What sets humans apart from other animals is our ability to apply creativity and imagination to produce things appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

Street Art: An Introduction

In the early 1970s, urban youth communicated their frustrations in the form of spray painted lines, curves and bubble letters that soon engulfed New York City's subway cars and stations. When the public saw this graffiti for the first time, it had no idea what it was. Today, graffiti and street art, almost always mistaken as synonymous terms, are instantly recognisable.

From its inception, graffiti was declared vandalism by the government and transit authorities, but has managed to continually develop "stylistically and in terms of the industry that has grown up around it." Various forms of mass media such as film, popular videos and magazines depicting graffiti helped the movement spread into a global phenomenon. It was not too long before New York City's art world would begin to consider this new, sweeping form of expression as Radical Chic. While this could mean that some impact is lost, as in any type of domestication process, we believe the power of the art form lies in its ability to continually arouse confrontation, make headlines, and divide public opinion.

It is difficult to define graffiti and street art. Originally, the spray can was integral to graffiti and pieces were usually created on walls and freight trains. More recently, street art has come to encompass a range of materials apart from the spray can, including acrylic, stickers, paste-ups, and even ceramics.

Graffiti is now a global phenomenon with different styles springing up all over the world. It crosses geographical, social and cultural boundaries and there is a constant cross-pollination of styles and techniques. Computer-based work, graphic design, illustration and calligraphy now contribute to the multi-faceted movement.

While Rough Cut Nation, "a collective project to redefine the way national life is depicted, in the heart of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery" features practicing graffiti writers and street artists, it is not intended to be representative of the scene in Scotland. Instead, the presence of graffiti is in the collaborative nature of the show and the coming together of diverse backgrounds and influences.


When graffiti is mentioned, thoughts of indiscernible lettering and spray paint typically come to mind. Several new types of the art form have emerged in recent years to include stencilling, stickers and other developments now labelled as street art. Graffiti and street art vary by technique and also sociological elements. Nicholas Ganz mentions in his book, "Graffiti Women: Street Art from Five Continents," that graffiti is "largely governed by the desire to spread one's tag and achieve fame." Writers are greatly concerned with the act of tagging and 'getting up' as much as possible in order to establish their work as better than everyone else's. Street art, on the contrary, "tends to have fewer rules and embraces a much broader range of styles and techniques."