1. Artistic representation via a spray-paint medium. Often portraying nearly un-readable text, cryptic messages, and strange character representations, it is a product of the youth of the modern era. It is often placed on private property (which is, indeed, illegal). It is one of the last forms of free artistic expression understood by many urban youth.
2. Handwriting recognition software for the Newton and Zoomer which recognises symbols that aren't necessarily letters.

To those who use Everything and think it's radical and unique by nature, guess again. Graffiti writers had their own illegal version of this website on the walls they used.

I tried being a little anthropologist recently, and I produced an ethnography in the form of a photo essay about a good set of graffiti laden walls. I'd like people to look at my photo essay and perhaps some other graffiti areas near their own homes with an open mind. And to see it as more than just random, incoherent scribblings on a wall. I think that some of the above writeups provide unfair and shallow synopses of graffiti.


PS: You can click on each graffito image for a full, higher resolution view.
Graffiti generally comes in 3 incarnations: a tag, a small sticker or initial set (think telephone pole or newspaper box); a piece, or a fairly detailed picture or symbol (these are rare - piece is short for masterpiece); and a throw-up (aka bubble-up), a large scale rendition of the artist's name usually put up in 2 or more colors (these are the kinds seen on the sides of train freight cars).

There is a method to the apparent scrawl in tagging - arrows point in the direction the artist lives. In the Los Angeles area, telephone area codes sometimes accompany the tags to show territory. A crown on top of a tag is letting you know that the artist thinks he/she is hot shit, a 1 in a circle lets you know he/she works alone. A line through a tag shows disrespect, and 187 reveals murderous intent.

If graffiti intrigues you, a good place to learn more is from a magazine - usually found in a local skate shop or head shop.
Plural form of Graffito, Misused as the name for a popular urban art form that began sometime around the 40's and obtained a cultural rebirth around the 70's. Most often characterized as vandalism due to its misunderstood nature and its Latin origin, Graffito, meaning scratched, or to scratch. Graffiti is an art form in which a name, or idea is expressed through the application of a type of media to a surface, or the removal of said surface through a subtractive process, (i.e. to scratch a surface using a sharp instrument). A graffiti writer usually has one necessity, to get up. Using a Tag, a nickname or moniker, A Graffiti Writer will usually try to go “all city” placing his name all over a city, in the hopes of becoming a king; a well known practitioner of graffiti.
There are 4 main types of graffiti: tags, labels, throw ups, and pieces. Tags are the usual and most widely recognized form from which the association with vandalism came. A tag is a simple one color rendering of a graffiti writers nickname or moniker written with a marker or painted with a spray can. There are hundreds of variations of the tag in use today, from the simple to the very complex. Most people cannot read the messages as they are written in a style that is often difficult for non-graffiti writers to understand.
A label is usually a tag written on a paper label or other material with an adhesive backing so that it may be placed upon a surface at a later time. This is the graffiti writer’s ammunition. Using labels can become the quickest way to put your tag all over. A label can be a simple "hello, my name is" nametag label, to a complicated multi-sectioned construction several feet wide. Often a writer will sit for hours crafting an arsenal of labels to later be used while he is out and about. A quick movement of the hand is all that is required to apply these to an object such as a mailbox, for maximum visibility.
Throw-ups are a quick, usually two-color rendering of the writers nickname. Painted quickly the name is derived, literally from "throwing up" something expelled quickly. A throw-up is rendered as a quick fill of color called a fill-in, which is then outlined in a contrasting tone for readability. Sometimes a throw-up can be an initialed form of the writers tag. A throw-up may contain more than just two colors.
A Piece is a more complex type of graffiti often painted when there is time to construct from a design drawn as a sketch beforehand. Short for "Masterpiece" a piece begins as a drawing in a writers Blackbook, a name for a sketchbook where drawings of pieces are kept. A writer will crudely render a piece as a series of lines on a surface to guide him in creating the fill-in for the piece. The writer will then fill in the areas of this crude sketch with color to block out the various aspects of his piece. A writer may work shapes, symbols, and designs into this fill-in. They may also opt to add clouds of color around the piece to set it off the background or a 3d effect to further heighten the aesthetics of the piece. After the fill-in is finished a writer will begin to outline the piece in a color. The color combinations are usually worked out as the original sketch is being created. The writer may choose to add a character, a cartoon, or realistic rendering of a person, animal, or object that will also add visual appeal to the piece.
a lesser known type of graffiti is scratching, or scratchitti, in which a graffiti writer uses a sharp instrument such as a diamond tipped scribe, to scratch a tag into a surface such as a glass pane or mirror. A piece of sandpaper may also be used for this type of scratching since it can create a wider swath on a surface such as sheet metal. Other types of graffiti such a painting with a paint roller to apply larger quantities of paint to a large surface are also practiced.
The destruction of a tag, also known as “crossing out” is a sign of disrespect. This is usually done by painting a line through the tag or completely covering it with a throw up, followed by a message. A writer who has a problem with another writer, usually some juvenile argument, will deliberately attempt to remove another writers tags through this method. Other writers see this as childish and stupid, since it is probably the fastest way to make enemies, known as “catching beef” and graffiti writers already have plenty of resistance from police, homeowners, and public works.
Writing on things that don't belong to you...

