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Graffiti: Plain Vandalism Or Self-expression Through Art

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The way graffiti has been examined over the years varies from its political role to its cultural significance and aesthetic value in the urban environment. As seen above, graffiti has an ever present role in society as the tool to examine the past through the voice of the unheard – its controversy lies in the power that this precise power, of unsolicited, unedited expression. Whether it be a form of territorial expression usually between gangs or crews controlling an area or graffiti as a means of political tool to reach the masses as well as an act of protest, an indication of the state of urbanisation, as practice in shaping political agenda, or as a way of claiming the space through the alternative form and stand up to the totalitarian city. Graffiti has also played its part in the recent rise of identity politics concerning gender, sexuality, race etc. and has aided in the reimagining and realisation of the “creative city”. It appears that the use of the walls of the past does not differ so much from how they are utilized in the present. People will scribble, scratch and write on walls in an effort to express their personal, political, ideological, aesthetic beliefs.

Graffiti’s contemporary resurgence in New Yok City and Philadelphia of the early 1970s was not a coincidence. The political and economical state of the United States was dilapitating. The post World War ll decades of socio-political growth where the American dream and consumerism reigned came the crash of the ‘70s. Vietnam war, the oil embargo and the stock market’s decline came to burst the bubble, leaving the masses at a free fall, it was then that the first tags started appearing around the city which served as a form of reactory behaviour towards the abrupt social changes certain classes where experiencing. Graffiti is a form of artistic expression, just like painting or sculpturing in a way, but what separates graffiti from the rest its interchangeable connection to the time and space it’s created, the socio-economical and political landscape affects and shapes the trajectory of the graffiti subculture. It is the crucial component that elevates the art form to a movement. The early signs that the late stage capitalism was in decline saw the rebirth of graffiti which – to this day- is ever present in the urban life, either proudly displayed or hidden in plain sight under the paint that was used by the state to cover it up. But what it the next step? What stage of capitalism is our society experiencing and how is that reflected in the graffiti culture?

Even though graffiti rarely is regarded as an art form, primarily due to it’s intrinsic connection to criminal behaviour and vandalism it is important to point out that the aesthetic value within the culture has always played a significant part in it’s development. Forms of graffiti include, throw ups, murals, pieces etc which develop an especially intricate sense of artistry – the colours and the letters command the space and acquire a life of their own. The scattered tags around the cities may appear as meaningless, ugly scribbles, yet they hold special meaning. In a 2007 study, Quintero describes tags, the most easily disregarded form of graffiti, as “carefully selected combinations of letters, icons and/or figures used by writers as their signature: identities converted into images through typography, design and drawing.” And even though tags are small in scale, appear simple to do and when in areas where they are an isolated phenomenon they are associated with a neighbourhood in decline, in certain cities the sheer volume that can amount to an unexpectedly appropriate aesthetic of times decay that is oddly satisfying. During my recent visit at my hometown in Athens, Greece I found myself in owe of how the urban experience of a city in plateau such as Athens is elevated by the volume of graffiti in the city centre. Control seems to be lost in all other aspects of the Greek people lives but uncommissioned, illegal graffiti can be interpreted as of one of the ways control over one’s environment is trying to be gained back. Or couldn’t it? 

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Graffiti: Plain Vandalism Or Self-expression Through Art. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 28, 2022, from
“Graffiti: Plain Vandalism Or Self-expression Through Art.” GradesFixer, 16 Dec. 2021,
Graffiti: Plain Vandalism Or Self-expression Through Art. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 Jan. 2022].
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