The Writing is on the Wall: Just what Exactly is Considered to be Graffiti?

Rob Cornish, Graphic Designer at Creative Jar, shares his thoughts and feelings on the ‘art’ form of Graffiti.

With popular graffiti artists such as Banksy and HAZE capitalizing on their talent, has the time come to re-classify these individuals work and move them into the domain of artist?

Graffiti is a term that some say goes back to caveman marking; offering an outlet for expression as well as communication. The Greek word ‘Graphien‘, which means to write, is the closest translation and many of the tags that emblazon public and private property embody this.

Today tags are still popular among graffiti writers both young and old and many can quote the day that the world took notice. July 21 1971, the day a New York Times reporter published ‘Taki183 Spawns Pen Pals’. The day that Taki183 became a legend! The tag that New Yorkers saw on their trains and walls was from a local Greek kid, and his marks inspired a whole host people from boroughs, cities and countries to tag their names.

Unfortunately, these days tags are associated with ‘I woz ere 06‘, ‘free sex call 12345’, quick scribbles on benches which took seconds to complete or to mark territory; normally associated with gang’s or bored youth’s.

The general public don’t always see the impressive writers out there, the ones that add style to lettering and introduce blocks, bubbles and curves. This work takes tagging a step away from typical writing and if tagging is the true meaning of graffiti is all other work classified as art?

Rob Cornish, Graphic designer, comments;

Graffiti has changed considerably over the past few years. Yes, it may still be with spray paint on someone else’s property but what if it was Picasso drawing on your wall; would it be graffiti, or art, or vandalism, or graffiti art? The answer depends on the individual, but I would claim those markings are art in the form of graffiti.

Both traditional art and graffiti share a love of color, form, arrangement and structure and as writers develop better techniques such as cap manipulation, stencils, creative plans and large scale collaborations, more elaborate pieces are popping up.

Cornish mentions that;

the only obstacle that hinders graffiti from being art is its location and presentation, but we can’t simply disqualify graffiti because it’s on a wall and appears unsolicited.”

There is a market for graffiti, there are specialist magazines, Internet sites and with growing popularity comes further competition. The Internet has opened up a whole new digital era of graffiti artists, pushing the realm of mixed media. One such artist known as the 123klan collective has gone from strength to strength within the digital world. Tasso is another who’s pushing the ‘Graffoto‘ into new levels of photo-realism within graffiti.

Is each move into commercialism a move away from the true meaning of graffiti? Over half the graffiti writers are from middle and upper class homes aiming to be the next big thing, to receive recognition, fame and money. Even large corporations are getting on the graffiti artists bandwagon and hiring writers to create stunning visuals to appeal to their key markets and target audiences. Coca cola, McDonalds, Toyota, MTV, Boxfresh, Burton snowboarding and Smirnoff to name a few. These designs are clearly not for expression they are for profit and notoriety.

This has had an adverse effect to many that have attempted to go down this path and enter the commercial world, as the frustration and loss of the personal touch has caused them to quit writing altogether. Graffiti has become like any other profession, not everyone makes it, but those with a true talent will succeed no matter what they are classified as.

Cornish says;

Graffiti artist, writer, painter or mural depicter – does it really matter what these individuals are called? They are still artists and should be seen as such.

Then, maybe it isn’t right to re-classify this type of art but to re-classify the meaning. Comparing his work, as a graphic designer, Cornish comments that “graffiti is a personal expression and a way of communication. It is art and those who judge should pick up a pen and play.”

Look up graffiti in the dictionary and come face to face with a bunch of words, such as sketch, mark, spray-paint, draw. It is time to re-address this definition, and make it more ambiguous; ‘to express creativity, to offer a different viewpoint and understanding through markings’?

Bristol recently set up an online poll letting the public decide whether they thought graffiti on a historical building was art, 93% of those voting said they wanted to keep it as a mural.

This vote shows that the public are beginning to appreciate this form of art, and various graffiti exhibits are becoming more and more popular.

So, next time you take a walk around the local neighborhood, instead of tutting disapproval at the marks on the wall take a moment to look; could it be the next big thing?

Make up your own mind.

Rob Cornish has provided his favourite graffiti and related sites:

Light graffiti

Reverse graffiti

Style wars

Secret Wars