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Graffiti - Is it an Art or a Crime?
St. Louis Missouri Flood Wall
What is that writing on the wall?
Graffiti can be anything from symbols, drawings, etchings, or words that are written or spray-painted on public property. Graffiti can commonly be found on sidewalks, street signs, buildings, subway trains, walls or canvases. It has been done for reasons of fame, rebellion, self-expression or power.
I became interested in graffiti in college. I took Social Disorganization and when I had to choose a topic for my term paper, I chose graffiti. I have been interested in it ever since and continue to look for signs of graffiti throughout the city and I try to guess what the artist was trying to tell me. I learned that this is an entire subculture with its own hierarchy, terminology, and meaning.
Graffiti artists also have their own code of conduct, so to speak. For example, it is a sign of disrespect for one person to cover another person’s artwork. If a tagger has respect for another fellow tagger and he trusts that he will not tell on him for being creative, it might be said that, “he has his dope hat on.”
There is much controversy regarding this subject. Some people see it as art while others see it as a crime. The blame commonly is associated with hip hoppers or gang bangers but really, they had nothing to do with it.
Graffiti actually dates back to 30,000 BCE. Cave men used animal bones and pigments to create illustrations, often in ceremonial and sacred locations inside of caves. Graffiti can also be traced to The Mayan Indians, Vikings, ancient Greece, and the Roman Empire.
During the 1920’s at the end of WWII, it popped into American culture. “Kilroy Was Here” started to appear with an illustration and became popularly used by American Troops. It was associated with the letter “V” for victory. Even then, it could be found on trains and boxcars.
In the 1950’s a newer form of graffiti appeared. It was called latrinalia. It literally meant writings on the bathroom walls. It is still in existence today. You can hardly go into any public restroom and not see the writings on the bathroom walls!
Modern day graffiti took root in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. These artists (or criminals) are called taggers. The idea was that they needed to get their “tag” on as many places as they could be seen. It was especially great if they could get it in a location that had no easy access but could be seen by a captive audience.
Taggers often have sketchbooks for practice, or they might use their finger to draw images in dust while they learn. Usually, the tagger has a message he or she is trying to express about religion, family, politics or other thoughts.
The problem is that it is the most common type of property vandalism. The Bureau of Justice Statistics accounts it for 35% of all property vandalism. Many cities have tried to combat the problem by making areas for graffiti artists to showcase their works. St. Louis has a graffiti wall that runs parallel to the Mississippi River Front. I often take the girls to play on the arch grounds and we always finish with a walk beside the graffiti wall. I was there when some of it was painted and it was magnificent in the making.
However, the cost of cleaning up graffiti is enormous. It cuts a huge chunk out of municipal budgets. In 2006, Chicago’s budget allowed 6.5 million dollars for cleaning up graffiti. Immediate removal seems to be the key to prevention. Studies have shown that if it is removed within 24 to 48 hours it will be less likely to occur. I suppose it is a lot of work for an artist to put forth if it will be washed away before enough people have a chance to admire it.
Today, graffiti is against the law and is punishable by fines and/or jail time.
You can imagine my surprise then, when Sydney was two and she came into the kitchen, excitedly grabbing my hand and tugging. “Come see, momma! Come see!” she said pulling me after her. I followed her into her bedroom and she had used markers to color her entire wall on one side!
“It’s for you!” she told me happily.
I just stood there and laughed, “I do love it,” I told her, “and daddy is going to also!”
We never did get the marker completely off her wall. We used plenty of killz and coats of paint to no avail. It would somehow seep back through. I sold the house and I could still see the faint markings of the beginnings of a great graffiti artist!