Traditional Graffiti

As far as we know, graffiti has been around since before recorded history. There was graffiti found in Pompeii, as well as Ancient Roman Graffiti. Many people enjoy reading bathroom graffiti, truthful graffiti, funny graffiti, or even adding things to graffiti. Some people think that it's all Idiotic Graffiti, while others have a vision of graffiti for the masses. People who want to get to know you might ask, "What's your favorite piece of graffiti?"

Modern "Art Crimes"

A good point to start learning about the origins of modern graffiti art is A Brief History of New York City's Early Graffiti, where the subways gave birth to the phenomenon in the late 1960's. Since way back in the day, graffiti writers have organized themselves into crews for solidarity (and to party), such as United Artists in NYC, where Mayor Koch though that one should "make your mark in society, not on society". Around this time, the TV show "Graffiti Rock" was aired, along with the movie Style Wars, later to be a classic. Nowadays, graffiti is big in European countries like the Netherlands and Germany, where you can visit the Tacheles wall in the city of Berlin.


As in any specialized field, graffiti writers have their own terminology to describe their tools, actions and environment. Almost anyone can paint a basic piece, but if they want to do wildstyle burners they'd better have good can control. Crews may come together to collaborate on a production. Writers go bombing, which can involve anything from mean streak tags, Kiwi shoe polish, stock tip throw-ups, hang-overs, to heavens and blockbusters. Obsessed benchers spend hours taking flicks.

Writers prefer the term "scribing" over the media-created word "scratchitti", and biting and sidebusting are frowned upon as toy stuff. They drool over holy rollers, and enjoy looking at hobo streaks. They have been known to argue over the relative merits of Krylon and Rustoleum for hours. Many graffiti writers have undeniable obsessions with trains, and there is a universal feeling that the alphabet is a playground. They buy (or rack) art supplies and blackbooks to create portfolios of their drawings and paintings, often including their friends' work. But most of all, they constantly strive to burn the competition.


Every graffiti practitioner eventually comes upon their own brand of five ball enlightenment. Writers like Saint Virus see graffiti as a network of nodes, a gigantic construct of dynamic energy. They are psychedelic marauders and reality hackers - but they're still steady mobbin! Some of them even write books about it, like William "Upski" and his Bomb the Suburbs (followed by a social commentary, No More Prisons. We can't forget that tripped-out Sufi, Hakim Bey, who touches on the subject with T.A.Z.: I. Slogans & Mottos for Subway Graffiti & Other Purposes.

And finally, here's some parting advice for everyone: Always remember that the permanence of a marker is directly proportional to how bad it smells.

Last updated March 12, 2001.../msg me with anything you have to add.

Modern graffiti is a rebellious art form which was especially popular in the US during the 1980's. Graffiti is usually a colorful spray painting which is rendered on the sides of buildings, bridges, handball courts, or other public structures. Also known as "writing" or "tagging", graffiti is often associated with the origins of hip-hop music and the boroughs of New York City. Because graffiti is considered by most authorities to be vandalism, its practitioners often worked quickly at night, and they signed their work with pseudonyms. Another way writers avoided prosecution was by adopting particular styles of writing which are difficult to read with an untrained eye. These styles are often so distinct that they can identify the origin of the artist. Brooklyn Style, for example, often has arrowheads at the endstrokes of letters which emerge outward from the grafitti in many directions.

The following are a list of slang terms used by writers:

Wak: substandard or incorrect
Generic: synonymous with wak
Buff: To remove graffiti
Tag: the signature part of the graffiti
Burn: to beat the competition at writing
Def: really good. (synonymous with fresh)
Rad: the best
Toy: an inexperienced writer
Bite: to copy another's style
Up: a prominent writer

So I'm not trying to start shit... no, wait, I totally am :-)
Is graffiti deserving of the popular term "Street Art"?
For me, this begs a couple of questions, and isn't so black and white as most middle aged, right-thinking suburbanites would have us believe.

  • What part of graffiti should be considered art - tagging, throw ups, pieces, paste ups, stencil art?
  • Should tagging - the often ugly and most hated form of graffiti - be so hated? (it is still a form of expression after all)

"(Why'd i) tag this wall? Just kinda putting my stamp on it, you know? Fucking let people know i was here" -- Luke Shapiro, The Wackness

I don't particularly like seeing tags around the place - they're mostly shit from my p.o.v., but i do enjoy some of the more elaborate ones, obviously those of "Street Artists" with talent.  Of course, this makes me a hypocrite, as I'm a tagger, but I'm in school, and everyone writes on the tables, walls and floors, so a tag is not so bad.  I don't consider my tags art of any kind, but my stencilling and stickering I do, as these mediums allow more creativity and more complex ideas to flow onto the wall - comments on society or simple outbursts of my inner... i don't know, inner moose?

Graf*fi"ti (?), n. pl. [It., pl. of graffito scratched]

Inscriptions, figure drawings, etc., found on the walls of ancient sepulchers or ruins, as in the Catacombs, or at Pompeii.


© Webster 1913.

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