Whether you think graffiti is a subversive, democratic art form or a public nuisance, it harks back to our cave-painting days
“Street art” is a novel market category, devised with Banksy and his imitators in mind. Yet the urge behind it has been around for at least 60,000 years. Human beings just love drawing on walls. In the ice age, people pressed their hands against cave walls and spat ochre pigment to create a red outline. Pretty much the same technique is used today when street artists spray paint over a pre-cut stencil to leave a quick image before the police come.
It may seem irreverent to class ice-age art as graffiti, but before the true antiquity of such art was recognised in the 20th century, people who came across mammoths drawn in caves did actually dismiss them as crude graffiti. And there is no written evidence to prove who made cave paintings or why. Children as well as women and men left handprints in caves. Maybe it was surly stone-age teenagers who skulked underground drawing bison for a bit of a laugh.