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Humanist Archives: Jan. 19, 2019, 7:26 a.m. Humanist 32.357 - scholarship on graffiti

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 357.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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    [1]    From: Sara Schmidt 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.355: scholarship on graffiti (10)

    [2]    From: Bill Benzon 
           Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.355: scholarship on graffiti (67)

        Date: 2019-01-18 16:20:17+00:00
        From: Sara Schmidt 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.355: scholarship on graffiti

I wonder whether New York City Graffiti and Street Art Project mentioned in
the following blog post of DH GIS projects might be the one that was
discussed at MLA. It seems to have either moved or gone offline as I
received 404 error when clicking on the link.


Sara A Schmidt

        Date: 2019-01-18 16:36:26+00:00
        From: Bill Benzon 
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.355: scholarship on graffiti

Comments below.

> --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        Date: 2019-01-17 11:29:47+00:00
>        From: Annette Vee 
>        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 32.342: scholarship on graffiti?
> The book _Taking the Train: How Graffiti Art Became an Urban Crisis in New
> York City_ by Joe Austin (Columbia, 2001) is a great read on the history
> and culture of graffiti in NYC in the 1970s. As a scholar of writing, I
> especially appreciate the way he talks about it as *writing* in a
> particular medium. Practitioners call it just "writing," and Austin
> examines the evolution of this kind of writing to "the graffiti problem."
> As someone who lives in a city, it's made me think about graffiti
> differently; it's one of those rare books that intrigued me both as a
> scholar and a person in the world.

This is an important point. The term "graffiti" was attached to this work by
journalists. It's important to remember that it started as 'tags',
relatively simple names, though not birth names. Rather, names attached to
one's identity as a writer. Over time the tags became more and more elaborate
as writers competed for attention and fame. By the mid-1970s writers had
developed ways of covering the side of a subway car with a name elaborated into
a 'piece' (truncated from 'masterpiece'). And in some styles the letter
and numeral forms had become so elaborated and distorted that they were no
longer recognizable as names, at least not to outsiders.

One of the first such pieces I photographed took the form of a large green
triceratops covered with a geometric pattern. At the time I didn't know that
graffiti was all about names. So I produced an interpretation of it as the
spirit of the place, which you can find here: http://new-
I was subsequently informed that it had to be a name, and I
eventually found out that it had been done by an artist who writes as Japan Joe.
"Joe" is the name spelled out in those geometric patterns on the
triceratops's' side, but you have to work a bit to see it.

While we're on the term, "graffiti," just what are you interested in,
Willard?  William Pascoe mentioned Banksy in his comment. Graffiti writers may
or may not respect Banksy's work, but they tend to think of him as a street
artist and think of street art as something else. The distinction between
graffiti and street art is not firm and clear, but it is real.

For example, some years ago Banksy got into a battle with a graffiti writer
known as King Robbo. KR had a piece in London which had become degraded over
time. So Banksy painted over it with an image of a man hanging wallpaper. Robbo
then went out and revised Banksy's work and this tit-for-tat went on for
several rounds. Once account of the story explicitly presented it as graffiti
There's also a documentary about the feud:


Bill Benzon





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