Amazon, “Name Tagging” and “today’s street art culture”

From time to time, Amazon sends me email advertisements for books and whatnot based on other stuff I’ve purchased from them. From my view, this is an occasionally helpful—if often useless and slightly annoying—and sometimes amusing ‘service,’ and I’ve actually purchased maybe .001% of the books that have been advertised to me in this way.

So I was excited to see today’s offering: “Save 20% at on “Name Tagging” by Martha Cooper.”  Woo! Martha’s still out there taking pictures of graffiti! Gogo Martha Cooper!

I opened the email, clicked the embedded link, and went to Amazon for a closer look: 96 pages, probably mostly photographs, nice to look at and useful for image/style analysis and whatnot, but likely lacking in interviews, historical or theoretical analysis, and other sorts of content that might be of interest to a historian/critic/theorist like myself. But down in ‘Editorial Reviews’ section, under ‘Product Descriptions,’ I found this interesting statement:

“In Name Tagging, graffiti photography legend Martha Cooper presents a dizzying array of “Hello My Name Is” stickers adorned with tags, the origin of graffiti and today’s street art cultures.” via Name Tagging.

. . .the origin of graffiti and today’s street art cultures. . .

So street art is a culture separate from graffiti, or part of graffiti but special and somehow other than graffiti. In fact, the construction of the phrase suggests that graffiti has been deprecated in favor of ‘today’s street art’ culture. Tags are “the origin of graffiti” and the origin of “today’s street art culture.” Is graffiti not also a culture of today? Or is it merely that street art is popular and marketable, where graffiti remains somewhat marginalized? rather, street art and graffiti are both popular and marketable, but street art contains an important distinction: street art is contemporary, current, new; it contains within it the ‘today-ness’ that appeals to wide swaths of the buying public, as opposed to mere ‘graffiti,’ which is apparently something other than current, contemporary, or of-the-day.

This is interesting to me, especially since I still have no idea exactly where the line between graffiti and street art stands, what necessary and/or sufficient conditions exist for a mark on a wall or a sticker to obtain the status of graffiti (or street art), or if there even are any measurable differences between the two. And the publishing blurb offers nothing in the way of an explanation, though the last sentence contains this little gem:

“. . . Cooper’s camera has captured the artistry and audacity of these artists and their distinctive tags.”

People who do graffiti are called ‘writers.’ People who do street art are ‘artists.’ Can I leave it at that? I don’t think so, since graffiti is (on my view) a visual form of expression, and creators of visual expression are in some sense ‘artists.’

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this. Is there really any need to quantify street art (or graffiti)? I don’t know. But thanks to Mark Batty Publisher for their interesting Amazon product blurb. I expect to revisit this in the future.

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