Graffiti – Contemporary Art or Vandalism?


Many people wonder about what graffiti is– a contemporary art form or just vandalism? It is hard to appreciate an artist if you do not share the same values and don’t understand the message he is trying to send.

  • History

The word graffiti comes from the Italian “graffiato” and it means “scratched”. It was used to describe inscriptions on the ancient sepulchres and ruins, like Pompeii and the Roman Catacombs. Some say first graffiti style was an advertisement for a brothel in ancient city of Ephesus, Greece, made by a hand-print for payment, foot-print for nearby and a number. Romans also used graffiti for political messages, love declarations and Pompeii even had an eruption of graffiti illustrating curse words, magic spells and famous quotes that give us insight on street life and degree of literacy in the Empire.

  • Modern graffiti

Modern graffiti is often associated with hip-hop culture and with a New York Subway style. Rock and roll is also a graffiti sub genre, with examples like “Clapton is God” painting in the Islington Underground station in 1967. Punk rock movement was associated with graffiti because of the anti-establishment movement in the ’70s. The upside down Martini glass was the symbol of the Missing foundation band, spread in the U.S. and Germany.

  • Avant-gardism or vandalism?

Modern graffiti is a avant-garde contemporary art used throughout the world by graffiti artists. Although aerosol cans are the most used medium for creating graffiti, techniques have improved over the years. Scribing is a technique also used in the corporate environment to view documents in a graphic format on whiteboard walls or storyboards, using markers and capturing concepts that are usually lost in a flowing conversation. Scribing graffiti is made on glass using the arrowhead scribe and the pen scribe for a more detailed drawing. Stencil graffiti is also very popular because it requires very little time. Graffiti Research Lab developed some new techniques like projected images and magnetic light-emitting diodes. Regenerative graffiti and Yarn Bombing graffiti, made by displays of knitted colorful yarn are also popular.

  • Controversial graffiti artists

Boniface Mwangi is a former photographer, published all over the world for his pictures of Kenya’s post-election violence in 2008 which left more than 1,000 dead . He was awarded Photojournalist of the Year by CNN and arrested several times. To challenge the harsh regime and tell the true story of Kenya, he moved to graffiti. Other contemporary art lovers joined him one night in downtown Nairobi and made a 30-meter graffiti painting that illustrates corruption. He won the 2012 Prince Claus Prize for people who make a difference.