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The Street Art Issue

What is the strength of street art? 6 Introduction 6 Fascination 6 A matter of perspective... 7 7 7 7 7 8

1. Define street art 1.1 Is this art? 1.2 Dwellers 1.3 Buffed 1.4 Heaven Spots 1.5 The nest of street art

10 12 12 12

2 Illegality 2.1 The perpetual struggle 2.2 Anonimity required 2.3 Buff here

13 13 14 14

3 Paid Rebel 3.1 Paradox 3.2 Commercialisation & Musealisation 3.3 Competition overload

15 15 15 16

4 Placing 4.1 Public property 4.2 Not there! 4.3 Easy Acces

16 Author’s vision 17 Conclusion


what is the strength of street art? Written by Sam Fisser




Street art has become a well-known aspect of urban life, prevalent in the big metropolitan cities for years and now rearing its head in nearly every city in the world. For long the general public viewed the act of spraying paint on public places as a form of vandalism, definitely not a new art form. Yet in the past few years, thanks for big names such as Banksy or ROA, street art has been embraced as a new medium with a wide array of possibilities. Nearly everyone can agree that street art has become a medium that is exceptionally strong in conveying a message or changing an urban landscape. But where does this strength come from? What is truly the power of street art? Fascination. Street art has always fascinated me. Not simply because of its sheer beauty and in-your-face mentality, the best thing about street art is the way it sends a message to anyone walking down the street. Art has always been a way for people to communicate; any classical painting is riddled with references, metaphors and other messages. Yet nowadays art isn’t as revered as it used to be, people don’t care to interpret the underlying message.


Street art, however, forces people to see it and often gives the viewer clear-cut tools to understand the meaning behind it. Luckily there is a wide range of styles and sub-cultures in the street art world. Some focus on symbolism to present an opinion, often focused on our current society. While other artists are more eager to show off their intricate skills and add some flair to a neighbourhood. Yet the true masters of street art have managed to combine these aspects into thought-provoking pieces underlain with unmistakable craftsmanship. A matter of perspective. Not just beauty, but strength is in the eye of the beholder. This holds true when it comes to street art, we can endlessly discuss different aspect of street art but in the end it is the perspective of the viewer that holds the greatest importance. Dwellers’ opinion of street art is determined by many factors on a subconscious level. Although many would use terms as ‘pretty’ or ‘ugly’ to describe certain work, the reasoning behind it tells us what their initial disdain or praise comes from (even if they are not capable of formulating this themselves). Therefore the judgment of dwellers can be seen as a valuable component in reaching an understanding of the main question.

(v) Isaac Cordal’s sculpture, Berlin

1.1 Is this art? Street art can be difficult to define, especially because many hold their own opinion on this subject. For the length of this paper I will use the following definition for street art: “Street art is visual art created in public locations”1

1.2 Dwellers City dwellers or simply dwellers are the audience of street art. Anyone walking in a public space that is confronted by a form of street art is considered a dweller. Luca M. Visconti, a professor of marketing at the ESCP Europe business school, first coined the term.

This means that a wide array of mediums and tools can be used to create street art existing of but not excluded to: (i) writing, (ii) stencils, (iii) sticking, (iv) street installation, (v) sculpture, (vi) poetic assault and (vii) beautification.

1.3 Buffed Although this is not an official term acknowledge by the dictionary it is a very common word used in the world of street art. When a piece of street art gets painted over, removed or destroyed by authorities. These authorities include the government or the property owners NOT other street artists.

What we do exclude from the term street art is (i) vandalism, (ii) tags and (iii) street performances.

