A lecture by a professor of Art

Do you like our tests? Check out our shop!

TOEFL Test 3 (PDF+MP3) is waiting for you!

Listen to audio recording and answer the questions.

Listen to part of a university lecture by a professor of Art.

Professor: I noticed on my way to class today that someone has spray-painted an image of our school mascot- you know, a wolverine- with the slogan 'Go Wolverines!" on the wall of the Student Union. Have any of you seen that yet? I guess they're just expressing their enthusiasm for the football season. It's not a very artistic effort, but it is a perfect example of the kind of modern art I want to talk about today: graffiti.

Of course, graffiti is not modern at all. The earliest known examples are around 2000 years old. When Mount Vesuvius buried the Roman city of Pompeii under lava during its eruption in 79 AD, it preserved all kinds of graffiti, or wall messages,- magic spells, curses, declarations of love, political slogans, literary quotations, all sorts of messages- just like our modern graffiti. The Mayans scrawled sayings on their temples in Guatemala. The Vikings scratched their initials on New Grange Mound in Ireland. And the Vandals- no pun intended- carved runes on the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. So defacing public property with graffiti has been a universally popular pastime since the world's earliest history.

Actually, we could go a lot further back into prehistory for examples, to the famous cave paintings of Lascaux, for instance- but these probably don't fit the definition, since a main characteristic of graffiti is that it's drawn or written on someone else's property without permission- and consequently with some haste! By definition, graffiti- the singular is "graffito"- is the name for lettering or images that are illegally scrawled, scratched, sprayed or painted in any way on property. Nowadays, there are four general sorts of graffiti- gang graffiti, socio-political graffiti, expressive or humorous graffiti, and public art.

Gang graffiti appeared after World War Two, when our cities were getting much bigger, and the social stresses and strains of urban living led to the rise of urban gangs- groups of boys and young men who lived in different parts of a city, and who marked their territories, or "tagged" them, with identifying signs and logos painted on boundary walls and buildings to warn other gangs away.

And these days, you can see a lot of political graffiti just by watching the evening news from the Middle East or other areas of conflict. On the buildings in the background you can see slogans calling for "Liberty" or "Free Speech" or "Jihad" or other social changes. In the US, in the late sixties, "Free Huey" was a widespread urban graffito that called for the release of Huey Newton, a member of the Black Panthers, which was an African-American revolutionary organization. He'd been unjustly imprisoned for murder, but he was later released.

You can also find humorous, expressive, generally harmless graffiti in the toilet stalls of any bar or college campus. "Kilroy was here"- "What, me worry?"- "Make love, not war". Dozens of these old chestnuts, along with many new and imaginative comments, adorn our public lavatories- people just expressing themselves, and often in very funny ways.

All of these kinds of graffiti are very interesting as artifacts of human nature- and ancient graffiti can tell anthropologists a lot about daily life in earlier times. Mistakes in grammar or spelling can tell us something about the level of literacy in ancient cultures, and Roman graffiti has also helped us determine the pronunciation of spoken Latin, for instance. Old graffiti can also help us piece together history. "Signature Rock", for example, a national landmark on the Oregon Trail, records the names and dates of many of the early pioneers that passed along that route into the American West.

But for me, what is most heartening is how some of the creations of these "writers", as they are called, some of their creations have risen to the level of art, of public art. They have grown beyond the simple "bubble" lettering and the sometimes crude expressions, and they have made a greater statement about life and about people and about the world. Although the designs may be more influenced by the need for speed in executing them, they are also often distinctive and memorable, and some of their writers are now recognized, respected muralists. Unfortunately, once he's given a canvas to work on and once he's paid for his effort, the writer no longer qualifies to be called a graffiti "writer"- he's now an Artist.


Why does the lecturer mention the school mascot at the beginning of his talk?


Why do the Lascaux cave paintings probably NOT qualify as graffiti?


According to the lecturer, which probably contributed most to the appearance of gang graffiti?


Who was Huey Newton?


Judging from the lecture, what does the word "bubble" refer to?


How does the lecturer organize the types of graffiti?


Do you like our tests? Check out our shop!

TOEFL Test 3 (PDF+MP3) is waiting for you!