Graffiti Archaeology in Getlein’s “Living With Art”

January 4, 2007 on 9:10 pm | In events and press | Comments Off on Graffiti Archaeology in Getlein’s “Living With Art”

Graffiti Archaeology has been featured in an art history textbook: Living with Art, 8th Edition, by Mark Getlein. It’s a handsome book, thoughtfully written, and illustrated with color reproductions of hundreds of works of art.

Our project appears in the section on graphic design, as an example of good design bringing interesting information out of a cloud of data. Nearby in the same chapter are examples of work by Edward Tufte, Ben Fry, and Martin Wattenberg, as well as Paul Rand, Albrecht Durer and Toulouse-Lautrec—all artists who have been a very direct inspiration for me. What an honor to be listed alongside them!


Here’s an excerpt from the book:

…We can see these same principles at work in an interactive setting on a Web site called Graffiti Archaeology (10.17). Like [Edward Tufte’s] train schedules, Graffiti Archaeology takes isolated facts—in this case individual photographs—and sets them in a structure that reveals the information they contain.

Designed by Cassidy Curtis, Graffiti Archaeology makes visible the evolution of graffiti sites over time as graffiti writers paint on top of each other’s work. To the left is a list of sites, grouped by general area. When a site is selected, all of the available images for it are loaded onto the screen, with the most recent layer displayed on top. A graphic display at the bottom of the screen shows how many layers of photographs are available and situates them on a time line. Moving backward in time, we can peel back layer after layer of imagery to see what is hidden underneath. At the lower left, zoom controls and a navigator allow us to examine images in greater detail.

Although they are working with the most advanced technology of the day, designers such as Curtis and [W. Bradford] Paley are actually quite conservative, for their work embraces the principles of visual elegance and communicative clarity that have been at the core of graphic design since anonymous scribes first developed writing.

I’m quite certain that this is the first time in history that anyone has called me “conservative”. ;-)

I feel obliged to note that graffiti and street art themselves earn only a passing mention in this 602-page book. I was able to find references to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, but none of the street artists who have crossed over into the mainstream art world more recently, nor any of the thousands of writers* whose work exists only on subway cars and city walls. There is no entry for “graffiti” in the index. I guess the editors have not yet come to recognize what we all know: that graffiti and street art are as culturally significant as anything that has ever been in a museum. Maybe by the 9th Edition they will!

*Well, actually, two writers are mentioned: pieces by ZEROS and AWAKE appear in the GrafArc screenshot reproduced in the book. I’m glad I made sure they got proper credit in the caption!

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