People love street art for its spontaneity and playfulness; its intuitive exploration of physical space. They revel in collaborations between anonymous artists, creating a visual discussion painted late into night, week after week, building up rich layers to a unified patina. They appreciate that it is a transient, temporary art form that, in its element, cannot be bought. They see accessibility stripped of pretension, and admire the mastery and speed of the artists, combined with a blood-sport ethos of dangerous placement. A site-specific remedy to a standardized environment, street art awakens us and connects us to our surroundings.
Street art is often associated with graffiti. In fact, since the earliest cave dwellers, people have been drawing in places where they forgot to ask permission first. Hip-hop culture took this tendency and gave the form a massive boost in innovation, technical skill, and style. Almost overnight, bathroom scribbles took a giant leap in evolution, vibrantly turning New York City’s subway cars into giant rolling art galleries. Graffiti art then entered the mainstream via painters such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring in the 1980s. Today, due to the internet, graffiti and street art has become the first truly global art movement, and given birth to successful contemporary artists such as Banksy in Britain and Os Gemeos in Brazil.
Continuing this flow of innovation, today’s street artists draw strength from increasingly diverse materials and the aesthetic-political aspects of their work. In contrast, classic graffiti art’s voice was developed in the worst conditions of urban decay, political neglect, and racial division. The need to endlessly repeat his/her name to assert an identity and belonging seems peculiar outside of this dehumanizing context. However, even tagging, graffiti’s anti-social form, reflects a society saturated with marketing. Today, even young children can recognize the major corporate logos, so it is not surprising that some youth seek fame and esteem by compulsively marking the built environment with their own personal logos.
Street art carries out this and other critiques within public space, widening the discourse and infusing places with life, voice, and connection.