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Graffiti has much been associated art creativity. This paper will examine whether graffiti can be viewed as an art or vandalism. This will be done through the analysis of four questions which touch on the following: transgressive performance in cities, graffiti’s relation with transgressive, how those who engage in the transgressive activities seize the opportunities to display the transgression and how transgressive performance, for instance, graffiti become normative. The essay attempts to answer the question: is graffiti an art or vandalism?  

Graffiti is mostly associated with transgressive. To be in a good position to make a decision on whether graffiti is an art or vandalism, one need to understand the context of the word ‘transgressive’ as used in relation to graffiti. To best understand the meaning of transgressive first the meaning of transgression needs to be examined. Transgressive is created from transgression. McLaren and Patin (1997) defines transgression as the act of surpassing the limits of oppositional thought. The authors next define a transgressive strategy as one which, “constitute an attempt to denaturize, that is, to reveal the contingent foundation of what is culturally regarded as necessary and natural” (McLaren & Patin, 1997, p. 135). The authors then associate transgressive actions with deviations from, “male/female, active/passive, positive/negative axis” (McLaren & Patin, 1997, p. 135). Therefore, simply defined transgressive is the act of behaving in a different ways which are particularly unique. Transgressive performances occur in various ways and are mostly displayed in cities.

As seen from above transgressive actions tend to stand out of that which is considered normal. This is conspicuous especially in the big cities in most of the developed countries. Joseph and Fink (1999) describe such transgressive performance taking place in the days before carnival in the inner city communities of Britain. The description portrays the performance as one with, “huge sound system making their distinctive musical pronouncements in street corners and various housing projects or estates” (Joseph & Fink, 1999, p. 96). The authors argue that the music is played in such a manner that makes them distinguishable from the rest. The authors further argue that the people involved in these performances use the music and dance to, “evoke a counter spirit of relentless assertiveness of their presence” (Joseph & Fink, 1999, p. 96).

Joseph and Fink (1999) make claims that in such cities as London Birmingham, Bristol, and Leeds, there are usually, “maniac release of energy through dance parties” (p. 96). The authors carefully add that the release of energy is just a precedent to the grand occasion. In the grand occasion, the members declare their presence to one another and also to the people around the communities. In a clear way the authors have brought to light so facts about transgressive performances in cities. The first fact is that these actions are out to make a mark of declaring their presence by any means possible. The members of such performances seems to say, “we are here and everybody must be aware of that- we do not care what you doing or where you are.” The members of these performances are also seen to go to extremes to ensure that there presence is felt and not just felt but felt in a special way.

According to Sabater (2002) an art can be transgressive if, “it has some a certain degree of openness to allow for actions and interpretations that cross the line reversing not only the order of things but reversing the order of power as well” (Sabater, 2002, par. 6). Halifax (2006) views graffiti as art the only difference being that graffiti is done on a property without permission thus making it a crime. Halifax (2006) claims that graffiti can occur any but it popular with public places and private buildings (par. 1). Graffiti is used mostly in places where they can ‘talk’ to people and pass messages in an authoritative way. For instance it is very hard for the generally public to the message conveyed in graffiti on a public transport bus. Graffiti designed on public places such as bridges are easily notices.    

Another point to note is the materials used in the creation of graffiti. According to Halifax (2006), “automotive paint, spray paint, crayons and permanent ink,” (par. 2) are used in graffiti creation. This makes the graffiti work bright and at times noticeable from far. The graffiti brightness is seen to resemble the noise made by transgressive performance. As seen from the discussion above, the transgressive performance aim at making everybody in the neighbourhood become aware of their presence. This is seen to be reflected in the graffiti especially when the bright colours are taken into consideration and the fact that the creation is often in strategic places. Therefore what makes graffiti transgressive is its ability to make itself known through the use of the bright colours and the fact that it against the law. 

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