Presented as "vandalism" and "anti-social" by the mainstream media, graffiti is associated with clichéd ideas about social decay, troubled teens and general "immorality."
Slaven Kljucanin presents a different reading of graffiti, recognising it as at once the most visible expression of alienation as well as the most democratic form of artistic expression possible.
The art of graffiti is present and visible everywhere, and has been since ancient times. Although often omitted from mainstream histories of art, graffiti is, in many ways, the first human social gesture to lie outside of a pure concern for survival.
The first drawings archaeologists have discovered are found in the caves of France and Spain and date from the Stone Age. In later periods the invention and development of writing has of course had an enormous influence on the historical development of graffiti.
Written examples of graffiti have been found in the ruins of Athens and Pompeii, indicating the widespread appeal this form of expression had across both literate and illiterate class groups.
Today, the most important factor influencing the production of graffiti is that its creators - the modern graffiti artists - are conscious of the wall as a medium. The public street is arguably the most democratic of forums. It is one that is open as a media tool for all the groups oppressed and marginalised by capitalist society.
As one Melbourne graffiti artist put it, "The streets are public places. Graffiti is an expression of the experiences and ideas of people who live on those streets but don't own them or the houses or the businesses. Graffiti creates solidarity between all those people. It isn't academic; it's immediate and doesn't require money."
One of the consequences of the revolutionary upheaval in France in 1968 was the rapid increase in the popularity of graffiti and its occurrence. A Marxist theorist at the time cited graffiti as being the true revolutionary medium to express "the spirit of '68."
It is this revolutionary aspect to modern graffiti as an artistic and expressive form that can help us understand why authorities are so opposed to it. The reason for this is very simple.
Graffiti is extremely difficult to censor, police or control and is therefore one of the most honest of media, unpolluted by the standard contingencies of capitalism: funding, markets, state approval and the like. Graffiti as a form recognises no constraints, is free from both censorship and authorial control.
Once it has been created graffiti can easily be added to or destroyed by other artists. Its fundamentally basic and flexible nature ensures its popularity amongst the oppressed groups - particularly working class youth - in the stifling environment of capitalism. Graffiti artists constantly develop new ways of informing (annoying) the whitewashed walls of capitalist establishment.
Graffiti is a very simple and easily understood response to the alienation caused by an existence living in a system arranged around profit instead of human needs and desires. It is a cry against the cultural manipulation, economic absurdity and environmental decay which dominate modern life.
In the words of one Melbourne artist, "Graffiti cheers me up. I've often laughed at it and felt that I'm not alone, and that's important for our emotional survival." The ideologies of capitalism are the real
vandalist assaults on the human spirit, not the graffiti which notes their own cruel nonsense and absurdity.
Please, think twice before accepting their distinction and look again at those statements which can truly be called "our" art.