Graffiti? Street Art? Tagging? meaning?

The city I live in was founded by the romans in the year 50 and thus has a very long history. However most of that history was destroyed during the second world war when 95% of the inner city was bombed, so today there is hardly any “old” or “pretty” architecture anywhere as everything had to be rebuilt funktional and fast to accomodate a speedy recovery at the time. Thats a long preamble to say that architectually the city is pretty ugly as it stands today.

To add to the misery, I’ll get to my point / question: pretty much all the streets are covered in tagging / “graffiti” crap.

Now is someone able to explain to me what the purpose of this shit is beyond a big FUCK YOU to everyone who lives here?

Seriously, if there were at least SOME artistic merit to any of it, I guess one could argue that someone is expressing themselves, but those are so few and far between that its not really worth mentioning.

There are a few examples in the city like that:

But when I wander around town or cycle to work I keep thinking what a grey ugly city I live in. I mean it does have nice parts: the cathedral is iconic, there are lots of parks, nice cafes / bars and friendly people (well, mostly! :) ), so its not so frustrating that I feel the need to move… but why does everything have to look so poor & dirty and derelict due to all the crappy graffiti?

I’m guessing its just stupid teens having fun scrawling their tag on things? Does anyone know if there is more to it? Can’t all be gang tags or melodramatic stuff like that, right?

No no, it’s getting your “name” everywhere, forcing people to notice you, outdoing the other taggers by volume and/or by tagging hard-to-reach, very visible places. Tagging wasn’t intended as art; it’s just that for some talented people it evolved that way.

It’s nowhere near my field, but there are tons of academics who study street art, grafitti, tagging, and the like. Here are a few randomly selected treatises from European authors that might be interesting:

In short, though, “it depends” seems to be the answer. One person’s expression of resistance against their deindividuation and commodification is another person’s vandalism. Both can be right.

Thanks! I’ll check those out.

Well, thats a LOT of reading there… My impression is that most of that writing seems to be focused on actually artistic efforts be they graphic representations of lettering or images themselves. The reference to simple “tagging” - ie monochromatic short scrawls of nicknames / IDs appears to be limited, so I haven’t really found any explanations beyond marking territory(?). Lets see if I can find some more infos in there.

Maybe those are art from extremely shitty artists.

Yeah, I didn’t have time to go deep into the sources to find ones that focus on tagging per se, though you can find a fair number of articles in journals specializing in urban history, sociology, and anthropology, as well as urban planning. Some arts publications too, and the subject of tagging comes up with writers who focus on crime and criminality as well.

You are right I think that many academics are drawn more to stuff for which they can make an easy artistic case, and sort of wiggle around the more problematic stuff. The basic theory though is fairly similar, that it’s an assertion of control and power within the sphere allowed to the essentially powerless. What is not clear is whether that is actually a good thing, however you measure it.Many would differentiate between “good” and “bad” illegal art, while others reject the entire framework that people use to judge graffiti and tagging as being itself a representation of an elite, white, capitalist hierarchy that values property more than people. Still others think it’s all vandalism and people should obey the rules, damn it!


I learned this by playing Assassin’s Creed: Watch Dogs 2 edition.

Miami has some Graffiti

Sometimes in very hip locales the art is commissioned by the property owner or the city, maybe as part of a mural.

When this happens, some people would argue that the activity ceases to be street art or “legitimate” social expression, and becomes just a commodity. Others would disagree, and argue that it represents a successful case of effecting change.

Me, I just look at it and decide whether it looks cool or not.