Street art is visual art created in public locations, usually unsanctioned artwork executed outside of the context of traditional art venues.
Other terms for this type of art include “independent public art“, “post-graffiti“, and “neo-graffiti“, and is closely related with urban art and guerrilla art.
Common forms and media include spray paint graffiti, stencil graffiti, wheatpasted poster art, sticker art, street installations, and sculpture. Video projection and yarn bombing have also gained some popularity near the turn of the 21st century.
“Independent public art” such as a balance sculpture can be installed in remote areas and may be short-lived.
Street art is a form of artwork that is displayed in a community on its surrounding buildings, streets, and other publicly viewed surfaces.
Many instances come in the form of guerrilla art, which is composed to make a public statement about the society that the artist lives within. The work has moved from the beginnings of graffiti and vandalism to new modes where artists work to bring messages, or just simple beauty, to an audience.
Some artists use “smart vandalism” as a way to raise awareness of social and political issues. Others simply see urban space as an untapped format for personal artwork, while others may appreciate the challenges and risks that are associated with installing illicit artwork in public places.
A common motive is that creating art in a format which utilizes public space allows artists who may otherwise feel disenfranchised to reach a much broader audience than other styles or galleries would allow.
Whereas traditional graffiti artists have primarily used spray paint to produce their work, “street art” encompasses many other media, such as LED art, mosaic tiling, murals, stencil art, sticker art, “Lock On” sculptures, street installations, wheatpasting, wood blocking, yarn bombing, and rock balancing.
New media forms such as projection onto large city buildings are an increasingly popular tool for street artists—and the availability of cheap hardware and software allows street artists to become more competitive with corporate advertisements.
Much like open source software, artists are able to create art for the public realm from their personal computers, similarly creating things for free which compete with companies making things for profit.
Some observers use the term “independent public art” to describe a type of street art, which can also include work in remote places that may not be visited by an audience and may also be short-lived.
An ephemeral instance of colored smoke in the forest or a precarious rock balance is examples. Some work has been installed underwater.
Slogans of protest and political or social commentary graffitied onto public walls are the precursor to modern graffiti and street art and continue as one aspect of the genre.
Street art in the form of text or simple iconic graphics in the vein of corporate icons become well-known yet enigmatic symbols of an area or an era. Some credit the Kilroy Was Here graffiti of the World War II era as one such early example; a simple line-drawing of a long-nosed man peering from behind a ledge.
Author Charles Panati indirectly touched upon the general appeal of street art in his description of the “Kilroy” graffiti as “outrageous not for what it said, but where it turned up“.
Much of what can now be defined as modern street art has well-documented origins dating from New York City’s graffiti boom, with its infancy in the 1960s, maturation in the 1970s, and speaking with the spray-painted full-car subway train murals of the 1980s centered in the Bronx.
As the 1980s progressed, a shift occurred from text-based works of early in the decade to visually conceptual street art such as Hambleton’s shadow figures.
This period coincides with Keith Haring’s subway advertisement subversions and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s SAMO tags. What is now recognized as “street art” had yet to become a realistic career consideration, and offshoots such as stencil graffiti were in their infancy.
Wheatpasted poster art used to promote bands and the clubs where they performed evolved into actual artwork or copy-art and became a common sight during the 1980s in cities worldwide. The group working collectively as AVANT were also active in New York during this period.
Punk rock music’s subversive ideologies were also instrumental in street art’s evolution as an art form during the 1980s. Some of the anti-museum mentality can be attributed to the ideology of Marinetti who in 1909 wrote the “Manifesto of Futurism” with a quote that reads, “we will destroy all the museums.”
Many street artists claim we do not live in a museum so art should be in public places with no tickets.
Early iconic works
The northwest wall of the intersection at Houston Street and the Bowery in New York City has been a target of artists since the 1970s.
The site, now sometimes referred to as the Bowery Mural, originated as a derelict wall which graffiti artists used freely. Keith Haring once commandeered the wall for his own use in 1982.
After Haring, a stream of well-known street artists followed, until the wall had gradually taken on prestigious status. By 2008, the wall became privately managed and made available to artists by commission or invitation only.
A series of murals by René Moncada began appearing on the streets of SoHo in the late 1970s emblazoned with the words I AM THE BEST ARTIST. René has described the murals as a thumb in the nose to the art community he felt he’d helped pioneer but by which he later felt ignored by.
Recognized as an early act of “art provocation“, they were a topic of conversation and debate at the time, and related legal conflicts raised discussion about intellectual property, artist’s rights, and the First Amendment.
The ubiquitous murals also became a popular backdrop to photographs taken by tourists and art students, and for advertising layouts and Hollywood films. IATBA murals were often defaced, only to be repainted by René.
Some street artists have earned international attention for their work and have made a full transition from street art into the mainstream art world — some while continuing to produce art on the streets.
Keith Haring was among the earliest wave of street artists in the 1980s to do so. Traditional graffiti and street art motifs have also increasingly been incorporated into mainstream advertising, with many instances of artists contracted to work as graphic designers for corporations.