1. DEFINE STREET ART 1.4 Heaven Spots Heavens, for short, are pieces on high or difficult to reach locations within a city. These perilous works are less likely to be removed therefore they have a longer lasting exposure. “This term also encompasses a double-meaning as the locations are often very dangerous to paint there and it may lead to death, thus, going to heaven (also known as “hitting up the heavens”).”2

(i) Robbo’s (graffiti) writing, East London 1: 2:

1.4 The nest of street art To really understand why street art has such a profound impact on our society we have to look back into its history: where did it start and most importantly why? A quick glance into the human history quickly shows that we’ve always used public domain as a way to express ourselves, arguably starting at the first cave paintings. “Early humans were drawn to express themselves by drawing on cave walls, producing the first evidence of guerrilla art. People have always felt the need to share and express themselves in a public way. “(Visconti, Sherry Jr., Borghini, & Anderson, 2010)3. It is clear that our modern version of this intricate human need is something that is simply ingrained into our very being, which could explain the reason why we respond to it in the way that we do.

This need to stand out is still prevalent in almost every artist’s work, and becomes more important due to the incessant growth of people eager to place their own art on the street. To this day exposure is still incredible value, but the work field has changed dramatically by a continuous improvement of skill and opportunities. This creates a much higher standard for standing out, which in term creates better and more intricate art.

The most recent source of street art as we know it today can be traced back to New York City in 1960. During its Graffiti-boom many gang-members used tags to gain exposure or mark their territory. This trend went on for several years and found its main hub within the subway; the perfect place for a big audience to see their tags. The real connection with street art started to grow when graffiti writers had to constantly reinvent their calligraphy and art style to distinguish themselves. Slowly subway trains started to change into a blank canvas for elaborate pieces of work made to stand out.

3: Visconti, L. M., Sherry Jr., J. F., Borghini, S., & Anderson, L. (2010). Street Art, Sweet Art? Reclaiming the “Public” in Public Place. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(3), 511–529. doi:10.1086/652731

(iii) Shepard Fairey’s sticking (posters), LA

(vii) ROA’s beautification, London

(iv) Gregos’ installation, Paris 9


Although we can hardly imagine the urban landscape without colourful or thought-provoking art the fact is that all of that is illegal. Public domain is still policed by the government to make sure it holds up to a certain aesthetic. No matter your opinion, illegality certainly influences street art in its very core. It is clear however that this illegality is up for discussion in many situations. Street art has grown into a legitimate business, almost leaving behind its roots in anti-establishment protests, causing the judiciary to be more lenient. “In 2013 a Mancunian street artist was excused from a prison term for causing thousands of pounds worth of damage, because the judge residing over the case believed the offender had unquestionable talent and indeed ‘could be the next Banksy’.”4 This is not the case however for the executive arm of the government. The police have caught many big names, such as Shepard Fairey5 (known for this Obama presidential campaign poster), in the street art community.

4: 5:

2.1 The perpetual struggle Should illegality be considered as an obstacle for street art to reach its full potential or as the struggle that harbours it? For many artists it is a problem, keeping them from taking the time to create exactly what they want. Some argue that the possibility of fines, jail-time and other prosecutions creates a big hurdle for newcomers who might’ve otherwise been responsible for some of the best street art. Although this sounds very plausible there is no way of actually testing this, therefore it is not a valid point. The idea that policing does indeed make it much harder to put enough time into street art does imply for certain forms. Other forms don’t deal with this issue as much (sculpting, sticking and to some degree stencils are usually prepared in a safe environment).

Dwellers are not oblivious to the fact that, in most cases, street art is illegal; they cannot view the work without at some level observing this. This ‘visual misdemeanour can induce a sense corporeal illicitness to graffiti’s very appearance, an experience of admiration and reverence for the effort and audacity of the transgression whilst viewing the images.’6 The general view of street art has evolved immensely, mainly due to the popular pieces gaining critical and public recognition. A bigger portion of the general public can distinguish the difference between vandalism and an actual attempt at art, however blurred these lines may be. This recognition of illegality can also elicit a less positive response however.

2.2 Anonimity required

Street artist can use their fake names to create a whole new persona; they are not bound to their own reality. This causes dwellers to conceive a personal image of the artist and their lifestyle; further adding to the elusive nature of street art. A certain glorification takes place that can be very beneficial to the way dwellers judge the pieces.

