graffito. 1 Method of ornamenting architectural plaster surfaces. The designs are produced by scratching a topcoat of plaster to reveal an undercoat of contrasting and deeper color. The technique of graffito was used in ancient cultures including those of Egypt and Greece. It was refined in Italian decorative art of the 15th and 16th cent., being then used to treat the entire facades of buildings as great formal mural decorations. Around windows and doors were architectural borders depicting pilasters, colonnettes, and caryatids; remaining surfaces were covered with medallions, garlands, and arabesque bands. Fine examples remain, especially at Florence, and the medium has occasionally been revived in modern buildings. Graffito decoration is applied to pottery by coating an unfired piece with a contrasting color of clay and scratching a design through it to show the color underneath. The slip ware of the Pennsylvania Germans is a good example of graffito work. It is also spelled sgraffito. 2 An irreverent inscription on a wall in a public place is also called a graffito (pl. graffiti). The term graffiti was first used in this sense by archaeologists to designate informal writings on tombs and ancient monuments. Today, as then, graffiti deal with a wide variety of subjects and are often satirical in tone. In the second half of the 20th cent. the term has been applied to many acts of property defacement involving paint and other graphic media.

See studies by E. L. Abel and B. E. Buckley (1977), C. Castleman (1982), and M. Cooper and H. Chalfant (1984).

Form of visual communication, usually illegal, involving the unauthorized marking of public space by an individual or group. Technically the term applies to designs scratched through a layer of paint or plaster, but its meaning has been extended to other markings. Graffiti is widely considered a form of antisocial behaviour performed in order to gain attention or simply for thrills. But it also can be understood as an expressive art form. Derived from the Italian word graffio (“scratch”), graffiti (“incised inscriptions,” plural but often used as singular) has a long history. It has been found in ancient Roman ruins, in the remains of the Mayan city of Tikal in Central America, on rocks in Spain dating to the 16th century, and in medieval English churches. During the 20th century, graffiti in the U.S. and Europe was closely associated with gangs. Graffiti was particularly prominent in major urban centres throughout the world; common targets were subways, billboards, and walls. In the 1990s there emerged a new form of graffiti, known as “tagging,” which entailed the repeated use of a single symbol or series of symbols to mark territory.

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Graffito is the singular form of the Italian graffiti, meaning "little scratch".

Graffito may also refer to:

See also: Graffiti (disambiguation)

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