â€œWriters talk all the time that they wonâ€™t write graffiti on churches, on private property, on peopleâ€™s houses,â€ one graffiti â€œwriterâ€ told sociologist Gregory Snyder in Snyderâ€™s book Graffiti Lives: Beyond the Tag in New Yorkâ€™s Urban Underground (NYU Press). If true, this complicates the traditional objection to graffiti on property-rights grounds. Another graffiti writer quotes Sam Keen: â€œWhile the rebel is merely rejecting the established, the outlaw is motivated by a quest for self-government.â€
In the mid-1990s, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani ignored such airy theorizing. Motivated by the â€œbroken windowâ€ theory (â€œone unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one caresâ€), NYC police cracked down on unauthorized art around the city.
Snyderâ€™s book explores how graffiti evolved under this increased police watch. Interaction with the law grew to define the mediumâ€™s very nature, since graffiti work requires physical acuityâ€"quick painting, climbing trees, dodging copsâ€"as much as painting skills.