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Humanist Archives: Jan. 17, 2019, 6:15 a.m. Humanist 32.347 - scholarship on graffiti

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 347.
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    [1]    From: Bill Benzon 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.342: scholarship on graffiti? (73)

    [2]    From: William Pascoe 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.342: scholarship on graffiti? (44)

        Date: 2019-01-16 18:25:37+00:00
        From: Bill Benzon 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.342: scholarship on graffiti?

Hmmmm. I've got a long-standing interest in graffiti – I've been
photographing it and blogging about it for over a decade – but I'm not sure
I can help you, Willard. I've also read a fair amount, both in hardcopy and
online, but not much scholarly material. As far as I can tell, there simply
isn't much, though there is some.

Perhaps the single most important book about graffiti is the first one: Norman
Mailer and Jon Naar, The Faith of Graffiti, New Edition, It Books, 2009
(originally published in 1974). Naar's photos are superb and Mailer's text
is first rate cultural criticism. The book's title comes from a statement made
to Mailer by one of the writers he interviewed, CAY 161: "the name is the
faith of graffiti." Here's my review of the book: https://new-

That's one book known within graffiti culture as "the bible." The other is
Subway Art, by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant. I believe it was originally
published in 1984, but a revised edition came out in 2009. Among other things it
has a glossary of terms of art used within graffiti culture, tag, throwie,
piece, burner, wild style, etc. It discusses the evolution of styles (up on the
mid-1980s), and the inclusion of various pop culture references in graffiti,
including cartoon characters, a practice that continues to this day. These
photos are superb as well.

Back in the very early days of the web a woman named Susan Farrell created the
first graffiti website, Art Crimes, which is still up an running. It has a page
entitled "Interviews, Articles, and Research" that has a variety of
materials and is worth poking around in. The research section includes some
scholarly materials, unpublished theses, some books:
https://www.graffiti.org/index/talk.html. In correspondence Farrell told me
she thinks of graffiti as a cross between art and extreme sport. That tells you
a lot about the psychology. One of the pieces in that research section is a
short one by Caleb Neelon, Critical Terms for Graffiti Study,
https://www.graffiti.org/faq/critical_terms_sonik.html. That's quite useful
and should give you some insight into the psychology as well. Neelon is himself
a graffiti writer. He is also coauthor, with Roger Gastman, of The History of
American Graffiti (Harper-Collins 2011), which is excellent,

I went to Google Scholar and simply searched on "graffiti". One book popped
up that looks like it might be useful, Nancy Macdonald, The Graffiti Subculture:
Youth, Masculinity and Identity in London and New York,  Palgrave Macmillan
2001. Here's a link to Google Books, https://books.google.com/books?id=QDUWDAA

Here's a link to my working papers on graffiti:
https://independent.academia.edu/BillBenzon/Graffiti-and-Street-Art. One of
them is based on material I presented at the anthropology department of the
University of Chicago: Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral: What is Graffiti?,
In another working paper, I was reading my way through Latour's Assembling the
Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. I used graffiti as a source of
examples for applying his concepts: Reading Latour: Assembling the Society of
Graffiti, https://www.academia.edu/9709527/Reading_Latour_Assembling_the_Society

I hope some of this is useful to you.

Bill B

Bill Benzon





        Date: 2019-01-16 11:29:56+00:00
        From: William Pascoe 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.342: scholarship on graffiti?


I can't suggest the best, but can I suggest looking beyond the obvious
Anglophone things to the global? (even though US street gangs, hip hop culture
and it's recognition as 'high art' ala Banksy etc are important)

Two interesting looks at street art I can think of are Michelle Mansfield on
Yogyakarta street art and the phenomenon of Pixação and Pixadores in South
America. Pixação is interesting because it's purposefully ugly as a reaction
against authorities' acceptance of graffiti as 'street art'. Pixadores see
'Street Art' as a sell out of it's original purpose as an act of defiance and
proclamation of our existence against those rules that reduce us to nobody, etc.
So that's a good angle on the psychology of it. There's stuff on the web about
Pixação and Pixadores so I'm guessing you'll be able to find some academic work,
or if not, someone should do some.

I see you said 'modern', so maybe you don't want 70s and 80s but if by 'modern'
you just mean 'not the penis at Pompeii', in terms of those NY roots you might
find some good scholarship on modern urban graffiti by searching around the old
school movie Wild Style: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hee38-NV11E

A Marxist might see it as resistance without class/political consciousness etc.
A sociologist / psychologist maybe as an assertion of agency by the
disenfranchised, reclaiming control of the play of anonymity and control. But if
you said that to a graffitist suredly they'd just write 'analyse this' on your
face when you weren't looking.

Kind regards,

Dr Bill Pascoe
eResearch Consultant
Digital Humanities Lab
Centre for 21st Century Humanities

T: 0435 374 677
E: bill.pascoe@newcastle.edu.au

The University of Newcastle (UON)
University Drive
Callaghan NSW 2308

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