Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Photography - Graffiti is Like Modern Day Cave Painting

Graffiti is like modern-day cave painting. I don't mean that as a bad thing at all, I'm drawing a real parallel here. Get it? Drawing? But no seriously I was thinking about this a few weeks ago as I was snapping pictures of a beautifully graffitied wall in Minneapolis. It had all of this symbolism and obvious meaning, some of which I could understand, most of which I could not. And it made me think of a few famous cave paintings I'd seen in documentaries and pictures, particularly some from Africa and India.

Bison from the Altamira cave ceiling, 14,000 years old

There isn't real agreement between the experts about what cave paintings mean. Evidence suggests that they were not merely decorations of living areas, since the caves in which they have been found do not have signs of ongoing habitation. Additionally, the paintings are often in areas of caves that are not easily accessed.

Adept - Joy of the Mundane, 2008

Graffiti also isn't merely decoration, since most street art has a message whether it's "I was here" or "See what a great artist I am?" Graffiti is also often in areas of the city that are not easily accessed and generally not habitable (Not by people who have other places to habitate, at least).

Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh, India, 9,000 years old

Like the nameless cave men and women who created the ancient works of art, most graffiti artists get no recognition. Worse yet, their artwork is often considered vandalism which can result in its destruction or erasure. As a result, street art is often only seen by other graffiti artists.

Imparting Evil - Sara Duane, 2010

Like cave paintings, graffiti of human forms are rare and usually don't look realistic (not to say that there aren't great realistic graffiti artists). One theory goes that cave paintings had religious connotations, that drawing people was taboo and the depicted figures held a sort of magic. Similarly, once a piece of street art has been finished, they are often left alone and in some ways revered. It is a major faux pas among the artists to cover another artist's work. Some pieces of Twin Cities street art have been around for years.

Spotted hyena painting in the Chauvet Cave, 30,000 years old

Though they look faded now, cave paintings were once vibrant and bright like modern graffiti. Cave painters had a wide range of artistic skill and were varied in age like modern-day street artists. Cave paintings communicate valuable insight into the culture and beliefs of their era, as graffiti art lends similar insights to modern day life.

Cheetah by Broken Crow - Joy of the Mundane, 2008

Cave paintings are thought to be brilliant by some, simplistic by others. Graffiti is viewed in a similar manner - some see graffiti as vandalism while others see it as a raw and honest form of art. You can tell what category this girl is in.

Bonus Street Art and Prehistoric Art Comparison

In the stone age and the modern age, women are a common artistic subject.

Venus of Willendorf, 24,000 years old

Black & White Figure - Joy of the Mundane, 2008

Sara Duane-Gladden is a freelance writer and photographer in the Twin Cities area of the great state of Minnesota.  


  1. I guess I see your point, I mean, there are a lot of similarities, and both are a huge reflection on the culture that surrounded them, yet I feel that very few graffiti artists deserve such high merits, as most of them are merely vandals that true artists with true sentiments to express.

  2. Thank you for your insight. In my 6th grade history class, I am having kids read this to make connections between the distant past and the present. These points were just what I was looking for to open their minds to possibilities.

  3. Nice. I'm in class

  4. This is an amazing article, and most of it is true. Most graffiti artists just enjoy drawing, but want to let other people enjoy their art.

  5. Thanks this is great

  6. I Definitely See The Similarities!

  7. That is really cool. I see the simularities.