Street art is interesting, creative and unrestricted. It’s an incredibly diverse and varied art movement, one that is growing in popularity as work being exhibited in the streets continues to develop in terms of size, style, and sheer skill.
Still, some people (normally Mr Average Joe) do not understand what street art is; their head fills with images of vandalised bus stops, tagged alleyways and ‘yoofs’ with spray cans on the side of train tracks.
The writer of this post explains it well when she says,
“Living in Berlin has given me a new appreciation for street art. Up until now, I thought “street art” meant graffiti tags all over the place – the kind of ugly, bubbly letters you’ll find spray-painted on every bare wall around the city”.
Now, graffiti tagging being ‘ugly, bubbly letters’ is a whole other topic, so let’s not get into that right now as I, and all of us GK fam, can give a whole load of reasons for why this is just so not true. Tagging is an art in itself; it’s not just ugly letters sprayed on walls.
So, Mr Average Joe, if you’re reading this, that’s so not what street art is.
This is street art:
So is this:
And I’m about to give you 10 reasons for why you should fall in love with it immediately!
Graffiti and street art share a colourful and complex history. Art on walls started with cavemen (for… well, nobody is quite sure why), and nowadays is created for a huge variety of different reasons. For fun, for art, to make political statements… or for no reason except the urge to be a vandal 😉
Have you heard of Neolithic cave paintings? Or Kilroy, who popped up in and WW2? What about Blek Le Rat and Keith Haring? If you haven’t, then you need to!
There’s actually far too much to tell in terms of the history of this urban art movement so here I’ll direct you to a couple of links that I think are really good at explaining the important bits better than I ever could:
or this book Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art
Street art is diverse from every way you look at it. There’s so many types of street art, from paste-ups to murals; stencils to tags… and so, so many more.
There are street artists in nearly every country in the world who are influenced and inspired by a multitude of cultures and styles, resulting in a wide and expansive body of urban art that can be found all over the world. New pieces pop up by the second… as other pieces get removed or erased. You could never keep up with the changes!
Not only that but there really are no limits on what an artist can put in the street. Sometimes it may require a little law-breakage, vandalism or trespassing, but that’s how it goes (and that doesn’t mean all of them break the law, as a lot of work is legal or commissioned).
3. Mystery & Intrigue
Why did someone put this work there? What does it mean? Does it even mean anything? Who did it? Why?!
So many questions when you’re a street art lover!
But with the invention of Instagram it’s now easier then ever to find artists’ official profiles and learn more about their work and why they do what they do, but still, a lot of street artists prefer to remain anonymous for both privacy and legal reasons.
In fact, you never know who the artist might be behind the anonymity, and trust me – they’re never who or what you think they’ll be!
Also there’s still loads of artists who don’t even tag their work so the intrigue and mystery lives on.
I don’t know what I love more; meeting the person behind the art and putting a face to the name, or not knowing at all and loving the mystery…!
4. Political Statements
Graffiti and street art has always had a history of being influenced by the present political and social issues; a lot of people have painted and pasted on the walls and buildings in their cities as a form of anonymous political protest.
For example, when the recent Greek economic crisis happened, angry sentiments sprung up on walls to express the anger of people living there.
Political statements have typically been controversial; scrawled illegally and boldly in various countries and for various reasons. When people feel they have no power or influence but want to express their anger, hatred or defiance towards political injustice, this kind of art happens:
Art is about expression, creativity, freedom, asking and raising questions, protesting, analysing… for the creative type to get things out of their system.
For the underdog to take a stand. For artists to step beyond convention…. and street, urban art and graffiti is the best proof of this.
You don’t even need to be considered a ‘legitimate’ artist; don’t need to have thousands of fans, have a huge social media presence, be taken seriously by galleries or be picked up by an artist agency.
You can just put your work in the street as and when you wish.
(And you don’t even have to see people’s reactions to your work if you don’t want to!)
There’s freedom with putting work in the street (the same freedom that comes with people stealing and ruining work in the street… but that comes with the territory).
6. Painted Streets = Colourful World = Happier Life
Art in the street makes people happy; it makes their day and their commute more interesting. It adds character to what would otherwise just be grey and boring.
Art reminds people to feel alive. It wakes people up. It inspires. Motivates. And sometimes it can make people think.
Street art takes the ‘normal’ and makes it a thousand times more interesting.
7. The Crossover Between Gallery & Street
With street art becoming more and more widely accepted, some more contemporary galleries have opened their doors to the artists involved. So, not only can you go see a street artists work in an outside space but you can also go to a gallery and see their work there too, where a lot of it still manages to retain it’s urban style even in a designated, indoor art setting.
Is it still street art if it’s in a gallery? Doesn’t that kind of go against what street art is? Some people certainly seem to think so.
Whatever you think, it’s got to be a good thing that people are starting to accept that the creative and talented people involved are seen as artists, not vandals. And that their work, however ‘urban’, is still worthy of being considered art. People are becoming more open-minded to urban and street art and appreciating where this art form has come from.
8. The Thrill of the Chase
Have you ever spent a day in a major city on a wild goose chase searching for one artists’ work? If not, you’re missing out!
Get yo’ ass on a flight to Paris and spend a day exploring the streets whilst searching for Invader’s mosaic space invaders. Book yourself a flight to Amsterdam and go on the search for Gregos‘ masks. You’ll jump up and down in excitement every time you spot one!
It’s also a great way to explore both the tourist parts and the less familiar parts of cities because street artists generally put their work in both famous tourist locations AND secret hidden alleyways and streets. Win win!
Once you start noticing an artists work popping up in more than one city or country… that’s when the fun begins 😉
Street art isn’t just limited to painting on walls. It’s about interaction within the public space. And so many different types and styles of street and urban art come under that umbrella.
With so much diversity within the street art title there really is something for everyone.
Don’t like stencils? Not fond of installations? Couldn’t care less about paste-ups? Don’t worry, there’s still a thousand other ways of putting art in the urban space. Just keep looking and you’ll find something you like… trust me 😉
You don’t need to look a certain way or be anything but yourself. The street art world is made up of artists and art lovers from all over the world, all walks of life, and of all ages. It really is so inclusive, and everyone’s welcome!
Of course, you’re always going to find some idiots no matter where you go or what you’re interested in, but as a general… you won’t find a friendlier bunch of people!