General Question

shilolo's avatar

What is the point of graffiti?

Asked by shilolo (18033points) May 5th, 2009

San Francisco is having a bad graffiti problem. Now, I understand that people will create some beautiful artwork using a graffiti style and that some gangs use it for territorial “claims”. I get that. What I don’t understand is the random “tagging” or simply spraying one’s “name” on a wall. Is there any point to this?

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36 Answers

Judi's avatar

It is the same as a dog, marking it’s territory. It is primal.

squirbel's avatar

It’s an art form. It’s rebellion. It’s public notice of who you are.

cheebdragon's avatar

To make everything look like shit.

WakeUp's avatar

The harder you grasp at quicksilver, the harder it is to catch.

Continually oppress and marginalize people and they will find a way to make you realize they are not only still there, but that they are the creative force at the bottom of the pyramid, holding it up.

shilolo's avatar

@WakeUp Really? Defacing property is “creative”? How is that? Because some shop-owner or home-owner has to have excess paint around to continuously repaint their walls? I fail to see your point.

antimatter's avatar

There’s is no point, but I still smile when I drive past the old municipal building seeing my old graffiti of sixteen years ago warning the world of the New Order.

ubersiren's avatar

Graffiti can be really beautiful, but there are places to practice your creativity legally if graffiti is your art form. The crap you usually see on the sides of train cars and in the underpass is usually just someone with nothing better to do. Sometimes it’s funny, or sometimes there’s a real message in it, but if the handiwork doesn’t belong to the property owner, it’s junk. I think it’s usually rebellion, boredom, or hatred that usually brings it out in vandals. At least that’s what it was with my post high school boyfriend… he was a spraying fool.

kenmc's avatar

A lot of the simple tags are to get your name out there.

Its so you can be recognized.

And it’s fun to do.

exitnirvana's avatar

I’ve come to understand that its more like a competition between writers. Those who get their throw-ups in the most highly trafficked areas or insane/dangerous locations gain better street cred. To people outside of the graffiti world its typically distasteful, and seen as a nuisance. Which I agree with, but coming from an artistic standpoint (which probably no one will observe) its a way of gaining respect within the subculture. Contemporary graffiti styles have actually evolved into Post-Graffiti or Street Art which has become to include reverse graffiti or techniques in which defacing property is no longer a concern (i.e invisible or Light graffiti).

Overall, its all based on a matter of personal opinion. It pisses some people off, it’s awe-inspiring to others. I can understand both sides of the argument.

CMaz's avatar

graffiti is like making a cake. It can be done properly and you get some delicious results. Or you can fling it against a wall. And well, it is only good for the ants.
It has been around for centuries, but because you can piss on a curb does not make it art.

WakeUp's avatar


The employees on the bottom, doing the actual work are the ones responsible for a business succeeding, yet, they get to make no decisions about how it operates.

This is an insult that will only be tolerated to a certain extent. “You can buy me a house, but shut the fuck up” or “I want your body, not your mind” (another extrapolation Greek Modern sexuality in society “are you fucking people over, or are you being fucked over?”)

The positioning of graffiti is part of its art. A juxtaposition to the FULLEST extent. The same people who consider an artistic expression on an artificial, non-living, edifice to be a cardinal sin against the sanctity of “private property”, think it is completely civil and humane to use their fellow man as cattle, ”

GAMBIT's avatar

I think it means a lot to the person that is doing it and he or she sees himself as an artist. I believe they call it “tagging” but that may be an old term by now.

I see a lot of graffiti where I live and some of it is representative of street culture. The lesser graffiti is when someone just wrights there name on a wall and I am sure that the property owners aren’t very pleased with this type of expression. Unfortunately I’m not sure how graffiti can be stopped in some areas.

There is one form of graffiti I see every day. It is a picture of Martin Luther King, Malcom X and President Obama that is sprayed near my train station. MLK and Malcom X are drawn very seriously but President Obama is smiling ear to ear.

shilolo's avatar

@Wakeup Sorry, but, no. The people who make the critical decisions, design the products, innovate and create the possibility for those same workers to do something are much, much more valuable and important than the physical workers. Who creates and designs the building you work in (architects and engineers), the cars we drive (engineers), medicines we take (scientists), computers we use (engineers, designers, programmers), etc. The actual construction is important, but without a plan, there is no construction.

