“Tag” You’re It

by Lauren Armenta

The surge of adrenaline sets in, with sweat dripping down your spine and your heart pounding. The cops are not far behind. You run fast as the spray cans are clink in your bag, the thoughts of being caught by the feds infiltrate your mind.

Graffiti is a powerful and extreme form of self-expression. It has been around since the first prehistoric human made a mark on the walls of caves. The desire we have to make an impact on society is human nature. To knowingly paint the crisp, clean walls and rebel against authority fuels the desire to leave a mark even more.

Graffiti, street art, and tagging have always been considered a sign of a declining society. The lines that define art and vandalism have been debated over for some time.

The graffiti work of artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat started being bought and sold during the 1980s, and became collector’s items over time. Graffiti is considered art, rather than an act of vandalism, if the artist makes a profit.

“I think street art has had more success in LA County, where a lot of the artists have become famous as a result of the commercialization of their designs,” said Yasmine Say, a former Chapman Professor, originally from London.

If money isn’t involved, then any type of tag, graffiti, or street art mark is considered vandalism and the start of a decaying society. What draws people and street artists to places of such abandonment?

James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling developed a theory called Broken Windows to help answer this question. The Broken Windows theory states that once a window is unrepaired for a period of time, all of the other windows will also soon be broken. The abandonment of unattended property is at the will of others.

Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford psychologist, tested the Broken Window theory by putting a car in two different areas—one placed in the Bronx and the other in Palo Alto. Within the first 10 minutes of the car being placed in the Bronx, vandals had removed the battery, windows had been broken, and soon children used it as a place to play. A similar car placed in Palo Alto had not been touched. However, once Zimbardo had destroyed parts of that car, other people began wrecking the car and, within hours, the car was flipped.

According to this theory, once communal barriers are broken, such as abandonment of private property, this property becomes fair game for anyone to tamper with. Results of this theory can be observed at Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park.

“The zoo is just covered in graffiti. The entirety of the cages is filled with all sorts of tags and artwork in vibrant colors,” said Taylor Tissel, a Chapman University transfer student. 2014-02-21 02.54.46

When the zoo moved locations in 1965, Griffith Park was simply left as is—never torn down or repopulated with anything else. Today, this place is not only an attraction to the tourists of Los Angeles but a hub of graffiti writing, tags, and works of art.

The second it had become abandoned, it became fair game to curious artists, adventure-seekers, and ‘vandals.’ The zoo’s insides burst with color of multiple artists’ work. The inside of animal cages has become a common location for people to make their mark. Artists are drawn to this location because of its privacy.

Abandonment, adrenaline, and rebellion are the ingredients that convert clean walls into canvasses. 16-year-old, Ser, from Massachusetts creates his artwork under an alias, and started tagging at 14 years old.

“I try as hard as possible to keep everything as original as possible,” he said.

However, keeping things original often means crossing legal boundaries.

Despite his age, Ser has had his fair share of troubling encounters compared to the average teenager.

“I’ve been chased a small few times by police. Most of the time it’s a civilian who doesn’t completely agree on minding their own,” Ser said.

This hasn’t seemed to stop him from putting out his work.

SerGrafPassionate about his creations, Ser is always practicing and perfecting his letterforms and takes inspiration from other graffiti artists around him. Indifferent to the consequences of being caught, Ser does not allow people to detour him from his art. 

 “If you chase me from a spot, I’m going to wait a few days re-route my entry and hit it twice as hard as I originally planned to,” Ser said.

Banksy, a well-known street artist in American soceity, once said, “Graffiti is not the lowest form of art; it’s actually one of the more honest art forms available. There is no elitism or hype; a wall has always been the best place to publish your work.” (Wall and Piece, 2006 Banksy).

 Banksy believes that the real criminal act is shoving advertisements and company products in the faces of people walking in the street – the giant slogans on buildings and bus stops that force people to buy things or feel inadequate.

“Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place,”(Wall and Piece, 2006 Banksy).

Graffiti art, although controversial, is still art. Despite its bad reputation for being illegal, graffiti will always be a relevent form of artistic expression.

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