Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

The Writing on the Wall

Rhona Lewis

With permission, graffiti is public art. Today, city officials and building owners often commission graffiti artists to paint large murals on the walls of buildings — sometimes to cover up illegal graffiti

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

 Mishpacha image

Photo: Shutterstock

"Josh was here.” You’ve probably lost count of the number of times you’ve seen a message like this scribbled on the back of a bus seat or carved into a tree trunk. Just like you’ve lost count of the number of pictures spray-painted on city walls.

Both the writing and the pictures are examples of graffiti, something many people condemn. So how does some graffiti make it into an art exhibition?

What Is Graffiti? 

One graffito, two graffiti. The word comes from the Italian word graffito, which means a scratch. From simple written words to elaborate wall paintings, graffiti existed in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and the Roman Empire.

The first modern graffiti writer was Philadelphia’s Darryl McCray, a.k.a. Cornbread. In 1967, when McCray was a high school student in Philadelphia, he started tagging city walls. Just like clothing tags are the signatures of brand companies, graffiti tags are the signatures of the person behind the writing or picture. Tagging caught on and soon gangs all over America were tagging streets to stake out their territories. They tagged subways and subway cars, and began painting pictures, too.

Of course, they had to work fast, because marking public or private property is illegal. City authorities were pretty unhappy with all their work. By the 1980s, tagging and graffiti had moved across the ocean and were found all over the world. Then, in a big surprise, galleries began to showcase graffiti as artwork.

Unravel the Mystery 

Unlike a brand name, graffiti tags are often aliases of the writers. Had you been living in New York during the 1960s and ’70s, you’d have noticed the tag TAKI 183. This tag belonged to a Greek teen named Demetrius who lived on 183rd Street in Washington Heights.


Tagging the subways was easy for Taki 183… he worked as a foot messenger and was constantly traveling on the trains.

So — Is It Vandalism or Art? 

That’s a question many people are asking themselves. Before you read on… what do you think? Basically it comes down to permission: Without permission, anyone who paints public or private property is committing an act of vandalism and is a criminal. With permission, graffiti is public art. Today, city officials and building owners often commission graffiti artists to paint large murals on the walls of buildings. Sometimes, it’s to cover up illegal graffiti, sometimes it’s to add beauty to an area.

Related Stories

Super Avi: Episode 5

Ruchama Schnaidman

They wanted me to have enough soda to drink to my heart’s content, and actually had a soda machine i...

Jr. Tales: In a Pickle

Y. Bromberg

"Um...” Mrs. Roth looked utterly confused. “It does say here that’s what she requested… But… a pickl...

Teen Fiction: Missing Pages

Chaiky Berger

“Hey, just chill,” Shulamis cheers me up. “Just wait till we play the game… hope you won’t be too em...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"