express their own views and opinions on world, social and personal issues.
They are seen as an outlet and a method of dealing with the hardships in troubled communities and a way of dealing with the violence of gang culture. An example of this can be provided by a man called Afrika Bambaataa who was himself once a gang leader. Inspired by Hip-Hop and the culture it represented, he formed the street organization called Universal Zulu Nation. This organization’s main goal was to get young people out of the gang culture and to help them live a better and safer way of life.
This shows that graffiti, while having some negative impacts, does benefit a wide range of people from different backgrounds. However like the musical movements of both Hip-Hop and Punk it is opposed by conservatives and the status quo because they still feel it promotes and romanticises law breaking and violence.
In most countries, defacing property with Graffiti without the owner’s consent is considered vandalism, and is punishable by law. Large amounts of money and resources are committed to cleaning up and stopping further Graffiti. If an artist is court in the process of doing Graffiti than he or she can be expected to be faced with large fines and even the possibility of imprisonment.
This way of dealing with Graffiti is the most common method used by governments and local counsels, as it requires little thinking on their part. However this is just a short-term method, as Graffiti artists will always look for other challenging ways to express themselves.
Due to this negative approach to Graffiti, no effort is made to promote the positive aspects of this art form. Areas such as youth centres, art galleries, children day centres, etc could by transformed into colourful places. This type of work could even promote the areas and bring in more people, therefore helping local business.
This way of allowing Graffiti to be used to benefit communities forms a new view and idea into what people see Graffiti as. Slowly it is becoming a more acceptable art form and has started to integrate itself into other elements of society.
Street art is the name given to a new art movement that has been evolving over the past ten years and has only really taken off in the last few years. Street Art does share a similar description to that of traditional forms of Graffiti. And can include traditional Graffiti artwork, stickers, street posters and stencils, video projections, guerrilla art and street installations. More commonly, the term Street Art or as it is also known as Post-Graffiti is used to describe contemporary artwork from what people see traditional Graffiti to be.
One of the main differences between Street Art and traditional Graffiti is the use of technology in the art. As earlier with the development of the computer and art programmes, forms of art such as stickers and stencil are becoming more popular because they are easier to produce with the help of these programmes and are also quicker to do on site due to most of the prep work having already been done on the computer.
With the introduction of technology more and more elements of our lifestyle are being subjected to the style and images of Street Art and Graffiti. They are being used in advertising to promote products in new and exiting ways. The most common method seen today is the use of animation in television and Internet adverts. Backgrounds are filled with images in the style of Street art which move around the screen, lines, geometric shapes, shadows and colours are all used to create a energy in an advert giving them a bold, fresh and new age feel to them, which appeals to the youth of today.
This type of “new age” advertising took form in the late 90s and early 00s and was first seen as a risky, but bold new approach to show various products. It started with larger companies, who had the money and resources to risk. Two of these first companies to get involved were Sony and IBM.
In 2001 IBM launched an advertising campaign in San Francisco and Chicago, which involved Graffiti Artists spray-painting images of peace symbols, hearts and penguins onto building walls and sidewalks. This was to represent peace, love and Linux. But due to some illegalities most of the artists were arrested by local police and charged with vandalism. IBM itself was fined over $120,000 for clean up costs and court settlements.
Later in 2005 Sony began their own advertising campaign involving Street Art and Graffiti. Cities all over the USA including Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Atlanta were targeted to market it’s new hand held gaming system called the PSP.
Taking in to account the problems that IBM had, Sony paid building and land owners for the right to paint on their property, therefore the Graffiti images made would not be seen as vandalism by the law. These images showed urban kids playing with the new PSP as if they were on Skateboards, bikes, boats and cars.
One of the backlashes to this form of advertising was other Graffiti artist felt these big corporate companies were invading there way of life and taking away the whole idea of what Graffiti was. They felt that because industries were using Graffiti and Street Art imagery in their advertising than the meaning of Graffiti being rebellious was being threatened.
As a direct response to this many, if not all of these images were quickly defaced, covered up or simply painted over by local Graffiti Artists in the area. To this day the method of using Graffiti and Street Art in advertising campaigns is still seen by some Artist as an encroachment on the very meanings of what Graffiti is.
As well as the advertising, the products themselves are seeing an increased amount of Graffiti images integrated within them. Clothing, books, school equipment, phones and magazines are but a few of the examples of how Graffiti and Street Art styles are now slowing being seen as acceptable forms of art and imagery.
With this new acceptance in Graffiti and Street Art there has become a greater need for artists to use their skills in the corporate and industry sectors. More and more Graffiti Artists are staring to realise there is money and opportunities to be made by showing forms of Graffiti in different ways. Instead of painting on walls and streets, Artist are now turning to canvases, exhibitions and products to show their work. In this way they can sell them to further a career, which would have normally been closed to them because of their forms of art.
Other Graffiti Artists have began to use advertising and the media to their own benefits. Their work may be link to a type of political of social campaign, or include imagery that reflects on the normal day-to-day way of life. In this way their artwork become more acceptable to the average person and is advertised and copied into other forms of media. In some cases the artist can become famous because of the work he or she does.
