Graffiti represents writing or drawings applied (typically without permission) to public walls or other surfaces. Graffiti artisans might use paint, spray paint, pen, chalk, or other mediums to paint, scribble, or scratch their artwork on various surfaces. Graffiti has been a popular art form since ancient times. Some of the earliest graffiti evidence hails from ancient Egypt and Greece. In the modern era, graffiti is often considered a crime and practitioners may face steep fines and vandalism charges for applying graffiti to public and private property.
Graffiti has long been regarded as a rebellious art form. During both ancient and present times, graffiti has been used to convey political or social opinions. Most graffiti art is anonymous, but many present-day gangs use signature forms of graffiti to mark territory. On the other hand, graffiti has also been regarded as a legitimate art form and has been allowed in various prescribed settings in various parts of the world.
Some types of graffiti are viewed as advertisements in nature. For instance, one of the oldest graffiti examples is from the Greek city of Ephesus and contains a heart with a street address that scholars believe is ancient advertisement for a brothel. Ancient graffiti, like much of graffiti found today, was also personal in nature and might involve messages regarding personal love and love interests. Graffiti preserved in ancient Pompeii contains examples of spells, slogans, and even literary quotes. Historians have been able to learn a great deal about life in ancient Pompeii during its final days because of this preserved graffiti. Many other cultures such as the ancient Mayans and Vikings of the Middle Ages also practiced forms of graffiti.
In modern times, graffiti can invariably be seen covering the walls of train stations and bus depots as well as on boxcars, buildings, and bridges. In recent years, graffiti has become associated with Hip-Hop culture particularly in the U.S. In various nations like Brazil, graffiti enjoys a more respected reputation and many works such as those that adorn building facades might even be commissioned. There are some advocates working to encourage the art world to embrace graffiti as a legitimate art form. However, many graffiti artists continue to be treated as vandals in the eyes of the law of many nations.
Because of the legal consequences they may face, many graffiti artists have learned to work quickly and efficiently. For this reason, spray paint is often chosen because of its convenience. While many controversies surround graffiti art, many galleries have created exhibits to showcase this art form that has endured for centuries.