Graffiti Revisited: When did it become art?

My previous post considered some ancient Roman graffiti. The ancient “bathroom stall graffiti” in question consisted of crude humor, local gossip, and personal confessions. This “Jimbo was here” graffiti seems to have expanded to include an entire art form. I was curious about the history of graffiti, so I did a couple quick dogpile searches on the topic. What struck me most was not the many purposes of graffiti (fame, shock value, art, political message, personal confessions, gang tags) but the transition into a recognized artform. Driving through any large city, one will see massive paintings spanning bridges, buildings, and other public surfaces. These attention grabbing paintings have been recognized and this graffiti “style” is becoming popular among artists and museums. What does Banksy have in common with the ancient author of “Antiochus hung out here with his girlfriend Cithera?” I think it happened something like this:

Personal message
Antiochus and his GF are going for a walk one day, and they decide to commemorate their wonderful romantic relationship by scrawling “Antiochus hung out here with his girlfriend Cithera” onto a tree. They are now their own local celebrity!
Personal Confession
The personal message just wasn’t personal enough. Soon we have people feeling the need to write their secrets on secret walls. We find graffiti like, “I screwed a lot of girls here.”

Personal confession + Illustration = Shock Value!
Soon people are writing vulgar little confessions on every alley wall they can find and sometimes decides to illustrate! Hence the array crude local art on many gas station toilet walls.

Gang Tags

Shock value drawings and scrawlings increase over highly populated areas. Gangs decide to use this to their benefit. Soon, tagging (a graffiti signature of sorts) becomes popular and we see a wave of colorful, artistic words scattered around the city.

Art & Political Messages

As the complexity of art that goes into tagging becomes more elaborate, we finally end up with major street artists and political artists who use graffiti to spread their charm!

Funny how a little note can come a long way.


2 thoughts on “Graffiti Revisited: When did it become art?

  1. hopeadvancedlatin Post author

    i seriously love all the banksy art. graffiti is really cool because it’s used by so many different kinds of people and for so many different purposes. next time a freight train rolls by, take a look at all the graffiti on the side. for some, its used to immortalize the artist, for others, like banksy, its used to immortalize higher issues and bring them to the public’s attention. a lot of art tries to do this, but graffiti has much more exposure to the public eye, and i think it really makes cities look interesting. -Nathanus

  2. hopeadvancedlatin Post author

    Some graffiti has actually become an art style and is intentionally used on other things that just walls. I’ve seen numerous graffiti type used on the bottom of longboards. I wonder if anything else received graffiti as “art” in Rome.


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