Abstract Edit

“The word graffiti comes from the Italian graffare meaning to scratch, as in on a surface. Yet, today the term graffiti means any sort of unsanctioned application of a substance, whether it is spray paint, pencil markings, or even stickers.” This page will address the different uses and meanings that graffiti entails. We will also explore the different evolutions that appeared, such as the hip-hop movement as well as the connection with street art. We will conclude with descriptions of a couple of different documentaries that pertain to graffiti and go over the use of public space, audience and genre.

Important Information Edit

Before graffiti was classified as graffiti, it existed all throughout history. Today’s style of graffiti however, originated in the late 1970’s in New York City. It also has connections to pop artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, and draws from popular culture and advertising. Graffiti can be seen in many different cities throughout the world but one can expect to find it on public spaces available for pretty much everyone to see. The point for many graffiti artists to “tag” and post around the city is to illustrate their views on society as a whole. This is the artist’s signature that is commonly known in the community and personally marks the current artwork displayed. Many distinct graffiti work have radical and political meaning to them and by analyzing the work, one can see today’s problems appear throughout the city. A large amount of graffiti work does show rebellion against authority, not only with its context, but also because of its symbolism by having it on public space. Most graffiti art can be considered as an act of vandalism and thus differentiates it from street art. Graffiti is typically considered a sub-genre of street art.

Graffiti was, is, and will always be a way for the average person to express sentiments as simple as "I exist, and I was here” to critiques of governments, social issues, ideologies, and the like. Graffiti has existed since ancient times and remains as a strong reminder of our collective need to leave our mark on our world. As a form of self-expression graffiti is an extension of the artist and his/her experiences in the community and throughout life. Something as simple as a can of spray paint gives people the power and freedom to create and communicate what they want, whether that be their love for a signifiant other, a political message, or life in the neighborhood.

Real Life Examples Edit

The subway system of New York City can be considered the birth of graffiti and therefore continues to be prominent in the city. Joe Austin’s book, Taking the Train: How Graffiti Art Became an Urban Crisis in New York City, illustrates the issues that arise from graffiti in their daily lives. Also brought up was the culture and reasoning behind the different artworks, anti-graffiti organizations were formed as well as those who promote it.


NYC subway train

Another New York City documentary, Bomb it, also talks about the emergence of Hip-Hop culture as well as contemporary graffiti.

The emergence of Hip-Hop culture in the late 1970s was another contributor to the graffiti movement.  A documentary from 1983, Style Wars, depicted famous graffiti artists in the city of New York as the young hip hop culture started to emerge.


Wall in Barcelona displaying graffiti

The streets of Barcelona are also tagged with many different graffiti artists. There, the subculture and feelings of these artists are displayed on public walls around the city. The documentary, Las Calles Hablan, show the different opinions on graffiti such as love, hate, and indifference.


One of Banksy's graffiti work in London

Banksy is also an infamous graffiti artist who started his work in London and began to expand his mark on many different cities worldwide. Exit Through the Giftshop, this documentary displays the emergence of Mr. Brainwash who experienced filming with many other commonly known graffiti artists and how they completed their work.

One of the most well-preserved cities in Belgium, Ghent also claims one of the most famous "legal" graffiti walls, extending like a maze full of spray painted cartoons, messages and art that is constantly changing. This wall is so special because it is such a contrast to the medieval town that surrounds the graffiti, with its cobblestones and canals. However, it is a strong testament to the vibrant Ghent culture, primarily due to its large student population, which brings in a largely dynamic music scene and walls such as this one. The wall was provided strictly for graffiti in the 1990's as a direct response to keeping the rest of Ghent spray paint free. ( This is a further example of what it means to label something as a public space and both its cultural and legal affordances.


Keywords Edit

Public Space



Resources and Further Reading Edit

  1. The Business of "Getting Up": Street Art and Marketing in Los Angeles by Damien Droney (PDF)
    • This article specifically addresses Street Art and its subculture and history. It dives into the many sides of Street Art such as seeint it "as resistant or subersivee toward a perceived mainstream" (100). The article is especially helpful because it provides different artists and examples, such as Branded, Shepard Fairey's Obey street art campaign, and Kof. Although it is a bit lengthly, it provides in depth examples and helps one to understand street art and its origination and creation.
  2. Graffiti or Street Art? Negotiating the Moral Geographies of the Creative City by Cameron McAuliffe (PDF)
    • McAuliffe discusses the placement and geographics of graffiti, as stated by its title. This article elaborates on the subcultures of graffiti and street art, defines moral geographies, gives a detailed history of the origination of graffiti as a practice and how it made its way into different cultures, differentiates graffiti and street art, and describes examples of organizations and cities that manage graffiti (Parramatta Graffiti Management Plan, City of Sydney, Marrickville Council, and KAC). Use this article as a reference when understanding the history, purpose, and how different areas respond to graffiti and street art.
  3. Placing Graffiti: Creating and Contesting Character in Inner-city Melbourne by Kim Dovey, Simon Wollan and Ian Woodcock (PDF)
    • This article specifically dives into the graffiti present in Melbourne's inner city and how it attracts tourism. It debates whether graffiti is vandalism or art and the links it to different stigmas and groups of persons. Dovey, Wollan, and Woodcock specifically address the relationship between graffiti to urban culture (which it defines in depth) and gives photograph examples of different graffiti maps, stencils, and building faces. This article is good to read if someone wants to better understand and visualize the different placements of graffiti and how it interacts with space.
  4. Tagging as a Social Literacy Practice by Laurie MacGillivray and Margaret Sauceda Curwen (PDF)
    • MacGillivray and Curwen define tagging within this article, especially how it relates to vandalism and if it can be considered graffiti. "Tagging as a Social Literacy Practice" is great to read to juxtapose alongside street art, understand exactly why people tag, and its history in relation to hip hop and the youth culture.
  5. Graffiti Art: An Essay Concerning The Recognition of Some Forms of Graffiti As Art by George C. Stowers
    • In contrast to the other resources listed above, this resource is an essay presented by a student who wrote this for an aesthetics class in 1997. It presents a detailed history of graffiti and states that the objective is to prove that graffiti is an art form. This essay is helpful because it poses questions as to who creates graffiti and why those persons use spray paint; in a way it destigmatizes the practice as vandalism and praises it for its culture and its use as self expression.

Citations Edit

DeNotto, Michael. "Street Art and Graffiti." College & Research Libraries News75.4 (2014): n. pag. Web.

Austin, Joe. "2. Taking the Trains." Taking the Train: How Graffiti Art Became an Urban Crisis in New York City. New York: Columbia UP, 2001. 38-74. Print.

Austin, Joe. "3. Writing "graffiti" in the Public Sphere." Taking the Train: How Graffiti Art Became an Urban Crisis in New York City. New York: Columbia UP, 2001. 75-107. Print.

"Style Wars(1983)." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <>.

"Las Calles Hablan." Top Documentary Films RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <>.

Banksy., D'Cruz, Jaimie., Cushing, Holly., Baring, Zam., Gay-Rees, James., Ifans, Rhys,, Fuzzface,, Size, Roni., Mister Brainwash.Fairey, Shepard. (Eds.) (2010) Exit through the gift shop[New York] : Oscilloscope Laboratories

"Bomb It." IMDb., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <>.

Conrad, Kristen. "Street art alley in Ghent, Belgium." 2011. Accessed April 6 2015. <>.