How did tag graffiti end up very similar everywhere?


Broadly speaking, I’ve noticed 2 “styles” of tag graffiti: Serif-y line signature-like tags and big bubble writing. This is broadly speaking, there are of course subtleties, but as an outsider, graffiti can look very similar and does feel like they mostly fall into these 2 groups, whether it’s in North America, Europe, etc. You don’t usually hear “that is European style tagging”, I just see bubbly text no matter the location, and they not noticeable different to an outsider the way, say, American food looks different than Chinese food.

Was tagging a thing everywhere and they happened to look similar? Did styles in different places converge? Was there a cult of bubble taggers and the leader told them to spread the gospel around the world? Am I wrong with a biased dataset (noting of course there can be lesser seen visual styles)? ELI5.

Flairing as “other” as this is sort of a sociology topic, probably.

In: 362

The modern graffiti style originated in Southern California in the 80’s and 90’s, with Kelly Gravel being the person often credited as being the main innovator behind it. The style spread across the world because most tv shows and movies of the time were shot in LA and would incidentally include Gravel’s work simply by virtue of the fact that it was present at the shooting location.

Which isn’t to say that the style doesn’t have merits. Particularly important for graffiti, its a high visibility style that is relatively easy to copy – even for people with limited talent or experience.

Something that a lot of people don’t appreciate is that throughout history there have been a handful of people like Picasso or Andy Warhol. The vast, vast majority of people who produce art – including professional artists – don’t have the ability to innovate a new *style* of art. They become artists by copying and becoming good at an existing style.

The fact that 80’s and 90’s media was accidentally filled with examples of an attractive, easy to duplicate style basically guaranteed that it was going to spread around the world.

a “tag” is basically a signature. The goal is usually to write it as quickly as possible. If they are using the roman alphabet, its easy for different tags to look similar. Much like regular signatures. Take enough of them and they start to look generally the same.

if you take japanese or korean tags not written using the roman alphabet, there are some similar flourishes but some of them look more similar to each other than to ones you would see in western countries.

Larger more detailed graffiti is usually called a “piece” or “mural”. Most artists are well aware of artistic themes like composition and framing. A lot of the rules tend to give way to similar styles. Generally speaking, without too much critique, most landscape painting looks like other landscape paintings. Same goes for graffiti. Its the fine details that separate artists.

Street art is such a broad subject. It goes back to ancient cultures even. There are more than two styles, but I suppose you can break them into 2-3 categories. Two you mention, the third being murals – full works of art with the signature or tag somewhere less visible in the whole scheme of the piece.

But the modern styles you see are often considered to originate in New York as people would “tag”names similar to our own user names around town. The object of the “game” being to tag the most – quantity. These were just plain tags, written pretty clearly.

The line or signature style you mention is closer to pure tagging as above. Graffiti artists judge each other on the quality of the lines and letters – while they look the same to someone untrained, artists know if you’re copying someone or are otherwise unskilled or uncreative. They tend to cruise around all night writing their name/tag on everything. The line styles were born out of the need to get the tag up fast to increase the quantity you can do in a short amount of time, and also to decrease the chance of getting caught.

Graffiti is mostly about notoriety in the scene. If the first way to get notoriety or respect is pure quantity, the other way is quality. This is where you see the “bubble” or block lettering. These will have more color, intricate lines, shading and other qualities you’d attribute to more traditional graphic art. Additionally, location and space are increasingly important to the art form – think of doing a wall at street level vs a piece in a seemingly impossible or dangerous spot. The latter is much more impressive and will garner more notoriety.

Graffiti-art as we know it evolved in New York and Philadelphia in the late 1960’s. By the late 1970’s graffiti-art had formed its own stylistic traits as an element of hip-hop along with dj-ing, breakdancing and mc-ing.

The two types you’re referring to are basically just the simplest two iterations of graffiti:

Tags: often single line, single coloured.

Throw ups/bubble letters/flops: Simple rounded lettering usually with two colours and minimal stylistic additions.

New York style was originally practised around the world, spread through a few books and documentaries. Eventually it did evolve into Euro-style, and has evolved further. Styles were very specific to countries and even regions before the mass adoption of the internet. Now people seek references and inspiration from all around the world.

It might help to google ‘Philly wicked handstyle’ a style of tagging associated with Philadelphia and although it fits in with the remit of standard graffiti, it’s easily recognisable as its own style.

“Modern” American graffiti originated on the East Coast in the late 60’s with the availability of the aerosol spray can. Initially, the first writers just used simple “tags” which are essentially signatures. These are generally quick and simple so the writer can make their mark undetected. More sophisticated writing styles (what you might call “bubble”) became commonplace in New York and Philadelphia by the early to mid 70’s. Cornbread, Taki 183, Zephyr, and Dondi are just a few of the names synonymous with the origins of this movement. While Hollywood film undoubtedly played a role in spreading the visibility of graffiti, the modern art form as we know it definitely did not originate in SoCal during the 80s-90s as someone else suggested.
Writing styles used to be regionally distinctive, with cities like Philly, New York, and the L.A. each having their own unique stylistic tendencies… Philly being more script-based, New York emphasizing the contrast of curvilinear and straight serif fonts, and LA taking inspiration from the boxy vertical forms of Old English calligraphy common in biblical texts. Google them and you’ll see what I mean. The rise of Hip Hop and electronic music in the mid to late 80’s helped greatly to insert graffiti into pop culture. The popularity of Pop Art as a legitimate genre was also an important factor in the world beginning to see value in “outsider” artists. Mass media at large helped to spread graffiti worldwide so that Paris, Berlin, and London each developed their own distinctive styles, which were not always limited to letters or names. Civil unrest, political conflict or war, counterculture, musical tastes, and overall societal identity all played a part in regional graffiti styles. Eventually artists from all over the world have had opportunities to contribute their own spins on the art form, with distinctive twists being introduced everywhere from Brazil to Japan to Johannesburg. However style is no longer regionally relevant like it was in the 20th century. The rapidly expanding exchange of information in our world has led to an overall homogenization of styles because anyone can study and replicate anyone else’s style from anywhere in the world. Graffiti has become more commodified and ingrained in society at large, so the distinction between styles has become increasingly difficult to spot.

Source: I’m an art teacher and used to write

Edit: clarity