Some of the meanings of these ancient scrawls, such as the little fish and the lady with a child on her lap, carved by the workmen into the door posts of the Palace of Merenptah at Memphis, have been lost. Other graffiti, such as the foot carved into a pavement at Ephesus, we are able to understand. We are told that it is an advertisement for a brothel and means ‘turn left at the cross roads where you can ‘buy a woman’s love’. In Ancient Rome scribblings have been left by Christians and it is believed that the first representation of Jesus Christ can be found in graffiti on the walls of the Catacombs.
Modern graffiti began in Philadelphia in the 1960s but by the 1970s New York City had become the centre of graffiti culture. Many artists chose the subway to express their art because of its accessibility and it served as a magnet for many dispersed graffitists. At the beginning it was accepted or at least tolerated, mainly because there were not enough resources to deal with what some people perceived as a problem.
The question emerged; ‘Is graffiti vandalism or art?’ Some people consider it ugly and destructive. The word ‘vandal’ refers to the Germanic people who invaded parts of Europe in the fourth and fifth centuries, destroying property and anything beautiful. Yet for most graffiti artists their work is not about destruction, so much as being an addition to the environment in a chosen place. It is not the slashing of seats, nor is it the smashing of windows; it is not permanent nor is it a physical attack.
However, it is illegal, and some academics support the ‘broken windows theory’; which links disorder and incivility within a community to subsequent occurrences of serious . If you get one broken window, you will end up with more broken windows and a deteriorated house; one act of vandalism will be followed by others.
Other people argue that in areas of urban decay where property owners don't really care one way or another, graffiti can be a great improvement, bringing spirit, energy and colour to degraded landscapes. To sum up it can be art.
In the same way as ‘the broken window theory’ can be applied so it can also be true that if you get one beautiful piece of art, more will follow and a whole degraded quarter can be transformed. This is my theory and I’m going to call it ‘The Extended Splash of colour’.