Why Graffiti Is The Most Stunning And Revolutionary Form Of Art
A lot of people laugh at me when I talk about my favorite graffiti in different cities, which I understand. Graffiti is that spray paint scrawled on the metro wall that you can’t read. Usually found in grungy neighborhoods with really good takeout, the sight of graffiti on your walk home might make you tuck your purse a little tighter and call an uber.
But here’s the thing: I love graffiti. I’ll photograph the good ones, I’ll rubberneck the complicated ones, and I will definitely take a four hour train ride to see an interesting example of graffiti.
Here’s why I love graffiti: it is literally the art of the people. Since cavemen first started finger painting, all the important events in human culture have made it on a wall. With the development of civilization, art started to be dictated by who had enough resources to sit around and not hunt. This means that most artists have had to both get a patron (the person who pays for the art and food for the artist) and paint what that person wanted. This meant less culturally important subjects making it onto walls and more subjects that other people paid to be culturally significant.
This shifted the perspective of art from coming from the vision of everyday people to only coming from the vision of rich people.
For centuries, one of the only patrons for artists was the Catholic Church or people important in the church hierarchy. That’s why so many of the High Renaissance paintings are religious themed. Unless you were also a rich person who had the favor of the church and could afford to hire an artist, your perspective wasn’t going down in art.
It was only when the middle class started to rise in prominence, a combination of a growing merchant class as well as a secular lifestyle, that regular people could start to afford paintings. This started a glorious age of self-expression and innovation. Artists slowly started to paint what they felt was important.
The most memorable of these movements are the Impressionists in painting. While modern people adore Monet’s and Renoir’s, these artists were laughed at for their futuristic painting styles. These artists painted what they saw for how they saw it, a perspective people now adore.
Similar to the Impressionists, graffiti artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat painted what they saw in a medium available to them: spray paint. They painted where they lived: grungy underground networks in urban cities. They also painted on surfaces both available to them and in a place that couldn’t be ignored or destroyed by society: the walls and buildings of the city. Made fun of by art critics and hated by city maintenance committees, their art drew attention to social issues the press was afraid to cover.
AIDS, crack addition, alternative lifestyles, and immigrant identities suddenly started to be included in the conversation of the press because they were plastered on the subway wall on peoples’ commute home. Now honored as visionaries and commercialized on t-shirts, Haring and Basquiat started a revolution just like Van Gogh and Matisse.
While artists like Banksy and Fairy Shepard are capitalizing off the social scene built by these graffiti giants, there is still plenty of discussion to be seen taking place on the walls of your own city. Look past the crude messages of someone who hasn’t found their voice yet and see what is on the underbelly of your city.
While the majority of my written examples are from the Western European and American art scenes, the pictures are entirely from Chile. It wasn’t always safe for me to take pictures in areas with the best graffiti, but I tried to capture all aspects of this fantastic culture present on the brick walls and buildings all over this country. Chile is a nation which has seen a revolution within living memory and still has a lot of social growth to go through, so people put their feelings on the only global stage that cannot be broken: brick walls.
Does anyone else live in a city with memorable graffiti? Please send in some examples to see what your city is saying.