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When Street Art met the Academy: An article about Graffiti in the Law Alumni Journal

October 13, 2010

As part of an ongoing project to identify events and people depicted in the Archives’ photograph collection, I was recently reviewing back issues of the Law Alumni Journal when I came across an article written in 1973 entitled, “In Defense of Graffiti.” The article is available in its entirety below.

This article impressed me on a number of fronts. First, consider the social context for a defense of the aesthetic and cultural importance of American graffiti. In 1973, graffiti was still a largely misunderstood form of art. The article many consider to be the seminal treatment of graffiti, a New York Times profile of New York graffiti artist TAKI 183, was only published in 1971.  (An abstract for that piece is located here; the full article is behind a pay wall.) The Law Alumni Journal article appeared almost a full decade before the release of the documentary Style Wars, a movie that many consider to be a watershed moment in the popular regard of graffiti as a legitimate form of artistic expression. (Well, at the very least, quasi-legitimate; the fine line between art form and vandalism is not lost on most people, least of whom the writers themselves.)
Second, although Style Wars celebrated New York’s fresco-like “Wild Style” pieces, Philadelphia is actually considered by many to be the birthplace of modern graffiti. And one artist often stands out amongst the pack of early Philadelphia writers: Cornbread, whose work is featured in this article. In addition to Cornbread, “In Defense of Graffiti” features photographs of tags from other notable members of the Philadelphia scene, including Chewy, Bobby Cool, and Top Cat.
Finally, I was struck by the context for such an article. One often thinks that alumni journals exclusively exist as forums for alumni news: who is working where, what honor was recently bestowed on whom, and so forth. But if you happen to peruse your alumni journal, you might be surprised to find a wealth of diverse, intellectual content.  “In Defense of Graffiti” stands as a notable historical indicator of Penn Law School’s interests and those of its alumni journal.
If you have any questions about this article or any other nuggets buried in the Law Alumni Journal, feel free to contact me or stop by the Archives.