Droppin’ Knowledge: The Psychology of Getting Up

By - Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

Why do we love writing our names on everything?

As far back as I can remember, my childhood days of drawing and colouring revolved around learning how to spell and write my name. It’s your title, your persona, it differentiates you from someone else. It binds contracts, signs deals and approves decisions. It’s how you greet someone, find someone or introduce someone. This winter on the metro I watched a toddler fog up the window and then carefully write out his name over and over in the condensation. Even just his three letters, D-A-N gave him such satisfaction and joy to see. I remember practicing my signature for hours as a bored teenager working retail jobs, comparing different styles and short forms, finding the best and fastest way to inscribe my name into any document, long before I drew the connection to this activity and graffiti. So why then, is everyone so shocked to see thousands of names written all over their city? We’ve all written our names millions of times, and now typed it millions of times, graffiti is an elevated extension of this partially narcissistic practice. 

I can’t deny that there’s a thrill in walking past a nice tag or throw you wrote the night before, even better, something from a month ago that somehow survived. So what is that thrill? What drives us to claim each little nook and cranny, each ledge, each blank wall as our own? Graffiti, and especially the psychology of it, is a very contrasting topic to research. It’s almost guaranteed you will find just as many articles claiming vandalism is rage-driven teen angst filled rebellion, as it is a cathartic form of art and public reclamation. It’s also guaranteed, I can’t give you a confirmed answer as to why getting up can be so addictive, or even necessary – we’re all out there for different reasons. Mainly I wanted to write this as a way to say we’re all addicted for our own reasons. I’ve asked many writers why they write. Some have the answer always on the tip of their tongues; it’s my solace, my hobby, my lifestyle, my dedication, my fix. Others have no idea what pushes them to go out. Even though I think this is impossible to pin-point, it is interesting to look at how academics, psychologists and other ‘authorities’ make claims about why graffiti even exists in the first place.

Historically, it dates back to cave drawings, trains and hieroglyphs – these tools were used to make stories last for generations to come. Now, names of famous writers are stuck in our heads, the greats, the oldies, whose style is copied and mastered by fresh writers. And all of it starts with a name. But the key difference between graffiti and ancient story telling is legality — that yearning to do exactly what we are told not to. Every person at some point in their life does something, says something, against the grain of society. Graffiti is under-researched and not often discussed with a positive approach – rebellion is natural, some would say healthy, in small doses. Some minor comment from a disapproving parent, an overly-involved teacher, any authority figure, really, can trigger that urgent desire to break the rules. Graffiti combines the desire to be seen/heard with the desire to swim upstream. I’ve seen parents who throw out their teen’s markers and parents who drive them to go benching — it’s all in the environment, the nurturing and the awareness.

Why do we get up? Why do we love seeing our names everywhere? Whatever your reason, just remember you’re not alone, and that healthy little backlash is an important part of keeping society balanced. Don’t let the Man tell you otherwise.

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