February 23, 2011
By Andrea Morris GOLD, Waynesboro, Virginia
Andrea Morris GOLD, Waynesboro, Virginia
11 articles 137 photos 94 comments

GRABBER: While most people look at graffiti as a crime, I see it for what it truly is; communication. “I decided to spray paint Capital Radio and the BBC headquarters with “White riot” in six feet letters in red paint. I was quite surprised when this didn’t result in any air play, but you live and learn.” (Joe ‘lead singer’, The Clash)

AUDIENCE IDENTIFICATION: I’m sure almost everyone here sees graffiti as either art or crime, but have you ever looked past either of those opinions to see it for what it truly and more importantly is? Graffiti is communication through art, or art-communication. “Graffiti is the act of inscribing or drawing on walls for the purpose of communicating a message to the general public” (Werwath, Timothy)

PREVIEW: Today I am going to talk to you about the history of graffiti. I will also name some of the different artist that use their graffiti for communication; an example of this was already used. The quote at the beginning of this speech was made by the lead singer of The Clash after the release of their first album, White Riot. Lastly, I am going to give you a scenario of this happening in our very own community almost a year ago.

TRANSITION: First of all, we will talk about the more recent history of graffiti. Even though graffiti has been around since the cave drawings, we are not going to talk about it that far back.

GRAFFITI HISTORY: “Graffiti has a long and proud history. The subculture surrounding graffiti has existed for several decades, and it's still going strong. The graffiti artists (or "writers" as they prefer to call themselves) are passionate, skilled, community-oriented, and socially conscious in ways that profoundly contradict the way they've been portrayed as common criminals and vandals.” (Swatch)

A. “Taki 183, who lived on 183rd street in Washington Heights, worked as a messenger who traveled all throughout the city. While he did so, he would use a marker and write his name wherever he went, at subway stations and also the insides and outsides of subway cars. Eventually, he became known all throughout the city as this mysterious figure. In 1971, he was interviewed for an article by the New York Times. Kids all over New York, realizing the fame and notoriety that could be gained from "tagging" their names on subway cars (that traveled all over the city, naturally) began to emulate Taki 183. The goal was to "get up" (using the slang of the day), to have one's name in as many places as possible, and as kids competed against each other to get famous, the amount of graffiti on trains exploded.” (Swatch)
“NYC subway graffiti became world famous, and its style and sensibilities were transplanted to other parts of the country and the world, mixing with local traditions and styles in new ways.” (Swatch)

B. Graffiti was really popular in places where the people had no power to be heard. And instead of trying to become a vocal voice, they forced their thoughts onto walls where people were forced to see and hopefully listen.
“What these kids did, however, was to find a way to express themselves creatively in a society that told them that they didn't have the talent or drive. They came from ghettos that many said were void of culture. Graffiti and hip hop in general proved the world wrong. The graffiti writers proved that they could create something beautiful that required skill and dedication, something that contributed to the city even if people didn't always understand what it was all about. They expressed their identity in a society that tried to keep them anonymous, that tried to ignore social problems as if they didn't exist.” (Swatch)

C. Because graffiti became so popular in the ghettos, people would believe that is was mainly gang-related. But 95% of the time, this accusation is false.
“A common misconception is that graffiti is all gang-related. Most graffiti is not gang-related. Gang-related graffiti is most often used to mark territory, and not as much time or effort is spent in its creation.” (Swatch)
Even with the gang-related graffiti, we see that it is also used for communication; communication over territory and communication to other gangs.

D. “graffiti art has a function of not only communicating to others, but it also beautifies the community by appearing on areas that normally would be eyesores, such as a wall in a vacant lot or an abandoned building.” (Prof. Goldman)
“graffitis have now become a rich medium for unrestricted expression of ideas and statements. In fact, creative designers and artists across the globe use this form of art to deliver their message and showcase their work.” (Friedman, Vitaly)

TRANSITION: As you can see, these artists use their art as a way to express themselves and to communicate to their surrounding community. A popular Graffiti artist that many people have heard of is Banksy.

