"A Picture Spray Painted a Thousand Words"
by Xandie Jose

The Bay Bridge is like a portal to another world. On one side there is the clean, effervescent land and on the other, a busy graffiti-infested city. Coming from a town where we isolated ourselves from the violence, the drive-by shootings, the murders, and the over night raids of spray cans, only seen by us on the daily news, I would only encounter graffiti as a mural in town. This mural was painted to display the history of what was once rolling hills, populated with Native Americans, now swarmed with thousands of houses. The only connection we would ever have and have been taught to us about graffiti was that it's bad and gang related. Coming through this portal brought me to a dimension, a dimension full of all types of graffiti, opening my mind to many possibilities. I found in the long run that graffiti was not necessarily gang related, but there are other graffiti-art that say something, shouting out to the adult world that you need to pay attention to us, that we have something to say. Though graffiti-art can be disassociated from graffiti-tag and is appreciable, the greatness of the artwork still doesn't justify the fact that any type of graffiti is vandalism without consent.

        My misconception of graffiti as being only one type haunted me to think that all these years I have been judgmental along with the narrow minded people, refusing to look at underlying purposes of graffiti-art. This portal that brought me to a world of graffiti showed me another type of graffiti, graffiti-art, voicing out the thoughts of all youths. "A voice describes an identity" (Bojorquez). Graffiti-art is the voice of many youths- giving them an identity among themselves, among their community, a sense that they belong, combining all youths together to fight against the cruelty of this world-a voice drowned out by the noise of a traffic jam full of stereotypes, a noise that society is not willing to filter out. There was this one particular graffiti-art, from the movie "Graffiti Verite'", in which the cops were portrayed as bad people; maybe some are, but this work showed real images that would never be seen by the public in the news, real live images only seen by those who lived in poor neighborhoods where cops are the real enemies. Graffiti-artists', striving hard to get the public's attention, can only gain it through graffiti-art. The realization of all my misconceptions had brought me to this world of graffiti-art just in time to appreciate the art on the wall, a world that will take society a lifetime to reach, a world full of voices and truth; truth is what the spray can painted. These graffiti-arts showed the public the real agenda that was happening underneath their noses, images that the public refuses to open their eyes to see.

        Although graffiti-art is exemplary work, it doesn't exonerate the fact that graffiti-artists or taggers can spray paint anywhere they wish. I have to excuse myself from here on out because sympathy is my weakest characteristic.

        My argument would not be invalid due to lack of personal experience and knowledge, but would be valid as a judgment call. I know most graffiti-art is vandalism because no permission was ever exchanged between the taggers or graffiti-artists and the wall owners. If no permission was ever reciprocated, from a judgment call, it is vandalism. " Street graffiti is larger and visually on more powerful scale" (Bojorquez 83). I totally agree with Bojorquez on his comment, but he fails to specify what type of graffiti he is talking about. If Bojorquez was talking about graffiti-art it is more powerful on walls, more effective, easily seen, and speaks to the viewers on another level but if it were not authorized to be there then it is vandalism. It is defacing private/public property and that is breaking the laws, such as: destroying property, and disturbing the peace, which intrudes on the privacy of many individuals. But that doesn't mean that some wall owners don't allow the young community to display their artworks, images that haunt their minds. To the full extent any type of graffiti is vandalism without authorization.

        Graffiti-art can no longer be classified as tag graffiti because there are no distinctions between a real painter and a graffiti-art painter. Some graffiti-art takes complex thinking to understand what the graffiti-artists are trying to project to the public. These graffiti-artists can be categorized as painters- taking a long time painting one picture on a canvas, painting about their experiences, their moods at the moment, things that go on in the world, and most of all things that go on in their lives. These are valid arguments about why graffiti-artists are artists because they act and think like painters. Graffiti artists/taggers are misunderstood by society, but a plus on the graffiti-artists' list because people misunderstood most famous painters in their own centuries. An example of an artist is Van Gogh. Maybe someday these graffiti-artists can be recognized by the people in the future and/or be written about in the history books.

        Many people don't look behind the vandalism and don't  take the time to understand the youth that draw these graffiti-arts. I know how hard it is to get the adult world to take us seriously, nevertheless, listen to us, but the only way to get them to listen is to talk to them. Society will continue branding the stereotype of graffiti = gang to the public, making it hard for youths to erase this image. "The media continues to portray graffiti as vandalism, destructive behavior and meaningless scribbles..."(Bojorquez 83). This statement is right; the public is being misinformed with information that is wrong, but that doesn't excuse the fact that graffiti-artists could just tag anywhere they want without justifying to the public what is right or wrong about the graffiti-artists' stereotype. The public will continue to embrace these stereotypes about graffiti if graffiti-artists don't try hard to differentiate themselves from the graffiti-taggers. Graffiti-artists, along with graffiti-taggers, are still punishable by law because they fail to ask for approval from property owners. If a person happened to be a certain type of character that society happened to have misconceptions about, that person has to take the responsibility of changing those stereotypes to end conflicting views. Businesses, with constant problems dealing with graffiti, will continue to think that graffiti-art is the same as graffiti-tag and any type of graffiti-artist whether tagger or artist is one type. It is hard to distinguish between the two and the earlier you catch the problem and correct it, the earlier graffiti-art will be recognized world wide. If people knew the intent behind graffiti-art, they will realize that its not just scribbles on the wall. Graffiti-art is actually similar to many well-known arts like the hieroglyphics of Egypt, the cave paintings of the Native Indians, and the cave paintings of the Neanderthals; these paintings are now well renowned and in the future graffiti-art will be also.

        Coming from a person who knew nothing about graffiti-art, lived in a graffiti-free world, and had been taught that graffiti is bad, I can still relate to how hard it is to get the public to the intent behind graffiti-arts. Keep painting those great graffiti-arts because they speak and  mean something to me, but please ask permission first. Graffiti-art speaks to each youth and they can easily relate on many levels. Every youth goes through similar experiences and many expresses these experiences through spray cans, but they must learn to ask. The only way we can be taken seriously is to rise to the high ground in which the adult world lives; some adults do try to understand the root of graffiti-art, and explain or compromise with the adults; that's the only way to reach these adults.

Home Page  |  Graffiti Art & Culture  |  Documentary Videos  | Contact/Email

SFSU  Student Essays reproduced with permission of the Student(s).
All Student(s) Essays were submitted by Professor L. Barroca, San Francisco State University..
Copyright, 1999, All Rights Reserved
Graffiti Verite' / GV2, International Graffiti Art Competition