genre of writing or drawing etched, scratched, scribbled, or sprayed (often, but not always illicitly) on a wall or other surface in a public place

Graffiti (plural; singular: graffiti or graffito, however graffito is rarely used except in archeology) is marks, scratching or drawings made on a surface on a public place. It is often created with paint or spray paint (paint that is sprayed from a can). A single mark could be called a graffito but the word graffiti is usually used, meaning that there is more than one mark. The word comes from Greek γράφειν (graphein) meaning "to write".[1]

Graffiti can take the form of art, drawings or words. When done without a property owner's permission it can be considered vandalism. Sometimes it is just a person's name or a rude word. Sometimes it is a public political protest because graffiti is illegal without permission.

There are lots of different types of graffiti, and some people call some things graffiti that other people would not.

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In some kinds of graffiti, people write their name in different ways. It is usually not their real name. Sometimes people write the name of their crew, which is a group of friends who write together.[2] Small writing like a signature is called a tag.[3] Bigger writing that is very round and has an outline is called a throw up.[4] A graffiti writing with lots of detail is called a piece, which is short for masterpiece.[5]

Some graffit is made of pictures. This can be a small picture or a large mural.

Graffiti can be legal or illegal. Some towns have walls that anyone is allowed to paint on.[6] Sometimes the government or a business will pay someone to paint, to attract tourists or advertise something.[7] Some graffiti artists like Keith Haring became very famous.


A person cleaning up graffiti in Stockholm

Paintings were done on cave walls over 40,000 years ago in Australia.[8] The oldest graffiti that used writing was in the Roman Empire, people wrote messages on walls. It wasn't considered vandalism, instead people saw it as just a way to talk to one another.[9]

In the 1700s and 1800s in the United States, some people began to write "monikers" on trains. Monikers were pictures and fake names. One famous moniker was Bozo Texino.[10]

Modern graffiti was made famous in New York City in the early 1960s and 1970s by the children of the working class. They called it "writing" and called themselves "writers."[11] At first they wrote on trains, but when the New York Subway started to make it harder, writers moved into the city to write on walls instead.[12]

In a 1971 New York Times article, Norman Mailer first used the term "graffiti" was first used to refer to the new kind of art people were painting on trains.[13] This period of the early 1970s is known as the "Original School." Later in the 1980s, the next generation of graffiti artists is known as "Old School."


  1. "graffiti | Origin and meaning of graffiti by Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 19 November 2023.
  2. Avramidis, Konstantinos; Drakopoulou, Konstantina (2012-04-01). "Graffiti Crews' Potential Pedagogical Role". Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies. 10: 327–340.
  3. Schacter, Rafael (2013). The world atlas of street art and graffiti. Internet Archive. New Haven : Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-19942-0.
  4. Whitehead, Jessie L. (November 2004). "Graffiti: The Use of the Familiar1". Art Education. 57 (6): 25–32. doi:10.1080/00043125.2004.11653573. ISSN 0004-3125. S2CID 189475620.
  5. Snyder, Gregory J. (2011-04-15). Graffiti Lives: Beyond the Tag in New York's Urban Underground. NYU Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-4046-0.
  6. McAuliffe, Cameron (February 2013). "Legal Walls and Professional Paths: The Mobilities of Graffiti Writers in Sydney". Urban Studies. 50 (3): 518–537. doi:10.1177/0042098012468894. ISSN 0042-0980. S2CID 154334612.
  7. Ross, Jeffrey Ian (2016-03-02). Routledge Handbook of Graffiti and Street Art. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-64586-3.
  8. McDonald, Fiona (2013-06-13). The Popular History of Graffiti: From the Ancient World to the Present. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-62636-291-8.
  9. Magazine, Smithsonian; Griggs, Mary Beth. "Archaeologists in Greece Find Some of the World's Oldest Erotic Graffiti". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2023-09-13.
  10. "Who Is Bozo Texino?". Bill Daniel. Retrieved 2023-09-13.
  11. Cooper, Martha; Chalfant, Henry (1984). Subway Art. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-8050-0678-0.
  12. Snyder, Gregory J. (April 2006). "Graffiti media and the perpetuation of an illegal subculture". Crime, Media, Culture: An International Journal. 2 (1): 93–101. doi:10.1177/1741659006061716. ISSN 1741-6590. S2CID 144911784.
  13. "The history of graffiti". Retrieved 2023-09-13.

Other websites


  Media related to Graffiti at Wikimedia Commons