Early Beginnings

Ancient graffiti in Pompeii

Graffiti use dates back to ancient Greece. The earliest known example is found in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus (now in Turkey) and is thought to be an advertisement for prostitution. The ancient civilizations of the Greeks, Romans and Mayans all exhibited examples of graffiti inscriptions.

The Modern Urban Landscape

What most consider modern graffiti began in New York City in the late 1960s with writers tagging their names on subway cars, according to Mike Von Joel's 2006 State-of-Art article, "Urbane Guerrillas." After the New York Times published an article about a popular tagger named TAKI 183 in 1971, the subculture began to receive attention from the outside world.

In the 1980s graffiti became intertwined with Hip Hop culture. Tags became more and more complex, giving way to more intricate, colorful designs, or pieces. Graffiti moved away from subway cars and onto buildings and overpasses.

IBM's Peach Love Linux graffiti advertising campaign

Graffiti Today

Today graffiti has several current uses, and more innovative styles are popping up every day. Graffiti has permeated society enough to have become a part of American popular culture. Brands like Nike have incorporated aesthetic aspects of graffiti into their products, while other brands such as IBM, have used graffiti as a marketing medium.

High Art

More and more graffiti is being considered a legitimate art form from the art community. Many pieces have less of a political agenda and exist for the art's sake. There is usually a distinction made in the art world between simple tags and graffiti art. Graffiti art is seen as genuine artwork with its emphasis on color and composition.

Former graffiti writer Stern Rockwell said "I appreciate art, and kids get it when they see it. The writers are working with color, developing a unique style. Either you like it or you don't, but it's art." Rockwell, who runs, said he doesn't appreciate gang-related tags which he considers simple vandalism.

Graffiti on the Berlin Wall

Radical Politics

One common use of graffiti is to disseminate political ideas. The subculture of graffiti artists tends to rebel against authority and the mass media. The political agendas being promoted by the artist varies from individual to individual. Both sides of a political issue may have their own forms of graffiti.

Gang Activity

Graffiti is generally associated with gangs. Although not all is gang-related, graffiti is a primary way that gang members may mark their territory or turf. According to University of Southern California professor Alejandro A. Alonso, gang graffiti often makes claims of supremacy, threats to other gangs, and territorial claims.