The word graffiti, singular graffito, is used to describe every type of unauthorised (and authorised) Street Art. There can be no doubt that there are many who would rather it didn’t exist. Strong emotions caused by the appearance, seemingly miraculously, overnight of yet another tag, passed on the way to work, give a clue as to how important this form of self-expression is.

But there are many places in the world that hold events to celebrate this form of art. Whether it’s in Bristol, UK, or Melbourne, Australia, there are large sections of society that believes this form of art benefits a city. So where did it come from, this need to express oneself in public sometimes causing outrage to building owners and sometimes ending in court?

The term graffiti once referred to the inscriptions and figure drawings discovered by archaeologists when investigating ancient sites of interest. Perhaps the most famous would be the catacombs of Rome and in the devastated city of Pompeii. The modern usage of the word has grown to include any form of graphics found in and around the streets and alleys, the skyscrapers and road bridges of most modern cities.

The earliest form of graffiti seems to be dated around 30,000 BC. This type of graffiti goes under another name, cave art. But if we are looking at the line between old tagging and new then we need to visit Ephesus in ancient Greece. It would appear that there is a tag, or piece of graffiti, that seems to suggest that a brothel is nearby. Although one might argue this also could be the earliest form of business marketing, the fact that it is scratched into a wall also defines it as graffiti.

From ancient Greece to the Romans, Egypt and beyond, historic graffiti has helped those that study such things to gather a deeper understanding of lifestyles, languages and even pronunciation. This is to highlight that this type of expression has been around for a very long time. Those that currently tag and graffiti in our modern cities are just continuing a very long historic line of personal expression.

It would be crass to say that all objections are wrong and equally as crass to say that all graffiti is vandalism. There are many people from many walks of life who, having experienced the massive street art in Bristol in 2011, have been pleasantly surprised by the effect that it has had on an otherwise rundown and largely ignored part of the city.

As an example to further justify this point of view lets just visit some other sites around the world that have historic graffiti. There is the Mayan site of Tikal, in Guatemala, leaping continents to Ireland we find Viking graffiti surviving at Newgrange Mound, there is evidence also of graffiti in Constantinople (Runes) then there is the graffiti known as Tacherons (builders marks) scratched into Scandinavian church walls. The list goes on; artists such as Rafael and Michelangelo scratched their names into the ruins Domus Aurea and even French soldiers scribing on some monuments their initials whilst taking part in the campaign of Egypt in the Napoleonic era.

So there can be no doubt it is a global phenomenon and an historical activity. The ever evolving face of street art can mean great pieces of art being created on the same wall on almost a daily basis. So if we accept that it is going to happen maybe we should enjoy the expression, colours and creativity that this disposable form of modern Art provides.