A big portion of street artists choose to remain anonymous in order to escape possible retribution from the government. This anonymity creates mystery; a man cloaked in black fighting against the machine. The general public often admire anonymity and see it as part of the artist’s brand. It works very similar to the way they perceive the pieces; a certain respect to their audacity and unwillingness to play by the rules. Banksy, the ultimate faceless rebel, thrives on being unknown. It gives him a higher-than-life status, instantly increasing the value people put on his work.

‘The visual misdemeanour can induce a sense corporeal illicitness’ Whether or not the time limit for creating street art has a big influence on its strength is dubious considering this has always been an intrinsic part of it, resulting in quicker forms of street art such as stencils. Street art has proven once and again that it can overcome boundaries. Just like the nature of life on earth it has to evolve or die, a harsh process that will bring about a stronger version of itself.

While some artists see this as a troubling yet permanent issue others have managed to turn the tides. Mobstr, for example, has challenged the ‘buff jobs’ of the government by using the grey or brown patches of paint as fuel for this next project. Sometimes this artist even invites his work to be buffed in order to continue it, ending in an entire piece made by the state-hired painters. Turning them into the ‘vandals’.

2.3 Buff Here The perfect metaphor for the duality of street art’s illegal nature is buffing. Many elaborate and praised works get buffed without notice.

What this shows is that the bounds of the ruling forces actually create a more creative and otherwise unimaginable work field. Which indeed contributes to the strength of street art.

‘A certain glorification takes place’ 6: Schacter, R. (2008). An Ethnography of Iconoclash: An Investigation into the Production, Consumption and Destruction of Street-art in London. Journal of Material Culture, 13(1), 35–61. doi:10.1177/1359183507086217

3. PAID REBEL Although the commercialisation of street art has been on a steady rise, the community frowns upon it. They consider artists such as Shepard Fairey (known for his immensely popular OBEY clothing line) a sell-out. Going commercial might be suicide within street art culture yet dwellers don’t seem to take any issue to it. 3.1 Paradox More and more organisations are giving permission to street artist to paint their private property, payment often included. Although some artists feel as though they are selling themselves out, for others it is the perfect way to actually create what they want. Big names such as ROA work solely on places with permission, giving him the possibility to go bigger and bigger. These types of street art can cause some friction within the community but is generally seen as a necessary evil in order to get street art recognized as a full-fledged art form.

3.2 Commercialisation & Musealisation Big brands such as Nike or Adidas are more than eager to collaborate with big names. Some have taken these opportunities resulting in a wide popularity outside street art culture. This mix between art and marketing is partly responsible for the huge mainstream recognition street art has encountered in the past few years. Yet many feel that the true message and drive behind street art is lost in these cases. The need to retake public property and to express concern towards current society is lost. Not just the big businesses are hungry for new talent. Contemporary museums are actively searching for ways to incorporate street art into their collection, partly because of its popularity. Despite the issues of musealisation (the cherished accessibility is limited) it is regarded as a positive step within the community. For them it means street art finally getting accepted as a true art form.


3.3 Competition overload Commercialisation and musealisation of street art has opened up possibilities for people to actually profit from this art form, it has become a more viable career opportunity. Therefore a growth in participants can be seen. This increase of competition challenges the players to step up their game. True artists are working hard to distinguish themselves from. VHILS, for example, has truly set himself apart by taking the original meaning of graffiti (“scratching a design into a surface�) and creating his own unique work style. Resulting in murals that are revered by many.

(vi) Mobstr’s poetic assault, London


The placing of street art is fundamental to its power. It is the placing of art, in whatever form, on the streets which defines it. Unlike a big portion of classical and even contemporary art, street art is found in public domain. The barrier of museums is taken away; anyone can experience it at any given time in any public space. This accessibility is the key factor that truly sets street art apart from most other art forms. Yet it is this use of public domain that can make or break it.