BANKSY: "Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing. And even if you don't come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they're having a piss." (Banksy)

A. Banksy started out as a free-hand artist from Britain who turned to stencils in order to get in and out quicker to avoid getting caught by the police. His first works appeared in the early nineties and are still seen around today. All of his work is very influential. People buy his pieces for $25,000 apiece. His artwork has also been used as tattoos on many people.

B. “Banksy's stencils feature striking and humorous images occasionally combined with slogans. The message is usually anti-war, anti-capitalist or anti-establishment. Subjects often include rats, apes, policemen, soldiers, children, and the elderly.”

C. “Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint.” (Banksy)

TRANSITION: Banksy is a more popular artist who is known world-wide. But if you look in our own town in the right places you can find graffiti communication through local artists. This is seen mainly after certain scenarios.


1. Death
The death of fourteen year old Jason Scott Panzino resulted in quite a bit of drama.

2. Candlelight Service
His candle lit service was broken up violently by the Staunton police. This resulted in dogs being released on the teens and teens being tazed and thrown against cop cars. After this, the Satunton News Leader posted a degrading cartoon about Jason, his friends, and his family. (I suppose this is the media’s form of speaking through art, but two can play at that game.) This only added to the drama and the anger of teens and local graffiti artists.

3. Funeral
Even Jason’s funeral swarmed by cops and the media. This completely drew the line at this point.

4. Aftermath
A. After all of this, graffiti started popping up like pop tarts. All of the art was used to communicate to the cops, the Newsleader, and all the locals who were bashing the family of Jason. After the protests and complaints, the artists decided that it was time to use their vandalism and art to capture the attention of everyone who needed to hear them. They weren’t being heard any other way.

B. Although many of the things have been removed or buffed away, the artists are not yet giving up. Still there are new artworks showing up almost a year later. Our tax money goes to covering this up, and you will see by some of the graffiti pieces a quote saying, “I believe that you are just wasting paint.” This is pointed to the people who paint over the graffiti. They will only go back over it and cost you more paint. Graffiti is like water in a sponge, it spreads, and there is nothing you can do about it.
By taking away or removing graffiti, you take away voices. “In the context of graffiti, such policy solutions often omitted the voices of writers and artists;” (Young, Alison.) Some graffiti artists believe that their artwork is the only way that they can express their thoughts and opinions and be heard. Freedom of speech is only okay when you’re not dumb enough to try it. So, when you can’t speak, paint.

CLOSING: As you can see, graffiti is mainly a means for communication. It has brought artists together world-wide regardless of race or any other segregation. Rather you see it in a big city or our own town, you will notice that graffiti is always written words and meanings.


Swatch. “Graffiti History.” 22 February 2011.
Werwath, Timothy. “The Culture and Politics of Graffiti Art.” 19 March 2006. 22 February 2011.
“Banksy.” 22 February 2011.
KET. Graffiti Planet: The Best Graffiti from Around the World. London: Michael O'Mara Books, 2007. Print.
Friedman, Vitaly. “Tribute to Graffiti: 50 Beautiful Graffiti Artworks.” Smashing Magazine. September 14, 2008.
Prof. Goldman. “An Essay Concerning the Recognition of Some Forms of Graffiti as Art.” Graffiti Art. Phil 651 Aesthetics. Fall 1997.
Young, Alison. "Negotiated consent or zero tolerance? Responding to graffiti and street art in Melbourne." City 14.1/2 (2010): 99-114. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 23 Feb. 2011.

The author's comments:
My speech for communications class.

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This article has 3 comments.

on Feb. 28 2011 at 12:03 am
Andrea Morris GOLD, Waynesboro, Virginia
11 articles 137 photos 94 comments
That's what I was aiming for! (:

on Feb. 27 2011 at 8:15 pm
Andrea, thought provoking look at the "other" side of a hot debate!

evebob said...
on Feb. 27 2011 at 7:41 pm

Andrea, very good, very informative article.