The graffiti subculture mirrors the functions of ‘institutionalized art’ Essay Example
The graffiti subculture mirrors the functions of ‘institutionalized art’ Essay Example

The graffiti subculture mirrors the functions of ‘institutionalized art’ Essay Example

Available Only on StudyHippo
  • Pages: 6 (1386 words)
  • Published: December 15, 2017
  • Type: Essay
View Entire Sample
Text preview

In the late 1960s, graffiti gained public attention primarily in New York City. It emerged as an expression of political radicalism, as well as black and Hispanic empowerment and identity. This art form then spread to Europe and other regions, becoming a part of the 'graffiti underground' (Ferrell J, 1995:74). The term 'graffiti' originates from a word that implies scratching, suggesting that graffiti involves imprinting an image onto a surface to leave a distinctive mark or stamp.

Both graffiti and 'institutionalized art' can be connected or associated in the same way. 'Institutionalized art' refers to art that comes from a learned background or is educated in museum art where the study of technique and history is mandatory. In contrast, graffiti is often seen as mere vandalism and associated with criminal acts. However, both graffiti 'writers' and 'trained


artists' consider themselves to be proper artists.

Is graffiti similar to "institutionalized art" or is it a distinct form of expression with a different agenda? This essay will provide an overview of graffiti as a subculture and explore how it is perceived by the writers themselves and by the law and gallery art. The comparison between graffiti and gallery art will be examined to determine the level of acceptance within the artistic realm, with a specific focus on its meaning and interpretation.

I aim to reach a successful conclusion to the essay topic by examining sociological perspectives and related literature. Graffiti can be viewed as various forms of writing and murals. It caught attention due to its combination of diverse styles influenced by both popular culture and distinct ethnic traditions. The 'tag' serves as a stylized logo that identifies the

View entire sample
Join StudyHippo to see entire essay

artist who is otherwise unknown. It is akin to a signature that allows the artist to be recognized within the graffiti community, primarily by other graffiti artists. Through their tag, they gain recognition and establish their presence in the world of graffiti.

Tags in their larger and more elaborate 'throw-up' versions become the initial focus of stylistic and social organisational innovation. Graffiti writers developed new stylistic techniques to differentiate their tags from other types of graffiti vying for public space and attention. The tag became the primary unit of creation and the fundamental gauge of a writer's renown. Graffiti served as a medium for social interaction among the writers. When creating graffiti, the tagger or writer establishes a career with an audience, patrons, and law enforcement officials as the primary participants (Lachmann R, 1988:230).

Using the subway car as a canvas, graffiti writers would create intricate murals that covered entire cars. The focus was not on how many tags they could create, but rather on the quality of their work. Usually, more experienced and reputable writers would carry out these elaborate pieces. By using the subway car as their canvas, taggers were able to distance themselves from other artists and rely on aspiring writers who they recruited and taught, acting as both an audience for their graffiti and validators of their fame.

Subway murals gave rise to writers corners, which facilitated the formation of a new social organization. Within this context, various graffiti artists would gather and assess the form and style of each other's work, thus shaping their reputation (Lachmann R, 1988:241). The symbolism of graffiti led to a general belief among the public that graffiti and

crime were intertwined. Graffiti was perceived as a means of resistance against societal norms and constraints imposed on these artists.

The city symbolized a set of limitations and barriers that were impossible for them to surpass (Ferrell J, 1995:535). Research reveals that the majority of artists were male, coming from a black family and belonging to a single-mother household receiving social assistance. Both law enforcement and a large portion of the population believed that there was a strong correlation between crime and graffiti. However, a survey conducted by Lachmann concluded the opposite. According to the graffiti artists he interviewed, their involvement in graffiti not only allowed them to freely express themselves but also kept them away from criminal activities (Lachmann 1988:435).

Public space provided writers with the perfect opportunity to showcase their talent while expressing their dissatisfaction with institutionalization and limitations. They purposely selected publically owned locations to highlight their rebellion. Their ultimate goal was to gain recognition by tagging the highest points of buildings with their unique logos. Graffiti, similar to gallery and institutionalized art, served as a means of self-expression and allowed artists to establish their identity in their respective environments. Graffiti appealed to both artistic individuals and those who believed in certain moral values.

The former aimed to persuade graffiti writers to use their skills to create artwork that could be sold in galleries. The latter viewed graffiti as a symbol of urban chaos and advocated for its suppression as a means of restoring law and order and controlling rebellious young people and minority groups. Graffiti writers are often judged by others based on preconceived notions of who they are - it is not the

act itself that defines their work, but rather the response it evokes from others. The art world struggles to fully acknowledge graffiti writers' work as genuine art (Lachmann R, 1988:233).

According to graffiti critics, graffiti is perceived as lacking diversity or any unique commendable qualities. Art institutions are acknowledged for adhering to "aesthetic standards" in their art displays (Lachmann R, 1988:235). The classification of graffiti is determined by the response of established institutions and their ideals and norms regarding art. The social organization of the graffiti underworld can be connected to the hegemonic theory that explains the concept of "false consciousness," which is central to this underworld where its members are unaware of reality (Willis, 1990:157).

The dominant class in this context is the middle-class elite gallery artist, while the subordinate class is primarily composed of working class graffiti writers. Willis proposes a more dynamic approach to cultural practice, rejecting the impersonal environment associated with Marxism. Instead of viewing humans solely as workers or completely dispensable, we should acknowledge their capacity for creativity and their involvement in shaping their own identities (Willis, 1990:145).

Lachmann (1988) discusses the subculture of graffiti and highlights the way in which the upper-class art world oppresses the under-class graffiti artist. Additionally, Lachmann notes the oppression of women within the graffiti sphere by men. This could be seen as a result of male graffiti writers desiring a sense of superiority, further reflecting Gramsci's concept of a hegemonic society. In order to become proficient in graffiti style and approach, beginners must seek out a mentor or tutor.

The symbiotic relationship between the novice and mentor in the world of graffiti is characterized by a didactic

nature that benefits both parties. The novice gains knowledge and skills from the mentor in the art of graffiti, including the techniques of tagging and developing a unique style that allows them to be recognized by other taggers. On the other hand, the mentor benefits from the novice as they provide an audience for their work, but they also face competition from the novice in terms of gaining recognition. Taggers often liken themselves to advertisers, utilizing free public spaces as a medium to leave their mark and make themselves visible to others.

The main focus of Ferrell's paper is the graffiti community in Denver, Colorado. He offers detailed and captivating descriptions of how graffiti artists in Denver engage in their work both individually and as a group. Unlike in New York, where taggers and muralists tend to be separate and have different goals (quantifying their work for taggers and developing style for muralists), in Denver, there is a group of graffiti writers who do both tagging and mural painting. In the city center, all graffiti writers are acquainted with each other, creating a sense of a familial structure within the graffiti subculture.

The graffiti writers in Denver are not only seen as artists, but also as a community. They interact with each other and find support in the city's art galleries. Surprisingly, the anti-graffiti campaign in Denver ended up backfiring. Instead of deterring graffiti writers, it inadvertently gave them free advertising by generating publicity. This publicity led some building owners and art collectors to even commission graffiti murals and canvases. However, the writers did express their dissatisfaction with the level of control that patrons had over the

content of commissioned work.

Get an explanation on any task
Get unstuck with the help of our AI assistant in seconds