When the Walls Talk: Graffiti and its effects on society|
Fernando Gomez Cabral|
ITT-Technical Institute Corona, CAMrs. DixonEN1320 Composition I|
Graffiti as an art form is a controversial subject in the art world. Is it vandalism, or is it art? Graffiti itself has come a long way from just being scrawls in a bathroom or random tags on a wall. It has been embraced worldwide by the hip hop culture as a legitimate form of artistic expression. An outlet with endless possibilities and absolutely no borders, constantly breaking barriers as it finds its way onto collector’s walls and into galleries as well as being the subject of museum exhibits. Although there are many people who say otherwise, it is so widely accepted that corporate media has utilized it as a successful way to push their products, cashing in off of the works of many prolific graffiti writers. Only making it that much harder to eradicate or buff out its beautiful images.
Graffiti art originated in the late 1960’s, and it has been rapidly evolving ever since. Although it was not readily accepted as being art like that found in galleries or museums. Most of the opposition to graffiti art is due to its location and bold, unexpected and unconventional presentation, but its presentation and often illegal location does not necessarily disqualify it as art. On the contrary it draws attention and catches the eye. In most occasions, making a plain building or bad neighborhood look beautiful. There are many locations throughout Los Angeles and San Francisco for example that many flock to just to get a view of these works of art with their own eyes, or to simply photograph it.
A huge impact graffiti has on society, is on the writers themselves. “Graffiti is if nothing else, an opportunity to build a myth around a name, separating yourself from both the crowds and your fellow performers by sheer will alone (Saber, pg.6)” The method to the madness is to become “known” to “get up”, by any means necessary. Whether it is with spray paint, markers, stickers with their tags or art on them known as “slap tags”, etching on glass with sharp metal tools, white out pens, anything! The more prolific and daredevil type writers resort to climbing up on billboards, rooftops even hitting freeway signs and overpasses which are called “heavens”. Going higher and bigger not only for the fame, but to get landmark spots that will stay up for a long time, and also as a slap in the face to those who are against the art form, like cops and city officials who condemn and incarcerate them.
There are many writers who are making a nice living off of their artwork. To name a few, Risk, Revok, Saber, Rime, and Retna from the famed tagging crew “Mad Society Kings” among others who have spear headed a clothing line called “The Seventh Letter” out of Los Angeles. They have cornered the market with their unique graffiti based designs and lettering on t-shirts and clothing apparel. Also opening up their own place to show off their crew’s art as well as that of up and coming progressive artists named “The Known Gallery”. They also work alongside city projects Such as the Beautification mural project and LA FreeWalls in an attempt to bring art to the community in a positive way. As well as the Public Works Program that displays various graffiti artists work on billboards throughout Los Angeles County legally. The graffiti writer known as “Retna” made big time news when he was contracted to paint the Louis Vuitton store front in the Miami Design District in his distinct color wash brimstone style.
“Some of my favorite practitioners of the art are the ones who have just started and don’t even realize the possible life altering effects it brings. All they know is that they love seeing it and they love doing it. The styles they come up with are even better. They have no idea what they are doing or why they’re even doing it. But it’s still with all of their heart. (Clown, pgs. 4-5)”
Graffiti has also been known to have a psychological effect on writers. It’s as addicting as drugs in some ways. The need to write your name on every surface available can be overwhelming. Writer Daniel “Chaka” Ramos whose name was widespread from Orange County to San Francisco was responsible for between ten and fifty thousand unique incidents of him “tagging “ the word “CHAKA” on various vertical surfaces of private and state property, using equipment ranging from permanent markers to spray paint and incurring up to half a million dollars in monetary damage. Chaka was eventually caught, tried and convicted in 1991 on these damages. He was sentenced to three years’ probation and 1,560 hours of community service to be spent cleaning graffiti. Ramos was accused of tagging the interior of a civic-center elevator as he left a courtroom. He was arrested and charged again. He was also later rumored of being committed into a mental institution because of his inability to stop writing graffiti.
The act of vandalism can also ultimately harm a neighborhood because it contributes to a negative perception of the community. Gang graffiti is a perfect example of this. It can also cause a decrease in property value. According to the National Association of Realtors, “property located within a community where there is graffiti will lose 15 percent of its value. If the graffiti is profane or hateful, the property owner can expect to lose up to 25 percent of the home’s value (Lexington, R.)”. As a result, people will try to sell their homes. Potential buyers see graffiti as a neighborhood eyesore. The combination of graffiti and “For Sale” signs will lead people to believe that the area is a “bad” neighborhood.
While many young people believe that graffiti is an art, it is also in fact a crime. The unlawful defacement of a person’s property is a criminal offense. The crime not only costs the “artist” money (the cost of the spray paint), but it costs the neighborhood money as well. Business owners and home owners incur a tremendous expense in graffiti removal. A 2006 survey of the 88 cities, Caltrans and Metro in Los Angeles County alone found the cost of removal to be an estimated $28 million.
Graffiti is so much more than just the desecration of the urban landscape; it is an expression of culture, politics, and a reflection of the time period. It is a way to show the beauty and art that comes not only from graffiti or the mind of the writer but from the society and cultures in which they come from. As a former graffiti writer myself, I know firsthand about its illegal nature, but graffiti is one of the purest forms of self expression I know of, and breaking the law in the process of painting, writing my name on a wall or bombing the city is part of the fun and adrenaline rush. From what I’ve seen Graffiti cannot and will not be stopped! It is constantly evolving in style as it gets passed on from one generation to the next. It would be nice for every city to have legal walls and mural projects for writers to create their works of art, with vivid colors and abstract lettering. But the truth of the matter is that as long as they keep destroying our yards and continue taking our painting spots away, there is no choice but to have it boil over onto the streets for it to be seen. If it can’t be accomplished legally, it will be done illegally regardless of the consequences.