Perhaps distasteful depictions of profanity have slandered its image, but street art at its core is the purest form of nonconformity and expression. It is a venue of art that is completely intolerant of censorship, restrictions, corrupted patronage, and the bravery and spirit of the artist are just as striking as their political statements. And unfortunately, there are few who seem to recognize the ability of street work to social movements and raise awareness of almost any issue.
While street art would likely find no place next to the masterpieces and relics of the Renaissance or Impressionist age at the Louvre, neither da Vinci, Raphael nor Monet have captured the visual imagery of contemporary satire and social commentary as well as the artists in urban culture. I can find more everyday relevance and influence in Basquiat’s attack on racism and classism, in Banksy’s examination of the negative aspects of the human condition, and in JR’s celebration of quiet heroes. Even the medium of graffiti cans and spray paint on a crumbled brick canvas indicates a level of artistic mastery and creative control that rivals the magic of oil paint on stretches of cloth.
And even still, street art is both upfront and reflective; from the fascinating mystery of the artists’ origins to the incredible scale of their bold protest, to their ability to make the public people address issues of injustice on their way to work. Every aspect of the artist and the art form demands attention. Street art requires no formal setting or a sophisticated knowledge of technique to be powerful, yet its constant and vibrant presence in the everyday lives of pedestrians and commuters further reflect a level of urgency that is not easily replicated. Even its transformation from outlaw roots to mainstream acceptance is dotted with scrutiny from the public and challenges from traditional institutions that parallel the defiant and questioning nature of street work itself.
Ultimately, people should not be so quick to label all urban art as destructive and degenerate, unworthy of being labeled as “real art.” After all, the biggest museums in the world are the streets of a sprawling city.