Understanding graffiti

Series of five theory classes

This series of classes analyses the ethical and aesthetic codes of graffiti, and studies its history in detail: its historical antecedents, its genesis in New York City in the seventies, its worldwide expansion in the eighties, and the huge transformations it has undergone since then.

1. Graffiti in history

Historical antecedents of graffiti are surprisingly abundant, and show how informal wall writing has been part of everyday normality in every strata of society, in most times and places. From the classic era to the Middle Ages, romanticism and the 20th century.

2. The subway graffiti of New York

The most important form of graffiti is undoubtedly the one which appeared in New York in the seventies, and which has conquered the world since the eighties. This class studies the genesis and history of the movement in its original environment of the New York subway. Starting with the first tags at the end of the sixties, on to the spectacular letterings the size of a subway car from the seventies and eighties, and to the eventual disappearance of the phenomena in 1989.

3. The graffiti diaspora

Expelled from the subway, graffiti sought new environments, and evolved in order to adapt to very different kinds of surfaces. The phenomena was exported worldwide. During the nineties, the European scene turned into a laboratory that generated new codes in the game: photography as vehicle for the pieces, international travel as a basic goal, and the introduction of specialised paint. The latest changes have to do with the adoption of new, ever more radical tools.

4. Graffiti, from experience to spectacle

The practice of graffiti consists mostly in the exploration and reinvention of the environment. With the introduction of specialised media (magazines, videos, internet) and of the specialised market (aerosols, etc), a great part of that experience has turned into a mere act of consumption of images and products. Video has consolidated as one of the main tools in graffiti. This class studies these topics, and shows some of the videos that have been milestones in this evolution.

5. Styles from Europe

The game of graffiti was redefined in Europe in the nineties, in particular regarding graphic styles. This class studies two graphic tendencies, both characteristically European, but diametrically opposed to each other. On the one hand, “3D style”, one of the highest moments in the evolution towards slick gimmickry. On the other, the so-called “anti-style”, a form of ironic, deliberately ugly graffiti which reinterprets the innocence and spontaneity of the kids who created the artform in the seventies.