Psychologist Dr. Doug Fayn (2000) feels that graffiti is, in itself, a sublimation.  He says that “graffiti demonstrates condensation, displacement, timelessness as well as immediate impulse and its expression through graphic discharge.  These are the hallmarks of the unconscious.  Graffiti then becomes a sublimation via explosive artistic activity with the graphic ritualism replacing the wished-for prohibited or destructive act” (p.1).  Although this “graphic ritualism” may be, for the artist, a positive way of channeling displaced energy, it is not necessarily, as Kramer puts it “socially productive”.  Whether or not it is possible for one to achieve therapeutic growth and mental advancement from the act of writing illegal graffiti, which is socially unacceptable, it is more plausible and in effect more beneficial for an individual to experience sublimation through a venue that is socially acceptable.  This way the individual is given the permission and the space to transform their energy into an act which is “socially productive”.


If contained within the right environment, which promotes therapeutic growth, the graphic ritualism of graffiti, which breeds sublimation, can be focused and contained within the framework of socially acceptable behavior. This requires cooperation from the social community in working toward a viable solution that can persist and meet the needs of all parties involved.  Provided that these adolescent outlaw-artists are given the opportunity and venues to engage in a socially acceptable form of their art which fosters therapeutic development, they can blossom into creative minds that will be an asset to the flowering of our future society, rather than thorns in the path along the way. 





Graffiti:  For the purpose of this study, graffiti will refer to the stylized spraycan art form of Writing culture,  whether legal or illegal. 


Writing:   The practice of doing graffiti art.  A culture of its own within the culture of Hip-Hop. 

Writer:  A person who writes graffiti.




There will be a significant difference between pre and post scores on the Adolescent Treatment Outcomes Module (ATOM), with the post scores scoring significantly higher than the pre scores with adolescent boys who have been put on probation for graffiti and participated in a six week graffiti art therapy group.





The subjects for this study are all adolescent boys who have been put on probation for defacing public property with graffiti.  Only those subjects who return the adolescent and parental consent form are eligible for the study.  Those subjects participate in a six week art therapy group facilitated by the principal investigator, a graduate psychology and art therapy student and co-faciltated by a legitimate graffiti artist/youth worker.


Prior to participating in the workshop, subjects fill out the Adolescent Treatment Outcome Module (ATOM) Baseline Assessment questionnaire.  Upon completion of the art therapy group, after six weeks, subjects fill out the ATOM Follow-up Assessment questionnaire.  A control group of adolescent graffiti offenders who do not participate in the art therapy group are also administered the baseline assessment test prior to the six week period and then the follow-up at the end of the six week period.  Treatment effectiveness is determined, in part, by comparing pre and post scores of both the art therapy group participants and the members of the control group in a quantitative analysis.  In addition, art therapy group subjects keep a  journal, recording their thoughts, feelings and ideas resulting from their participation in the art therapy group.  With subject’s written consent, the art therapy journals provide data for a qualitative analysis of the treatment outcomes.




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Austin, J. (2001).  Taking the train:  How graffiti art became an urban crisis in new york city.  New York: Columbia University Press. 

Belfer, M.L. (1990). Psychopathology, normality, and creativity in adolescence.  Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 13(3), 557-561. 

Berkovitz, I. (1972).  Adolescents grow in groups.  New York: Brunner/Mazel. 
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Bryan, Bob (Director / Producer)  The Graffiti Verite' Documentary Series (1995-2004

Elikann, P. (1999). Superpredators: The demonization of our children by the law.  New York:  Plenum Press. 

Esman, A. (1983).  The psychiatric treatment of adolescents.  New York: International 
Universities Press. 

Fliegel, L. (2000). An unfound door: Reconceptualizing art therapy as a community-linked  treatment.  American Journal of Art Therapy, 38, 81-88. 

Flowers, R. B.  (1990).  The adolescent criminal: An examination of today’s juvenile 
offender.  North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. 

Frayn, D. (2000). Toronto graffiti.  Retrieved October 17, 2002, from 

Hanna, F., Hanna, C. & Keys, S. (1999).  Fifty strategies for counseling defiant, aggressive,  adolescents: Reaching, accepting, and relating.  Journal of Counseling and Development , 77(4), 395-404. 

Kramer, E. (2001). Sublimation and art therapy. In J.A. Rubin (Ed.), Approaches to art 
therapy: Theory and technique (pp.28-39).  Michigan: Sheridan Books. 

Landgarten, H.  (1981).  Clinical art therapy.  New York: Brunner/Mazel. 

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Newberger, E. (1999)  The men they will become.  Massachusetts: Perseus Books. 

Riley, S. (2001). Group process made visible: Group art therapy.  Michigan: Sheridan Books. 

Stowers, G. (1997). Graffiti art: An essay concerning the recognition of some forms of graffiti as art. Miami: Author.  Retrieved October, 2002, from 

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GRAFFITI VERITE' READ THE WRITING ON THE WALL  is now available on DVD and for Online Downloading.GV3 A VOYAGE INTO THE ICONOGRAPHY OF GRAFFITI ART is now available on DVD and for Online Downloading.GV4 BASIC TECHNIQUES FOR CREATING GRAFFITI ART ON WALLS & CANVAS is now available on DVD and for Online Downloading.GV7 RANDOM URBAN STATIC is now available on DVD and for Online Downloading.GV8 THE FIFTH ELEMENT: The Art of the Beat-Boxer is now available on DVD and for Online Downloading.GV9 SOULFUL WAYS: The DJ is now available on DVD and for Online Downloading.GV10 HIP-HOP DANCE: Moving in the Moment  is now available on DVD and for Online Downloading.GV11 Don't Believe da Noize! Voices from da Hip-Hop Undaground is now available on DVD and for Online Downloading.GV2 FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION? is now available on DVD and for Online Downloading.GV6 THE ODYSSEY: Poets, Passion & Poetry is now available on DVD and for Online Downloading.



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Graffiti Art Therapy