Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

A thought-provoking piece of artwork that juxtaposes the simplicity of an alphabetical motif with the rugged beauty of weatherworn lichen-covered sandstone crag …

… The use of white aerosol paint against the natural textures of the crag creates a striking contrast, drawing the viewer’s attention to the delicate interplay between man-made symbols and the organic world.

Sorry, too tongue in cheek perhaps.

Graffiti! The malicious cousin of art that’s always popping up where it is least desired. It’s like a mischievous imp that’s found in every nook and cranny. From the playful scribble of a child proudly claiming “I woz ‘ere” on the pages of a book to the monumental feat of building the Great Pyramid, humans have an innate desire to leave a sign of their presence. It’s almost like a dog marking its territory, but with spray cans instead of urine. Graffiti can be clandestine, or a bold proclamation, proudly displayed for all to see. It can be a spontaneous doodle or a sprawling masterpiece. Yet, it remains a fleeting and transient testament to human creativity, here today and gone tomorrow.

The Close family were prolific graffiti carvers, the name appearing on several local rocky outcrops. I would like to research if the family has any connection to Roland Close of Baysdale, the local archaeologist.

My disappointment at seeing this latest piece of art on Roseberry got me thinking, when does graffiti attain historical significance? Over time, it develops a sense of resilience, but will remain transient. Even on sandstone, it often doesn’t endure. It is subject to the elements and successive generations of inscribers. Graffiti’s historical value increases as each surviving year passes. Personally, I tend to view anything predating my formative years as historical. However, this perception is subjective and based on my own understanding of the past. For me then, that would be around the 1960s, but others may extend or shorten this.

In the 21st century, graffiti is more often seen as an antisocial act. However, this perception is a recent development. In early modern England, there was no specific term for graffiti, indicating that it was an unfamiliar concept. Graffiti was not considered distinct from other forms of writing and was not seen as a vice. It was only in the 19th century that graffiti itself, rather than the message it conveyed, became problematic, as the prevalence of graffiti became a growing concern. The term “graffiti” was coined in the 1850s, inspired by the discovery of inscriptions at the ancient site of Pompeii in Italy. This term provided a way to refer to the markings found there. Moving into the 20th and 21st centuries, graffiti has acquired its more negative connotations. However, even this perception has shifted over time. The emergence of street art, influenced by figures like Banksy, has added complexity to the definition of graffiti, depending on its context and influenced by social and cultural factors at the time they are made.

Mr Close repeated his deed the following year.

Graffiti is no longer seen as a harmless act but rather as a criminal offence. In the UK, graffiti may fall under the category of criminal damage according to the Criminal Damage Act of 19711‘Lawtons Solicitors’. 2023. Lawtons Solicitors <https://www.lawtonslaw.co.uk/specialist-areas/burglary-theft-and-criminal-damage/vandalism-and-criminal-damage-solicitors/#:~:text=Vandalism%20covers%20a%20wide%20category,Graffiti> [accessed 16 May 2023]. When graffiti takes on a hateful nature, targeting minority groups, it is regarded as a hate crime. Moreover, defacing heritage assets, such as scheduled monuments, listed buildings, World Heritage Sites, or conservation areas, is considered a serious heritage crime2‘What Is Heritage Crime? | Historic England’. 2013. Historicengland.org.uk <https://historicengland.org.uk/advice/caring-for-heritage/heritage-crime/definition/> [accessed 16 May 2023].

1878, the earliest date noted on a brief search of the summit’s crag faces.

Once commonplace, what now shocks us. Take, for instance, a visitor to Stonehenge in 1871 who complained about the incessant chipping of the stones, disturbing the solitude of the place. It is difficult to fathom anyone defacing Stonehenge today with graffiti or taking a piece of it as a souvenir. However, by the end of the 19th century, this was viewed as a growing problem, prompting the introduction of heritage legislation. In fact, the first successful prosecution for damaging an ancient monument in England occurred in 1906 at the Castlerigg stone circle in Cumbria. The offender had defaced the stones and foolishly etched their name and address, which ultimately aided in their apprehension. As these acts became more commonplace, people began recognising the significance of the issue.

We now have various ways to mark our presence when visiting sites. You can capture a photo of yourself or take a selfie, effectively saying, “I was here,” much like the graffiti tourists did in the past. However, if a website goes down, those hashtags become redundant, more fleeting than a sandstone crag.






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