Since the late 1960’s, street art has appeared on the walls of cities around the globe. In this early stage, artists were beginning to play with the idea of tagging buildings and competing with each other. Like any other artistic medium, street art has evolved and grown. Despite its growth over the past few decades, street art remains a fringe-y medium; with a potentially illegal risk that the artist must take into account to create their piece. It has gradually gained more acceptance, but I believe it is important to differentiate which street art is legal and which is not. Since all street art is permanent, the detail that determines legal vs. illegal is permission. Street art that was granted permission is technically considered public art. When discussing the evolution of street art, it is important to consider what factors helped it develop and figures that influenced these changes.
One artist that cannot be left out when discussing the origin of street art is Keith Haring. Haring learned basic cartooning skills from his father and took to the New York City subways to try out his skills. His work is easily recognizable and is known for the bold lines and color palette. Like many street artists that followed in his footsteps, Haring used street art as a means for political activism. At a time when the AIDS crisis was heavily affecting New York, Haring created pieces that warned against the judgement and fear of AIDS. The second important figure I will mention briefly in this article is Jean-Michel Basquiat. In the early 70’s, Basquiat began spray painting graffiti in Lower Manhattan. His work is visceral, bordering on unsettling at times. His style is now classified as Neo-Expressionism. At the time, it was a form of self expression that even someone like Basquiat, who felt like an outcast in society, could do. It sent the message, “I exist, and you can’t ignore me”. Using street art to send a message is a repeated theme throughout the genesis and history of street art. If you are interested in specific artists and how they use street art, check out my artist spotlight articles.
There have been several crucial shifts that that have helped mold street art into the form that we are currently familiar with. One obvious shift is the transition from tagging and claiming territory to more elaborate murals and festivals dedicated to the art form. Another evident shift in the way that street art has changed throughout the last several decades is the connotation of it. The distinction between graffiti and street art has been made, no longer will serious artists be lumped together with those who just wish to deface property. It is an accessible art form that doesn’t require a ticket into a museum or gallery. It is art that is made for the people, by the people. No fee to see, no walls that trap the artist’s message. This distinction has always been fundamental to street art, despite the attempt to profit and capitalize off of it.
So, what do you think? Does this acceptance cheapen the original defiance behind street art? I believe that street artists are still different than other classical artists in the sense that they reject societal norms. Relating back to its roots with Haring, street art is still a popular platform for political activism among many artists. Instead of it weakening with time, the ability to create more elaborate and visually vibrant murals is only a benefit for the artists. The transformation of street art can be likened to a flower beginning to bloom. The foundation has already been laid, but it is finally coming into its own and showing the world that it is a serious art form with many different facets. It has a lot to offer that hasn’t been fully tapped yet. Soon, I believe that large cities with heavy art influence will become popular for street art and festivals that celebrate it. I would expect street art to become extremely popular in places like Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Houston, etc. In what ways do you think that street art will evolve and make an impact? Let us know in the comments below!