4.1 Public property It is the general belief among street artists that public areas belong to, quite obviously, the public. This is the main reason why the whole movement started; people believed it was their right to do whatever they wanted with their surroundings. For the street art community it is about reclaiming public domain for themselves: the public. Every community, even one as scattered and indefinable as street artists, has unwritten rules. They vary among every sub-culture and in every region of the world but one ‘rule’ cannot be disputed or altered: you do not put work on private property. Any respectable street artist knows that creating art on someone’s house defeats the initial purpose of street art: the reclaiming of public space. “It is not about annoying your neighbors, it is about annoying the government”- Josh Jeavons

4.2 Not there! The placing of street art has an immense effect on the way dwellers perceive it. Consensus is found quite easily; street art loses its strength once placed upon public property regarded by most as beautiful. The canvas needs to be as empty as possible for dwellers to really appreciate or accept the art. Monuments and other historic sites already carry a significant amount of meaning or beauty, adding street art to it will most likely elicit an aggressive reaction. “I just think it’s really terrible if they put stuff on a beautiful monument or deface the old city center. In those cases it adds nothing to the place, if they chose a ...I don’t know… random wall that is there just to be a wall it’s a whole other story.” (Vivian, dweller, Eindhoven) This quote from a dweller perfectly sums up the reoccurring view concerning the placing of street art. It also emphasizes how dwellers expect street art to beautify a cityscape. If this is not the case, in their opinion, the art is quickly discredited as useless.

(ii) Banksy’s stencil, London 15

4.3 Easy access Street art can be found in almost any city in the world rearing its head behind every corner. Free of charge you can find it at any given time. The only thing a dweller needs to do is look; look around and see. This accessibility gives street art a special place in the world of art; a significant amount of the public can easily experience it themselves. While some forms of street art require the onlooker to actively search for it others are almost impossible to be ignored. ‘Heaven spots’ for example can be viewed by thousands of dwellers for an extensive period of time, something most contemporary artists could only dream of.

Author’s vision Street art, such as any art, is a tricky subject. Whatever facts you find can often be disputed by others; there is no clear-cut truth. Even defining it can cause difficulties. Yet I feel that in this research I managed to get a clearer overview of the way street art works. Personally I admire street artists and their work. I love the boldness of their actions and espcially the reasoning behind their art. From beautification to thought-provoking art, I always feel like it adds something to our world.


“If you really want to experience street art, you have to look up and down instead of forward.” - Ben Slow


Throughout this paper is has become clear that there isn’t necessarily a specific aspect that holds the key to the strength of street art. It is, as most things in life are, a compilation of components that together form the foundation of this strength. Two major players in this foundation are placing and illegality. They both hold significant power in the way dwellers perceive street art and can even be mutuality exclusive. Illegality is mostly responsible for the ever evolving and creative ways street artist master their craft while the placing of street art has taught an entire generation to look at their environment with a different view. The curious case of commerce A more unexpected conclusion from the extensive research we’ve gone through is how successful street art can be in a situation opposing its origin. Even in a more commercial work field street art has proven to stand proud. This is obviously unexpected considering the fact that street art (especially graffiti) emerged from a very anti-capitalistic viewpoint. Musealisation holds an even more peculiar ground within this ordeal; where does street art become another art form as opposed to the easily accessible public property of the people? Something we could easily discuss in our next research. More than ever Street art is maturing as an art form. The general public regards it as such and even art critics acknowledge the strength of street art like never before. A clearer view of why this trend is happening has emerged throughout this paper. With this newfound information we can have a better understanding into the works of street art and even how we could become successful using it. The exhibition Want to find out the best reasons to become a street artist yourself? Or are you just simply anxious to see actual art pieces in real life? Come visit the ‘What is the strength of Street Art’ exhibiton! Location: 06-NOV R4. 1.10 FHC 17

Time: 09:00

Dazed & Confused: The Street Art Issue  

Sam Fisser - Trending Topic 'What is the strength of street art?'

Dazed & Confused: The Street Art Issue  

Sam Fisser - Trending Topic 'What is the strength of street art?'