Judi's avatar

We have apartments that get tagged a lot. We have found that they are less likely to return if we remove it before they ever get chance to bring their friends around and show it to them. Why waste the effort if it will be removed within hours?

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i think this picture speaks better than i can. please do take a look.

rooeytoo's avatar

@tiffyandthewall – I love that and I think it has a point. Is that painted on a wall somewhere?

@shilolo – I believe the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

cheebdragon's avatar

Being shot with a frozen paintball seems to keep them from coming back for a second tag, and they can’t even go to the cops.

charliecompany34's avatar


but nobody seems to be paying attention.

YARNLADY's avatar

In it’s worst form, it is a way for gangs to mark their territory, to warn other gangs to stay away. It is also considered a way to gain notoriety among your peers. To those who claim it is an art form, you have to wonder why they don’t decorate their own homes and proudly show it off?

rooeytoo's avatar

An interesting thing just happened in Darwin, there is an avante garde type art gallery and they invited a local graffiti artist to paint one of their outside walls. He did a great painting. Last night some anti graffiti vigilantes painted over it. I don’t know if they thought they were doing a good thing or what??? But the gallery owner is very irate!

WakeUp's avatar


Wow. Thanks for proving my point for me. All those jobs you listed are generally still EMPLOYEES not EMPLOYERS. Its not the scientists at pharma co’s that make decisions on what drugs to make, nor do architects, engineers, or programmers decide how to use their skills. They get out of college, and have to find an erastes in the form of a large company/corporation, who will exploit their skills and make a much larger amount off their work than they will.

The people making the real decisions are affected ONLY by the bottom dollar. This is the definition of capitalism, because you can’t do anything without money in a capitalist society, so money becomes the number one priority.

Not to mention, how many people have had the experience of working at a company where the “boss” is NEVER around, constantly on vacation,etc etc. Does the company grind to a halt? No. But what happens when two or three office workers are gone for a week? The office sluggishly struggles and grinds to a halt.

Every CEO could disappear tomorrow, and I would notice less than if the garbage men missed ONE day.

“The people who make the critical decisions, design the products, innovate and create the possibility for those same workers to do something are much, much more valuable and important than the physical workers.”

You can write as many plans, design as many products, and create as many possibilities as you want, without someone to actually manifest it, its just a daydream.
You can continue to take stones off the top of a pyramid and it still stands, but remove even one bottom cornerstone and the whole thing topples. And since all hierarchical structures are modeled after a pyramid (i.e. companies, corporations, governments, society) this analogy perfectly describes why Employees are more crucial than Employers.

Basic geometry.

shilolo's avatar

So you don’t like CEO’s? Congratulations. Even small businesses have a person in charge, and people who follow orders. It’s as simple as that. The world needs ditch-diggers, for sure, they just don’t happen to be more important than the people deciding where the ditches need to be dug. Also, your quote “You can continue to take stones off the top of a pyramid and it still stands, but remove even one bottom cornerstone and the whole thing topples” is fundamentally wrong. Removing a single cornerstone would do nothing at all to the structure, assuming it was built and designed properly.

Do you think the US has been a historical powerhouse because the citizens were just better workers? No. The reason has been that the US had the best education system (not any more) as well as motivated, innovative immigrants. Lots of countries have lots of labor, but that alone does not make for a strong economy. What happened to the Soviet Union? It collapsed. Go figure.

WakeUp's avatar

‘To those who claim it is an art form, you have to wonder why they don’t decorate their own homes and proudly show it off?”

Wow, talk about living under a rock. For the most part, graffiti is an urban expression. Most people in urban areas are stored and housed like so much fodder, in dilapidated tenement buildings. They DONT OWN HOMES. THIS IS PART OF WHY THE GRAFFITI EXISTS IN THE FIRST PLACE. A refusal to be written off and marginalized, just because you dont have as high of a score in the video game of life.