The best example of this method done by artists is the Bristol Graffiti Artist called Banksy. His style of artwork is often based on topics such as social culture, politics, and ethics. His style of work, which combines graffiti writing with stencilling techniques, features often-humorous images sometimes combined with slogan and messages. These messages are most commonly about topics such as anti-establishment, anti-war and anti-capitalist, and include subjects of animals, policemen, soldiers, children, the poor and the elderly.
It is because of the use of this form of imagery that his work is easily recognisable and understood by people. Therefore his style of work has become accepted and admired. Although Banksy does not sell his own work to the public or art exhibitions, art auctioneers have sold some of his works on location and left the problem of removing them to the winning bidders. In one example, a family who had been trying to sell their home, instead went to an art auction and sold the house as an artwork because it have a Banksy stencil on one of its outside walls. The description given of the sale was “a Banksy stencil design with house attached” and made over £150.000.
While Banksy has used his own fame to progress in his career, less well known artists have chosen to directly integrate their style of work into the mainstream and have found not only a market for their kind of work, but also a demand.
As Graffiti has become more wildly accepted by people artist now have the chance to show their talent and skill in other ways, which they would not have used before. This way of integrating Graffiti and Street art into the mainstream first started when artists began showing their work on canvases rather than walls. From this early beginning Graffiti and Street art have found their way into all type of products and media.
In a very short amount of time, from the late 90s to present day, Graffiti imagery can be seen in almost every type of media, advertising and product. Due to this there is an almost unlimited amount of resources available to people who are looking to make a career in the Graffiti arts. There are now shops that only sell Graffiti specific items and products such as spray paints, markers, stencil and other equipment. While this is becoming more and more common, in the past this would have been unheard of and even challenged by the local communities and status quo.
We have not yet seen how far Street Art will go in today’s societies has more and more companies begin to use this art form in their business. As more products and media begin to compete with one another it is becoming more challenging to make one’s own product stand out from the crowd. Therefore Street Art will continue to evolve to face the demands for fresher and more exiting ideas and methods to the problem that will always be present in the global market of today.
Having looked into the effects that Graffiti and Street Art have made to all aspects of our lives and to the many different types of industries and markets it is now found in, what does the future hold for Graffiti art?
This is a hard question to answer as there are so many different types, forms and styles of Graffiti it is impossible to say how each one will evolve and change. However there could be two main possibilities to consider.
The first is the negative effect of all this development of Street Art and mass mainstream art we have today. Because Graffiti is becoming more acceptable by the status-quo and is used more and more in the imagery of products, advertising and media, it could lose it’s very reason for being.
Graffiti artists do their work because they feel it is a rebellious form of art that goes against the status-quo of normal life, they feel is it an expression of their own personal views on life, their feelings towards social and political issues.
Due to the fact that the art form has become so successful and is seen more and more in the normal day to day of life. It is now in danger of becoming the norm and the type of imagery everyone gets used to, it could slowly become the imagery of the status quo, the very thing that Graffiti tries to go against.
However there could be a more positive future for rebellious art forms such as Graffiti and Street Art, because of their many different styles, techniques and methods. They are all constantly changing and evolving, with new ways of thinking, new social issues and the introduction of new technologies and media.
This means art forms like Graffiti and Street Art will never be seen as normal because of the ever-changing imagery and methods. The challenge in the future will be to present these art forms in new and exiting ways, and to once again be seen as an anti-establishment movement that goes against the norm and status quo of day-to-day life.
So what does this mean for me?
What have I learned and how can I use this knowledge to further my understanding and career?
I have shown that Graffiti does have positives effects on many different aspects of today’s society. Graffiti can and is being used to improve people’s way of life and changing their own understanding of what Graffiti and its forms of art are. I have seen how Street art is being shown and used in almost every form of product, advertising and media, and that it will continue to be used well into the future.
So how does the methods and thinking behind Graffiti effect me directly?
Since becoming interested in Graffiti and it’s many different art forms I have begun to realise that my own perceptions and feeling towards what I thought Graphic Design was, has changed. I have begun to notice that Graphic Design can and does follow certain rules and criteria and that because of this is has become a part of a much bigger system of control. A system that conforms to the status quo and norm of day-to-day life. There are set methods on how to design things which have been researched and perfected over the many years in which Graphic Design has been used and because of this we are told that you should design products in certain ways, magazines and imagery should be done this way, etc. Although these methods are mostly right and that using them will always provide a solution to a design problem, I feel that little effort is made to challenge them and if done differently to the norm it is sometimes considered wrong.
Due to these finding I have come to realise that I may not wish to continue a career in what I feel is corporate and conservative Graphic Design and that my interests are towards finding more challenging and creative ways of expressing myself in Graphic Design and Art.
To this end I will continue to look into how I can improve my own work and style and that by looking at the many different forms of Graffiti and Street Art I can find new ways in which to further my future and career as a Graphic Designer or Artist.