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Homer Charles Arnold, IDSVAFollow





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There is no denying contemporary graffiti’s prevalence throughout the modern landscape. Hailed or disdained, the genre solidified its place in popular society through a manifold of discursive methods and ideologies. Now a global aesthetic, it compels a significant and wide range of assessments aimed at comprehending both the overarching heterogeneity that manifest throughout the counterculture as well as the larger socio-political impact made by the entirety of the genre. These analyses often establish their theories on the basis that contemporary graffiti originates as a statement of presence. Thus meaning that through a piece of graffiti, its author claims, “I am here.” This dissertation challenges that foundation, and rethinks the genre as a statement of absence that proclaims, “I was here.” Working from this provenance, I argue that absence constitutes contemporary graffiti’s ontology and underscores the entirety of the counterculture. Coupling this position with the genre’s continual diversification, this dissertation theorizes that contemporary graffiti is an anti-establishing. This means that as a socio-political aesthetic, it continually self-perpetuates its own self-negation and relies on both methodological and ideological differences so as to refute any attempts at totalization and subsequent unification originating from either within the counterculture or its surrounding discourses. Instead, the genre always places itself in-difference and a-part from itself and others thus cultivating relationships of contact without union with the various parties involved. Relying primarily on Jean-Luc Nancy’s radicalization of community, I demonstrate how these relationships are affirmations of his philosophy, as they constitute a community predicated on the exposition of finitude. From such an assignment, this dissertation expands what is commonly understood as contemporary graffiti practices and argues for the continued legitimization of the genre’s rebellious constitution despite its rampant appropriation by popular society.

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Aesthetics | Art Practice


Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts


Portland, Maine

Anti-Establishing: Contemporary Graffiti's Contra-Community



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