Physical Graffiti: a social act

The creation of graffiti is seen by municipal authorities and many citizens as an “anti-social” activity because it defies social conventions and thus considered a form of rebellion. In most cities, the act of creating graffiti is illegal, and people’s fear of crime leads to their hatred of graffiti. However, for graffiti artists and the minority who appreciate graffiti as an art form, graffiti is considered as a subculture with its own system of symbols and techniques and not a senseless destruction of public space. Indeed, graffiti artists themselves frown upon creating graffiti simply to deface public space. One former graffiti artist counsels beginner artists to understand their own motives for creating graffiti. The artist lists several reasons why one might choose to create graffiti: To convey a social, political, or religious message, to create graffiti in order to amuse or shock people, or simply to beat the system by defying legal authorities. From these reasons, it is apparent that the creation of graffiti is a social activity. Graffiti is often painted to communicate a message, whether personal or within gangs. People also create graffiti as a claim to fame. Graffiti known as “tagging” involves a personal signature that the artist paints on as many public surfaces as possible in order to make his or her mark known to others.

The locations of graffiti also have to do with social activity. For example, tagging and political slogans are often painted on common spaces such as telephone poles, bus stops, and walls where there is busy pedestrian traffic. While painting graffiti in these public areas is illegal in most cities, graffiti painted in skate parks and old subway tunnels is considered de rigueur and quietly tolerated as a subculture. With the advent of the worldwide web, there has been a proliferation of online websites that are dedicated to the creation of digital graffiti. Online graffiti communities such as demonstrate the social aspect of creating graffiti art. The website allows graffiti artists to create graffiti art online and share their work with users from around the world. This leads to discussions of whether cyber graffiti is more tolerated than graffiti that exists in the physical world because it exists in a space that is arguably public and not governed by municipal laws.