Graff' and the City: Towards a Socially Conscious Aesthetic Theory of Graffiti

Eric Chavez, University of Texas at El Paso


Art is one of the most universal and oldest human activities; it is a human impulse rather than a skill. The invention of art and language occurred about 30,000 to 70,000 years ago. This “cognitive revolution”, going from homo sapiens to homo sapien sapiens, gave us the imaginative powers of language and art. No society as far as we know of thus far has been able to live without some form of art. Yet its exact definition is hard to jot down, much less explain. Art’s constant movement, transformations, its disappearances/reappearances, and even its proclaimed “death” throughout history has always challenged the theorists’ and aesthetes’ attempts to capture art’s essence. But art, at is most basic and cruel form, is still just a human expression upon a surface- any surface; a Lebenswelt captured in a Leinwand, that materializes such abstract human expressions into non-superficial and substantive narratives. With graffiti for example, which will be the main focus of this study, both the message and the surface that graffito is painted upon happen to be non-superficial and highly consequential, since graffiti’s own narrative rests upon the socio-political narrative of contemporary property relations and a capitalist mode of production. Thus, all art forms, especially graffiti art, which is always at risk of being “buffed” by anti-graffiti state programs, are infinitely fleeting and in a state of becoming rather than in a state of being. Therefore, graffiti art must be seen as an open and never totalized process. This infinitely fleeting constitution of graffiti will enable us to understand the movement, separation, and distance necessary for a socially conscious critique of the subject-centered framework of Idealist aesthetics and Positivist epistemology. This critical (dis)stance will further enable a path to initiate my own theory of graffiti as a socially conscious moment in the lived-city.

Subject Area

Art history|Philosophy|Aesthetics

Recommended Citation

Chavez, Eric, "Graff' and the City: Towards a Socially Conscious Aesthetic Theory of Graffiti" (2017). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10284135.