Graffiti Artist

By TACP Staff on July 09, 2021

When sociologist and professor Gary Snyder defined graffiti, he basically redefined the practice from nuisance to patriotic expression: “In it’s purest form, graffiti is a democratic art form that revels in the American Dream.” While graffiti still earns most of its popularity and following from art produced in urban areas, it’s value and respect continues to grow exponentially. Whether on the exterior wall of an art studio or grocery store, the social value of graffiti invites artists from all cultures to participate in its evolution.

What Is Graffiti Art?

Technically, graffiti is considered to be drawings, paintings, or other markings on surfaces in public places. Although this is often believed to be a relatively modern form of art, it actually dates back centuries ago. Some historians actually argue that the first instances of graffiti were cave paintings made by prehistoric man. Other ancient cultures, including the Greeks and the Romans, have also created graffiti as well.

While it was not uncommon in the 20th century, graffiti did not start becoming especially prominent until the early part of the 1980s. At this time, spray paint and permanent markers were typically the most common tools of the trade. It was during this decade that the act of “tagging” became a popular sort of graffiti. This act often involved writing or drawing the tag name of an individual or group of individuals on public or private property, including buildings and train cars. Gangs would often tag a building or other public area in order to claim their territory, so to speak.

Overall, larger metropolitan areas were more likely to have problems with graffiti at that time, and the same is true today. The majority of amateur graffiti artists are typically young inner-city youths and young adults. Many of them are also involved in other illicit activities along with defacing property, but this stereotype is not necessarily true in every case.

Many metropolitan areas have had a serious graffiti problem in recent years, often spending exorbitant amounts of money to have the so-called art cleaned up and removed. City officials in some areas, however, have recently developed something of a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude when it comes to graffiti. Instead of spending an exorbitant amount of money to clean up and remove illicit graffiti, these areas are actually commissioning talented graffiti artists to paint over it with a more acceptable form of art.

Typical Work Environment

Put simply, a professional graffiti artist – like an amateur graffiti artist – is a type of artist that uses graffiti as a means of expressing himself. Unlike amateur artists, however, professional graffiti artists typically do not make a habit of defacing public or private property with their art. Professional graffiti artists may use several different mediums. Like many street artists, however, the preferred medium for professional graffiti is usually spray-paint.

Depending on his specialty, a graffiti artist may work in a studio, just like a traditional painter. Some graffiti artists, however, particularly those who have honed their skills on city streets, may prefer to stay with this locale.

While some individuals who pursue a graffiti career take credit for their work, some prefer to remain anonymous. This anonymity is part of the allure and mystique of a graffiti artist, which many believe makes the work more appealing.

Graffiti Artist Education & Training Requirements

Passion and artistic ability are the two most important aspects for a successful graffiti career. Dedication and persistence are also important since it can take some time for many graffiti artists to see their careers go anywhere. The majority of graffiti artists were self-taught on the street. Some, however, may choose to refine their already existing artistic abilities with an art degree.

Related Articles

Graffiti Artist Salary & Job Outlook


Artists who want to become a graffiti artist should be aware that they may or may not be able to make an acceptable living wage. Generally, only the most talented graffiti artists will make enough money to actually live on, while others will often need to find other employment to supplement their art career. Since until recently graffiti has been classified as a crime, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have any hard data regarding this type of career. Most graffiti artists, however, can be classified as fine artists. In 2018, the average annual salary for fine artists hovered around $48,960. Although graffiti is rapidly gaining acceptance as a true art form, individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in graffiti should be aware that it is still illegal to deface public or private property. Those who do not conform to the justice system’s ever-present laws could wind up paying for their career, instead of their career paying for them.

Job Outlook

A true graffiti career also usually involves selling original works of art or being commissioned to create pieces of art. Some graffiti artists, for instance, may create their art on a perfectly legal canvas. This art might sometimes be showcased in special art shows, where interested collectors can purchase it. City officials and building owners may also commission a graffiti artist to create a large mural covering a building or other large visible surface. Painting a mural of this sort may involve covering up illicit graffiti, but it may also be done simply to add beauty and expression to an area.

Large corporations may even hire these types of artists to create modern advertisements that appeal to younger consumers. Some major corporations that have hired graffiti artists for advertising campaigns include Smirnoff, Coca-Cola, MTV, and even Microsoft.

In the beginning of the new millennium, IBM even hired graffiti artists in San Francisco and Chicago for a large advertising campaign meant to promote their new operating system. Unfortunately for IBM and the company’s hired help, they did not first get express permission from either city. Needless to say, the city officials were not amused, nor were they very appreciative of the “art”. In the end, IBM was fined heavily, and many of the graffiti artists were ordered to perform several hours of community service cleaning up their work.

Fortunately, however, times are changing. Graffiti as an art form is becoming much more tolerated, and even celebrated in some cases. Today, a true graffiti career will not typically land a person behind bars. In fact, successful graffiti artists are often celebrated as true modern artists, with a particularly unique form of self-expression.

Helpful Organizations, Societies & Agencies

Related Careers in Craft & Fine Art

Consider these related careers in Craft and Fine Art.