Writing on things that don't belong to you...
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.