10 Quick Facts About Graffiti

Sure, you’ve seen the bubble letters and bright colors that decorate walls, poles and train cars. You may have even heard it by different names. Street art. Vandalism. Tagging. Columbia even has an area dedicated to the craft called Graffiti Beach in Flat Branch Park.

But when and where did it start? Who started it? Why is it there? And what are the legal issues? This quick list will give you a glimpse into the historical and cultural context of graffiti.

1. Graffiti as it’s known today began in the late 1960s in Philadelphia.

It was primarily used to make political statements and mark street gang territory.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/RJ

2. One of the first known graffiti artists was called Cornbread.

His name is Darryl McCray, but he was known by his tagging name, Cornbread.

3. Many graffiti artists tag their work.

“Tagging” is a way for street artists to sign their name anonymously. They often use random words or symbols and then embellish them with stars or crowns.

Photo courtesy of Sry85/Wikimedia

4. The Style Wars began in the 1970s, which introduced the concept of bombing.

Graffiti artists created bigger and bigger pieces in an attempt to achieve fame. They would often “bomb,” or “hit,” one area, which meant painting many surfaces in an area. For the sake of time, they often threw up tags instead of complex pieces.

5. The Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network was founded in 1984 to fight the spread of graffiti.

The agency is backed by the city of Philadelphia and provides resources to businesses who need help eradicating vandalism of their property. They also have a Mural Arts Program which allows youth to express themselves by creating murals throughout the city. Similar agencies have popped up in cities around the U.S.

6. While most laws surrounding graffiti are local, there is a federal law prohibiting railroad vandalism.

The law is a strategy to prevent trespassing on railroad property and vandalism affecting railroad safety.  Their main concern in creating this law was safety.

Photo courtesy of A Syn/Flickr

7. Graffiti is one of the four elements of hip hop.

The other three are DJing, emceeing and break dancing. Some have added on a fifth, which is knowledge.

8. Subway graffiti died out for the most part in the late 1980s due to heightened security.

The last subway train with a significant amount of graffiti on it was taken off the rails in 1989. It didn’t die out completely, however, and some artists took to freight trains.

Photo courtesy of Jim Pickerell/Wikipedia

9. A black book, or piece book, is a graffiti artist’s sketchbook.

It’s often closely guarded from authorities because it could be used as evidence in vandalism cases.

Photo courtesy of Jemandarderes/Wikimedia

10. To keep up with the competition, graffiti artists created rubber stamps, stickers and stencils for more efficient tagging.

Some believed that this defied the true nature of graffiti, but at this point in the 1980s, everyone was focused on achieving fame.