Friday, February 7, 2014

Street Art

I was going to write one of my typical Fine Art Friday posts, but then I got distracted by pictures of street art on Pinterest. Street art is full of controversy. Lots of people are against all kinds of street art because of its association with gangs. Yes, part of that is reasonable--I know that gangs do send messages and mark territory through graffiti. Its also true that painting on property that doesn't belong to you is illegal in most countries. This post is certainly not meant to condone vandalism or encourage gang activity in any way. I'm totally against both of those.

So let's get something clear. I'm not talking about this: 

I'm talking about this:

(Shepard Fairey, Cincinnati, Ohio)

(Matt W. Moore, Cincinnati, Ohio)

(David Walker, London)

I think it's sad that this very public form of art is so looked down on. Street art has been around since ancient times. I think we all know about the beautiful murals of ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, and the cave paintings of Lascaux:

Most people might not think to group those ancient works of art with the beautiful city- or privately-sanctioned murals now appearing in towns and cities all around the world, and certainly not with the more questionable cousins, graffiti and unauthorized street art. But really, it's all the same. All these artists, for hundreds and thousands of years, have been trying to do the very same thing I try to do: tell a story through an image. It just so happens that they've chosen a much more public surface than I have. Whereas I work on paper, cardboard, and canvases, these artists put their images on walls, streets, sidewalks, signs, and billboards.

I love street art. Controversy and legality issues aside, I love it. I love the murals cities pay artists to brighten things up and encourage creativity. I love the incredible creations of Kurt Wenner, Edgar Muller, Manfred Stader, Tracy Lee Stum, Julian Beever, and others (just google "unbelievable 3D chalk art"). I especially love the creative and thought-provoking work of Banksy, El Mac, David Walker, JR, and artists like them.

I wish there were a win-win situation, where street art instantly lost its bad reputation (and the reasons for that reputation) and somehow the vandalism laws and property owners were okay with surprise art showing up on random walls. But I guess the anonymity and risk adds excitement for artists like Banksy, and I will always appreciate the legal artwork commissioned by cities and property owners. I will always applaud the creativity, talent, boldness, and voice of the street artist, regardless of the subject matter and legality of his or her work.


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