When you think of graffiti do you think of gang tags and an inappropriate invasion of space? Without question, graffiti is found most frequently in the underprivileged sections of town more so than the upper middle class neighborhoods. Although none are immune if the opportunity presents itself – say at 3 a.m. to a passerby who just happens to be in possession of a spray can or two of paint.
What is the drive behind graffiti? Why is there a need to express an impulse that is continually demonstrated outside the confines of respect for personal space? My cousin Joe, an all-around handyman, told me he was on a water heater repair job and found graffiti in the basement of a customer’s house in the burbs. A testimonial that graffiti can show up in just about any space where there is enough room to make a statement.
Graffiti is sometimes the only voice youth feel they have. In low income areas frustration abounds and boredom prevails. Some gang taggers have perfected their style to the point where they now consider themselves legitimate artists. In this writer’s opinion, I would agree, but I think some of their earlier work is worthy of being called fine art, as well.
Graffiti pushes boundaries. Is it a legitimate art form? In a world where boundaries are hazy at best, and non-existent in most cases when it comes to artistic expression, there is no line to be drawn.
Some graffiti artists have gone on to be so well known that they are commissioned by city governments. Because graffiti can be customized to a neighborhood or community’s particular message, it has become a sought after service. It is versatile, unique and has the ability to transform a space for anyone within eyesight.
Back to the original question; Where does the urge to begin this non-violent act of vandalism come from in the first place?
When a message is given under the cloak of darkness or anonymity, it clearly makes the point that it’s a ‘we against them’ communication. The act undoubtedly defies authority. For youth who cannot be heard in a more mainstream way, they make their voices loud and undeniably heard through the “secret” language of graffiti.
Communication between gangs is often where it starts in the effort to speak to one another in an exclusive idiom. It can make a point in a ritualistic, non-violent way about territory and ownership. It is often used to disguise a middle finger attitude to rival gangs without physically being in their face. It goes deeper than that in cases where the message extends to higher authorities of society in general. It can tell the tale of brewing anger and unrest. It can be a warning of upcoming physical violence if the message isn’t noted and proceeds to escalate beyond the paint can.
While mainstream society sees it as destructive, there are those who use it to bring about change without physical confrontation. We all need to have a voice. It’s not easy in world that still shows signs of racism, prejudice and injustice at every turn. Being able to express a right to be heard will not always come in a neat and tidy widely accepted package.
Graffiti is beautiful. It tells stories and leads us down roads we may never travel otherwise. Do I want gang tags on the side of my garage? No, I can clearly say, I don’t, but can I walk a neighborhood and wonder what motivated someone to tag or shout out a message for all to see, yes.
What are your thoughts on street graffiti? Do you live in an area where gangs need to tell it like it is with cans of paint and frustrated attitudes? Have you left your mark somewhere that was more than satisfying and would you do it all over again? Leave a comment below and let me hear from you.