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Destroy All Lines

Destroy All Lines

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Published by Andrew Knox

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Published by: Andrew Knox on Oct 19, 2010
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Andrew KnoxHUM 125 – Hip-Hop Theory and CultureOctober 18, 2010
Reflection Paper #3: Destroy All Lines
Ranging from gangland territory markers to vivid murals, graffiti evokes different images for each viewer. Graffiti is widely acknowledged as one of Afrika Bambaataa's four founding disciplinesof Hip-Hop, along with break dancing, DJing and MCing.
1
Some find graffiti in any form distasteful,regardless of artistic merit, while others defend graffiti as a First Amendment issue. Street art'sdetractors claim that the entire concept is destructive to both public and private property, and is acumulative detriment to society. Many private businesses that focus on graffiti removal find a healthymarket in some municipalities, including Seattle, where property owners can be fined up to onehundred dollars a day for refusing to remove graffiti promptly.
2
On the other side are the bohemiantypes, art critics, counterculture participants, the artists (or “writers”) themselves, or any person with afavorable eye and an open mind.The crux of the argument is the oft-repeated question, “is graffiti art or vandalism?” Before wecome to this, we must get a background on graffiti and its subsets. The English word,
 graffiti
, is simplydefined as “the usually unauthorized writing or drawing on a public surface.”
3
But that word has itsorigins in the Ancient Greek word
 graphein
, which meant “to write.” The Ancient Romans were thefirst to assign
 graffiti
(singular:
 graffito
) the meaning of “a drawing or scribbling on a flat surface.”Graffiti marks have been found in Roman ruins in Rome, Hadrian's Villa, Pompeii and in some Mayanruins.
4
 While some might make the automatic leap and say that if graffiti was truly art and notvandalism, then the word commonly used to describe it ought to connote art and not vandalism, I believe there are two distinct subsets of the word
 graffiti
:
tagging 
and
 street art 
. One is widelyconsidered vandalism, while the other is seen as artistic. Both are considered illegal if painted withoutthe property owner's permission.Within
tagging 
, there are two more subsets:
 gang graffiti
and
tagger graffiti
.
5
 
Tagging 
is quick 
1BBC2Seattle Public Utilities3Merriam-Webster 4Phillips5Berg 3
1
 
Andrew KnoxHUM 125 – Hip-Hop Theory and CultureOctober 18, 2010and dirty; one kid with one can of spray paint putting his message on a surface and then beat a hastyexit. Since the method of 
tagging 
is all about getting in and out, its visual style also conveys itsminimalism, with bare bones tags being simple outlines or even completely unadorned text. Opponentsof graffiti and other street art cite
tagging 
in their argument that the majority of illicit graffiti is nothingclose to tasteful art. Peter Vallone Jr., an active graffiti removal advocate and New York CityCouncilman, has been quoted as saying “eighty-five percent of graffiti is just tags. Another ten percentis gang communication.”
6
This ten percent may seem mathematically unimportant, but with thegeneration gap and prerequisite inside knowledge, tagging and gang graffiti are often lumped together.The ten percent gang graffiti figure seems to translate nationally; reports quoting the Seattle PoliceDepartment's Graffiti Rangers program state that “less than ten percent of the graffiti that [the GraffitiRangers see] is gang related.”
7
Gang graffiti
is the least artistic form of street graffiti, since the intent is to threaten rivalgangsters, instead of inspire neighborhood visitors. Sprayed in various easily seen spots around a givenneighborhood,
 gang graffiti
brands the area as gang territory. Gang graffiti messages are usually painted in the gang's chosen color, and typically “consist[s] of cryptic codes and initials rigidly styledwith specialized calligraphies.”
8
When a gang places special emphasis on its brand, the gang's “graffitimay merge with other art forms, like tattoo and clothing styles, to create a bounded system theconcerns of which may incorporate illegitimate economic and social practices that branch far beyondthe reaches of the actual graffiti.”
9
 
Tagger graffiti
is stylistically similar to gang graffiti, but it vends messages without criminalassociation. Other forms of graffiti, such as “bathroom wall marking (
latrinalia
), signatures, proclamations of love, witty comments in response to advertisements, and any number of individual, political, or social commentary (folk epigraphy)” fall into the broader category of 
individual graffiti.
 A Time Magazine article from 1964, “The Spoilers,” eloquently (if negatively) described therising trend of street graffiti made with spray paint:
The aerosol paint can is science's contribution to the ancient art of public defacement,
6Adle7Berg 38Phillips9Phillips10Phillips
2
 
Andrew KnoxHUM 125 – Hip-Hop Theory and CultureOctober 18, 2010
and the vacant-minded or vicious are taking to it in ever-increasing numbers -- gleefullyspraying their names, initials, class numerals and favorite biological functions over nationalmonuments and natural wonders. The taxpayers' bill for cleaning up after them is getting higher all the time.
But, certainly, not all graffiti is ugly. There is a lot of graffiti that even the most stalwart streetart enemy would have to grudgingly admit is artistic. I call this genre
 street art 
, and there are twofurther subsets beneath it:
burners
and
commercial spray paint art 
. The difference between the subsetsis the canvas material.
 Burners
usually occupy similar habitats to tags: the walls, sidewalks, crevicesand subway trains of any modern, decaying metropolis, while
commercial spray paint art 
usesconventional art surfaces, like poster board, cardboard, paper, wood, metal, glass, ceramic or plastic.
Commercial spray paint art 
is distinct (some might say separate) from other forms of graffiti for three reasons. The first is that it is not inherently illegal to practice, since it is usually commissioned bya patron and produced with materials the artist owns. The second is that the artist gets paid for his art,displacing the standard graffiti motive of earning respect and recognition on the streets. The third isthat the artist does not need to hide their identity. While most street graffiti artists may crouch behindtheir chosen alias, a commercial spray paint artist typically reveals their full name. These differencesare so vastly different from other forms of graffiti that, in the strict, technical sense, spray paint art isnot really graffiti, but actually a genre of legitimate art that emulates the style of ornate street graffitithat happens to utilize spray paint as its primary medium.
While some commercial spray paint artistscould be fairly labeled as “sell-outs,” spray paint art's commercial viability has given credence tograffiti's general acceptability, or, as one Brooklyn art gallery director said, “[graffiti art shows] sent awave around the world that [street art is] legitimate, relevant and people need to pay attention to it.”
And lastly, my favorite subset of graffiti:
burners.
@149st, a website dedicated to revitalizingthe Old School of graffiti (where burners were treasured over tags), defines a burner as “a technicallyand stylistically well-executed wild style [a complicated construction of interlocking letters] piece.
11Time Magazine12Anonymous13Phillips14Adler 
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