For as long as we have had walls and words, for as long as civilization has privileged some voices over others, and from the time we first understood identity to have a name, people have been writing their names and thoughts on the walls. No matter how much the politicians and good citizens of the world may decry graffiti as a modern ill – some insidious sign of decline – history teaches us that graffiti is one of the most ancient modes of communication.
For those who still question whether graffiti is art or crime, perhaps we might consider how those kids who first took to the trains with their paints and markers in the New York City Subway system some half-century ago called themselves “writers” rather than graffiti artists. In this we are reminded that the rise of graffiti within different cultures has been closely linked to the development of the alphabet and written language. Let us say, then, that this is really about how we may choose to speak to one another. Much in the same way that we begin to talk of words put together in an artful way as literature, when graffiti has a level of style and technical sophistication we should call it something more than vandalism, and look at it as art. In all cases, its gift and necessity is that it is about communication.