Graffiti artist Haze has provided font and graphic designs for music acts such as the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy. Shepard Fairey’s street posters of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama were reworked by a special commission for use in the presidential campaign.
A version of the artwork also appeared on the cover of Time magazine. It is also not uncommon for street artists to start their own merchandising lines.
Street art has become more accepted by the general public, likely due to its artistic recognition and the high-profile status of Banksy and other artists.
This has led street art to become one of the ‘sights to see‘ in many European cities. Some artists now provide tours of local street art and are able to share their knowledge, explaining the ideas behind many works, the reasons for tagging and the messages portrayed in a lot of graffiti work.
Legality and ethics
Street art can have its own set of legal issues. The parties involved can include the artist, the city or municipal government, the intended recipient, and the owner of the structure or the medium where the work was displayed.
One example is a case in 2014 in Bristol England, which exhibits the legal, moral, and ethical questions that can result. The Mobile Lovers by Banksy was painted on plywood on a public doorway, then cut out by a citizen who in turn was going to sell the piece to garner funds for a Boys Club.
The City government, in turn, confiscated the artwork and placed it in a museum. Banksy, hearing of the conundrum then bequeathed it to the original citizen, thinking his intentions were genuine.
In this case, as in others, the controversy of ownership and public property, as well as the issues of trespassing and vandalism are issues to be resolved legally.
Street art, guerrilla art, and graffiti
Graffiti is characteristically made up of written words that are meant to represent a group or community in a covert way and in plain sight.
The telltale sign of street art is that it usually includes images, illustrations, or symbols that are meant to convey a message.
While both works are meant to represent or tell a message to viewers, one difference between the two comes in the specific viewers that it is meant for.
One trait of street art that has helped to bring it to positive light in the public eye is that the messages shown in these public spaces are usually made to be understandable to all.
While both of these types of art have many differences, there are more similarities than their origins. Both graffiti and street art are works of art that are created with the same intent.
Most artists, whether they are working anonymously, creating an intentionally incomprehensible message, or fighting for some greater cause are working with the same ambitions for popularity, recognition, and the public display or outpouring of their personal thoughts, feelings, and/or passions.
The term street art is described in many different ways, one of which is the term “guerrilla art.” Both terms describe these public works that are placed with meaning and intent.
They can be done anonymously for works that are created to confront taboo public issues that will result in a backlash, or under the name of a well-known artist.
With any terminology, these works of art are created as a primary way to express the artist’s thoughts on many topics and public issues.
One defining trait or feature of street art is that it is created on or in a public area without or against the permission of the owner.
This is a trait which falls in line with that of graffiti. A main distinction between the two comes in the second trait of street art or guerrilla art, where it is made to represent and display a purposefully uncompliant act that is meant to challenge its surrounding environment.
This challenge can be granular, focusing on issues within the community or broadly sweeping, addressing global issues on a public stage.
This is how the term “guerilla art” was associated with this type of work and behavior. The word ties back to guerrilla warfare in history where attacks are made wildly, without control, and with no rules of engagement.
This type of warfare was dramatically different than the previously formal and traditional fighting that went on in wars normally.
When used in the context of street art, the term guerilla art is meant to give nod to the artist’s uncontrolled, unexpected, and often unnamed attack on societal structure or norms.
Although this type of art has become a staple of most cities around the world, the popularity of this form of artistic expression was not always so apparent as it is today.
In recent years, street art has undergone a major transformation in public opinion to even become a socially accepted and respected accent to the public places that they adorn.
Even with this push for public acceptance, the act of defacing public property with any and all message, whether it is considered art or not, has yet to become permitted or approved by the government.
Today’s street art, while common and growing in acceptance, is largely placed in a middle ground between an act that is against the law and a beautifully respected act of artistic expression.
In the beginning, graffiti was the only form of street art that there was and it was widely considered to be a delinquent act of territorial marking and crude messaging.
Initially, there were very clear divisions between the work of a street artist and the act of tagging a public or private property, but in recent years where the artists are treading the line between the two, this line has become increasingly blurred.
Those who truly appreciate the work of famed street artists or street works of art are in acceptance of the fact that this art would not be the same without the medium being the street.
The works are subject to whatever change or destruction may come due to the fact that they are created on public or private surfaces which are neither owned by the artist or permitted to be worked on by the property owners.
This acceptance of the potential impermanence of the works of art and the public placement of the unconditioned works are what contribute to the meaning of the piece and therefore, what helps the growth of street art popularity.
Free art movement
The free art movement is the practice of artists leaving art in public places as street art, as well as being free for the public to remove and keep.
The artwork is usually tagged with a notice stating it is free art, and either with the artist’s name or left anonymously. The movement was reinvigorated by British artist My Dog Sighs coining the term “Free Art Fridays” and actively participating in the movement, which has since spread internationally.
Clues to the location of artworks are sometimes left on social media to combine treasure hunting with art. The movement is distinct from the free culture movement as the artist retains full copyright for the work.
Around the globe
Street art exists worldwide. Large cities and regional towns of the world are home to some form of the street art community, from which pioneering artists or forerunners of particular mediums or techniques emerge.
Internationally known street artists travel between such locations to promote and exhibit their artwork.
*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.