You can only stifle the human spirit so much. Just because someone got trapped in a certain socio-economic strangle hold through none of their own doing, does not mean they are not a capable, intelligent, creative individual, as society would like you to think. (Oh if they were so smart and creative, they would have gone to college and gotten a good job! They WANT to live in squalor. They WANT to have roaches all over their 1bd apt that they pay $900 a month for. JESUS!)

shilolo's avatar

@WakeUp I wonder if you are familiar with the phrase “The cream rises to the top”? Yes, people are often born into difficult circumstances, and yes, that makes their life harder than someone born into more fortunate circumstances, but that doesn’t mean that they are destined for failure. Hard work and effort begets hard work and effort.

YARNLADY's avatar

@WakeUp I used to live in a public housing project, and I didn’t and don’t go around painting garbage on public or private property. I don’t get the connection between being poor, and vandalizing property. You seem to be saying it’s ok to be a criminal, if you are on welfare. I’ve been on welfare, and I still don’t think it’s OK.

WakeUp's avatar

@shilolo – Ok, so you are an elitist who believes that the poor should grovel in their own filth. That doesn’t change the fact that economic opportunity is not as bountiful as you make it sound. Everyone knows plenty of middle aged and senior citizens who have worked hard at a 40+hr/wk job for 40+ years and still don’t have much to show for it. Did these people also not work hard enough?

@YARNLADY – No, its only ok to be a criminal if you are already part of the upper class
its not ok to be a criminal if you are on welfare.

shilolo's avatar

@WakeUp I’m no elitist. I’ve worked for every thing I’ve achieved (academic scholarship to a state school followed by another academic scholarship to medical school). As for your assertions, I would argue that these people should have planned better. The US is no longer a saving society, as evidenced by the recent melt-down in the housing market. Everyone wanted something for nothing, and here we are.

For the people who work their whole lives to have nothing at the end is just poor planning. Even saving an extra $50 a month over that period would have been a huge step towards having something at the end of the day. Many people fail to realize that. In any event, feel free to be an apologist for vandals. It does nothing to help them, and only hurts in the long run if and when they get caught (you know, having a rap sheet isn’t good for landing good jobs or getting into a good school).

WakeUp's avatar

Has everyone looked at the picture tiffyandthewall posted? That really is as succinct as you can possibly be.

shilolo's avatar

@WakeUp For once we agree. I too would compare graffiti artists to Neanderthals.

Breefield's avatar

I think there are two very different kinda of graffiti, I’m sorry if I’m just reiterating, I haven’t taken the time to read all the posts.

The first being the artistic, expressive, socio-political stuff that is supposed to make a statement. Of course this stuff could be a pain to remove. But I doubt these artists are going to throw it up on your garage door or your store front window. They’ll be much more inclined to put it on walls, blank walls where no-one is really “harmed.”
Or course that’s very relative, to…a lot of things. And all in all I’m sure there are people who don’t appreciate this kind of graffiti, mainly the people who have to get rid of it in the case they don’t appreciate it.

Now, the second kind…I hate this shit.
Tagging is rap, it takes all of 5 seconds and it does not make anything look nice or pleasant. You’re really going to “put your name on something”? Of all things, on something you had no part in creating. People say it’s to get their name out there, or whatever. I just…see it as crude and not very well thought out. But of course that’s my own opinion.

I simply think the drive between the two different kinds of people creating the two different kinds of graffiti is very different. One to make the bleak walls of an urban environment lively, the other to deface property simply to deface property.

Linda_Owl's avatar

Mostly it is a statement of “self”. A way of telling the world that you exist & putting it into a format that can rarely be ignored.

kenmc's avatar

@Breefield You’d be amazed at how much the two people you speak of turn out to be the same person.

cheebdragon's avatar

“Oh, check it out, it’s the mother fuckin CAK tag!!! Hurry get a camera, you have to take a picture of me standing next to the great masterpiece on this dumpster!!, I can’t wait to get this picture on my myspace, so all the homies will know how fucking gangster I am….”~

A_Beaverhausen's avatar


its what we can get away with

kenmc's avatar


That answer’d be great in any context.

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