Reading Activity: The History of Graffiti

1- ——————

The first drawings on walls appeared in caves thousands of years ago. Later the Ancient Romans and Greeks wrote their names and protest poems on buildings. Modern graffiti seems to have appeared in Philadelphia in the early 1960s, and by the sixties, it had reached New York. The new art form really took off in the 1970s, when people began writing their names, or “tags”, on buildings all over the city. In the mid-seventies, it was sometimes hard to see out of subway car window, because the trains were completely in spray paintings known as “masterpieces”.


In the early days, the “taggers” were part of street gangs who were concerned with marking their territory. They worked in groups called “crews”, and called what they did “writing”- the term “graffiti” was first used by New York Times and the novelist Norman Mailer. Art gallery in New York began buying graffiti in the early seventies. But at the same time that it was regarded as an art form, John Lindsay, the then mayor of New York, declared the first war on graffiti. By the 1980s it became much harder to write on subway trains without being cut, and instead many of the more established graffiti artists began using roofs of buildings or canvases.


The debate over whether graffiti is art or vandalism is still going on. Peter Vallone, a New York city councilor, thinks that graffiti done with permission can be art, but if it is on someone else’s property it becomes a crime. “I have a massage for the graffiti vandals out there,” he said recently, “your freedom of expression ends where my property begins.” On the other hand, Felix, a member of the Berlin-based group Reclaim Your City, says that artists are reclaiming cities for the public from advertisers, and that graffiti represents freedom and makes cities more vibrant.


For decades graffiti has been a springboard to international fame for a few. Jean-Michel Basquiat began spraying on the streets in the 1970s before becoming a respected artist in the ‘80s. The Frenchman Blek le Rat and the British artist Banksy have achieved international fame by producing complex works with stencils, often making political or humorous pints. Works by Bansky have been sold for over 100.000 pounds. Graffiti is now sometimes big business.

Taken and Adapted from British Council


Answer the following question according to the text.

1-  Choose the best paragraph heading for each paragraph.  (Note: two of them are extra)

Paragraph headings

  1. a) Controversial debates on Graffiti
  2. b) Graffiti in ancient times.
  3. c) Famous graffiti artists
  4. d) The origin of the term “Graffiti” and its growth
  5. e) Graffiti is crime.
  6. f) From ancient to modern times


2-Fill the gaps by choosing an appropriate word from the text.

1-Prehistoric men were drawing on the walls and ceilings of the ——————-.

2- The group of taggers was called ——————-.

3- The action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property is called ——————–.

4- Graffitis are part of city culture and they make the city more ———————.

5-  Artists mainly use ———————- to draw their painting on the walls of street.

6-A template used to draw or paint identical letters, symbols, shapes is called ——————-.

  1. a) Which idea is NOT mentioned in the text?
  • Graffiti is a work of art.
  • Graffiti was a band in New York.
  • Graffiti is a sign of vandalism.
  • Graffiti is a way of making business.


  1. b) According to the text, which idea is FALSE?
  • Nobody has reached an international fame by the help of graffiti.
  • John Lindsay declared the first war on graffiti.
  • Graffiti makes the city residents more vibrant.
  • Graffiti is neither considered vandalism nor a work of art.
  1. c) What does Peter Vallone mean by telling the graffiti artists that their “freedom of expression ends where my property begins”?
  • Freedom of expression has turned into vandalism
  • Graffiti artists need to be careful of New York Council
  • His property is in danger because of graffiti artists
  • Graffiti artists should not damage other people’s property.



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