Fact: I’ve loved street art since, well, forever.
I grew up in the greyest, most boring-looking place ever (that I won’t name for fear of insulting the people who live there but it’s in the Midlands, UK). I’m not exaggerating when I say a lot of the time I was there I had this mildly depressed, listless feel to my life. Now I’m older and I realise how much my brain reacts to colour and how it actually stimulates my mind, I can see now that it’s no wonder I felt so bleugh in that environment.
I always used to dislike street art, mainly because the stuff in my hometown was actually what I’d now describe as graffiti, not street art, and consisted mainly of as many swear words and anatomically incorrect diagrams of genitals that young kids could scrawl on a wall. But I liked the colour, when there was some.
Eventually I grew to love street art more and more – I just started thinking that actually if it brightened up the place a bit then I was cool with it.
Plus, why do walls have to be bare anyway? Nobody could ever really give me a decent answer to that question and I don’t blame them as people are conditioned to dislike graffiti and street art, and I can understand the dislike of swear words and crude messages, it’s just lazy to me. But political messages, witty quotes, talented people painting intricate scenes – why does art only have to be confined to a gallery? A designated space to enjoy the piece?
Why can’t we see art everywhere, in all it’s forms, in all places?
After all, this Earth is one intricate, beautifully interweaving art piece, the cogs of nature interacting with each other to sustain life. The world we live in is art. As is the planet. The moon. Space. The galaxy. THE UNIVERSE!
1. The creativity
Someone’s mind had an initial spark of, “What if I did this?”
And they followed that spark, put it into practice and made it really happen. The same thing happens in all art forms but it doesn’t make it any less beautiful.
2. Political statements
Graffiti used to be the way civilians made political statements in oppressed countries. For some, it still is. Recently in Greece there has been an influx of political-based tagging as the financial crisis bears on. In the words of Greek street artist iNO, “If you want to learn about a city, look at its walls“.
Read GREECE’S FINANCIAL CRISIS AS TOLD BY THE GRAFFITI ON ITS WALLS and watch GREECE DEBT CRISIS: A STREET ARTIST’S GRAFFITI GUIDE
3. The thrill of the chase
I’ve explained this before in a different blog post but I LOVE the whole thing where you find an artist that you really like and you see a few pieces of their’s in one city and find out they have also done work in other cities and other countries so you go on an epic art chase to find them all!! Invader is a great example of this.
I love spending a day on a street art chase, it makes it so much sweeter when you find another piece!!
Read my blog post STREET ART: 5 ARTISTS WHO INVADE CITIES
4. The context and surroundings
Who ever said that art has to be confined to a gallery, or a designated space to view it? Art in the street is for everybody; not only does it make it available for everyone to see, regardless of age or status, but it also means anyone can do it- you don’t need permission or validation from the art world. And most street artists don’t get paid to paint in the street. The love of it keeps them working.
5. The crossover between street art and gallery art
Although I love street art defying the limits of the conventional space in which it is presented, it doesn’t mean galleries should be written off. Art anywhere is worth viewing, and there are advantages to gallery viewing. However, when street art can make that crossover from being presented in the street to presented in a gallery and still maintain that urban, unrestricted feel, that’s pretty amazing. Look at Conor Harrington’s work, appreciated in both galleries and the street.
Watch the BBC Four documentary A BRIEF HISTORY OF GRAFFITI
(…there’s a great part around 36:08 where Jeffrey Deitch – former Director at the LA Museum of Contemporary Art – talks about taking street art and placing it in museums for gallery viewing)
6. Challenging ideals
Someone like Banksy, although undeniably one of the most commercial street artists ever (and many people really don’t like him for it), actually does show that street art is becoming more accepted and seen less as a nuisance and more as a creative and dynamic form of expression. What used to be a form of rebellion, anarchism and illegal practice seen as an ‘eyesore’ is now a legitimate art form gaining noteriety in the mainstream. People are also paying attention to the messages conveyed through street pieces.
7. Freedom of expression
When the Greeks feel they have no control over a financial crisis that is genuinely ruining their lives and their futures, they turn to street art to exercise their right to tell the world how much they resent and intend to resist what is happening. Whilst their lives and financial futures are spiralling completely out of their control, their spirit is still alive – they are not happy and they are not going to be silent. Freedom of expression is something we in the West are extremely fortunate to have. Damn right we should use it.
From pictures on cave walls painted by Neolithic humans, to the Bayeux Tapestry in France’s Musée de la Tapisserie, drawings and paintings have always been used to tell historical stories and ward off enemies. Thousands of years and still we humans can’t seem to shake off that burning desire to write and draw on walls: tags, names, statements, humour and just plain pretty-to-look-at pieces are all part of street art and graffiti and give belief to the idea that graffiti is actually completely natural and should not be seen as anything other than that. There is even proof that the evolution of writing started with graffiti!
Read Evolution of writing began with graffiti and Tracing the Historic Roots of Modern Street Art & Graffiti
9. It’s not overly commercialised
Although some more mainstream artists are able to make a very good living out of the mass production of their street art on merchandise and in various projects, most artists are not able to live off the profits of their work because there simply aren’t any. Not to say that the less money the artist makes the more ‘real’ the street art – all artists should be able to make a good living off their craft, and just because someone like Banksy makes money off his arguably more mainstream art doesn’t mean his art has less worth – but many artists do not break into the mainstream art world or find a steady income from their work. They work for free or do small commissions for art projects, murals, festivals etc, with small income streams coming from personal websites and online stores selling merchandise or even ways to get involved with their work, e.g. help paste an ear somewhere in the world with street artist Ear and There, or paint a Gregos mask and have him put it up in Paris for you.
10. Mystery and intrigue…
Who did this? Why? What does it mean? Does it even mean anything? I saw a similar thing in Paris, is it the same artist? How can I find out if this artist is online?
So many questions! And they just never end…
Do you love street art and graffiti? Tell me your favourite piece or artist in the comments below!