Graffiti Lives

Beyond the Tag in New York’s Urban Underground

252 pages

60 illustrations

April, 2011

ISBN: 9780814740460



Also available in



Part of the Alternative Criminology series


Gregory J. Snyder is Associate Professor of Sociology at Baruch College, City University of New York.  He is the author of Graffiti Lives: Beyond the Tag in New York’s Urban Underground.

All books by Gregory J. Snyder

On the sides of buildings, on bridges, billboards, mailboxes, and street signs, and especially in the subway and train tunnels, graffiti covers much of New York City. Love it or hate it, graffiti, from the humble tag to the intricate piece (short for masterpiece), is an undeniable part of the cityscape.

In Graffiti Lives, Gregory J. Snyder offers a fascinating and rare look into this world of contemporary graffiti culture. A world in which kids, often, shoplift for spray paint, scale impossibly high places to find a great spot to “get up,” run from the police, journey into underground train tunnels, fight over turf, and spend countless hours perfecting their style. Over the ten years Snyder studied this culture he even created a few works himself (under the moniker “GWIZ”), found himself serving as a lookout for other artists engaged in this illegal activity, spent time in the train tunnels in search of new work, created a blackbook for writers to tag, and took countless photographs to document this world—over sixty included in the book.

A combination of amazing “flicks” and exhilarating prose, Graffiti Lives is ultimately an exploration into how graffiti writers define themselves. Snyder details that writers are not bound together by appearance or language or birthplace or class but by what they do. And what they do is reach for fame, painting their names as prominently as they can. What’s more, he discovers that, though many public officials think graffiti writing will only lead to other criminal activity, many graffiti writers have turned their youthful exploits into adult careers—from professional aerosol muralists and fine artists to designers of all kinds, employed in such fields as tattooing, studio art, magazine production, fashion, and guerilla marketing. In fact, some of the artists featured have gone on to international acclaim and to their own gallery shows. Snyder’s illuminating work shows that getting up tags, throw-ups, and pieces on New York City’s walls and subway tunnels can lead to getting out into the city’s competitive professional world. Graffiti Lives details the exciting, risky, and surprisingly rewarding pursuits of contemporary graffiti writers.


  • "Outstanding, innovative, and multidimensional. . . . I can easily see this book becoming the new ‘best book on graffiti.’ "

    —Joe Austin, author of Taking the Train: How Graffiti Art Became an Urban Crisis in New York City

  • "Will prompt readers to look again at graffiti scrawls they may previously have ignored."

    Kirkus Reviews

  • "In his first book, fan and socio-anthropologist Snyder doesn’t just celebrate urban street art and its rising stars, but takes a thorough look at its history and future, the language of public art and the idea of the graffiti artist as criminal—including an intriguing challenge to the ‘broken windows theory’ cited by law enforcement and NYC government officials as central to their efforts. Along the way he decodes a backdoor in the East Village covered with a dozen different tags—’in the same way that the sedimentary layers of ancient ruins inspire archaeologists to tell tales of past civilizations’—profiles rising and established stars, and takes a raw, detailed tour of the scene. . . . Snyder’s ‘the kids are alright’ assessment, buttressed by many examples of thrill-seeking taggers finding successful careers in art, design, publishing, and (commissioned) mural-painting, is well-articulated, convincing, and quite possibly reassuring for the urbanites living among (or perhaps raising) today's writers and bombers."

    Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review

  • "Graffiti lives! proclaims author Snyder in this new, vaguely academic account of graffiti in the urban underground—particularly New York."

    New York Post

  • “Graffiti writers, the book argues, cannot be understood merely as practitioners of vandalism and social disorder, but also as members of a diverse subculture who, in many cases, have used their experiences to build legitimate careers.”

    The New York Times

  • “Layered, fascinating and compelling, Graffiti Lives is of interest to scholars and general readers alike. Raw, energetic pictures complement the intense prose. The book is as exciting as the transgressive art it documents.”

    M/C Reviews

  • "Graffiti Lives [is] an important text for emerging research connecting cultural criminology and green criminology."

    —Avi Brisman, Crime, Law & Social Change

  • “The book contributes to our understanding of graffiti, getting beyond simple explanations of graffiti or generalizations about graffiti writers.  Open-minded art lovers, as well as visual sociologists, will enjoy the integration between images and text….Snyder’s book makes an admirable contribution toward our understanding of this fascinating form of vandalism, art, resistance, space claiming, and identity making.”

    Social Forces