Graffiti: The Immortality of Street Art
Picture this: you're in New York City in 1985. You recently came from work or school. Your eyes wander about as you stand and wait for the subway. When it arrives, you're astounded to see bold, colorful words written in a dramatic chunky font on the train's side. You realize the art brings about a twinge of flavor to the area. These words carefully sprayed on the train are called graffiti.
THE HISTORY OF GRAFFITI
In essence, graffiti has been around for centuries. Megan Garber, in an article from The Atlantic, explains that the earliest depiction of this art form comes from the limestone caves in Sulawesi, Indonesia, which are purportedly 39,900 years old. Most of the drawings consist of stencil-esque outlined hands and animals.
In WWII, the words "Kilroy was here!" with a drawing of a bald figure peeking over a ledge could be found along the traveled routes of soldiers. They often drew this to feel better connected, creating a brotherhood amongst the hardships they'd encountered.
The website The Art Story explains that contemporary or hip-hop graffiti in the U.S. originated in Philadelphia in the 1960s. A high schooler with the pseudonym of “Corn Bread” wrote his name all over the city to impress a young woman with whom he attended school. Doing this sparked an artistic rebellion in the eyes of other artists. It became increasingly popular, especially in New York City. Subway cars were well-known targets. Artists, also called "writers" or "taggers," intended to make their names known to broad audiences. Subway cars were the perfect canvases considering they traveled long distances. As it was at first considered vandalism, the city's authorities took action to eradicate graffiti. The New York police would stake out suspects' houses, follow them around and gather information from other informants. Another measure of prevention included building advanced fences around train yards. This, however, did not stop the artists and only motivated them further to pursue their targets. According to The Art Story, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) launched the Clean Car Program in 1984. The program was a five-year plan that intended to eliminate graffiti on subway cars. It was mildly successful. Rather than removing graffiti in its totality, artists found new canvases such as rooftops and billboards. Despite the push to eliminate this art form, artists often overcame the challenges authorities presented.
POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES OF GRAFFITI
While considered an outlet for artistic expression, it’s also considered pestilent. According to the ASU Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, graffiti costs approximately $12 billion in cleanup every year in the United States. It also heightens the fear of gang activity, although they are not always in correlation with each other. Graffiti art also affects the economy, often causing a decrease in the utilization of the public transit system, a reduction in retail sales and a decrease in property value.
Although some graffiti may enhance its environment, others do the exact opposite. Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon for inappropriate images or messages to wind up on school property. For instance, in 2017, Komo News released an article detailing a story in which employees at a K-8 school found racist and inappropriate messages spray painted on the roof of the school building. While I often agree with the free expression of oneself in public spaces, we cannot risk the premature exposure of content the children in our communities will be faced with. We should also prevent the spreading and exposure of hate speech, not only for the children, but for everyone in the community. With this in mind, there shouldn't be much of an issue as long as the artist has permission and isn't using private property.
I believe in the good of graffiti and the beneficial power it holds for a community. We are creatures of creation and should be allowed to express ourselves as such, as long as it does not harm anyone else. Graffiti art provides people with creative outlets to express their thoughts, opinions, and feelings while also having the ability to liven up the visual atmosphere of its surrounding area.