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Custom The True Meaning of Street Art Essay

 In a world where many forms of self expression are misunderstood, “Street Art” has not fared much better. Whether it is because of its unpretentious, bold anti-capitalistic undertones or because of its blatant rebellious nature, Street Art has been labelled an illegitimate form of art that defaces and vandalizes public infrastructure.  The truth is that with its unlimited audience and exhibition, it does threaten the status quo in society because it is so unconventional and unbridled a form of expression. Anyone can do it, everyone can access it. It levels the playing field allowing even the most voiceless to make themselves heard by those who would not otherwise listen, whether they want to listen or not! Street Art symbolizes a form of sporadic forthcoming tactic through which people can connect in an optical discourse which does not rely on in- person dealings or obligatory familiarity with the artists' identities. Street art is very misunderstood and yet, lately, has been making its way into mainstream art. A conflict still exists though as to whether or not it is true art worthy of recognition. To determine this, it is necessary to understand how art is defined. According to the Oxford English dictionary, Art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”. Although there exists classificatory disputes about art with regards to whether or not certain cultural forms or pieces of work should be regarded a true art, the fact remains that if the definition of art alone is used, without regard to overly complicated human opinion on the subject matter, then street art is a true form of art, as it aims to express human creativity and imagination, and does often captivate its viewer with its beauty and emotional power.

A Historical Background of Street Art

According to Joseph Nygard, graffiti or street art has existed since the dawn of time, our first examples being those of cavemen illustrating depictions of animals and battles in caves in Africa and Europe. Confirmation of arbitrary writings on walls of structures that date back to between the 1 BC to 4 AD have been discovered in modern day Syria, Jordan and Iraq. These inscriptions were on subjects of religious conviction, political affairs, romance. Some animations like drawings similar to people have also been discovered. During Roman Empire times, graffiti writings on walls and monuments were used, which when seen and studied today, provide understanding concerning life in those historic times. Not only the afore mentioned cultures used markings on walls as a means of recording their accomplishments and lifestyles for future generations, but also the Mayan civilization in Guatemala, the Vikings of Scandanavia, Napoleon’s soldiers, the pioneers on the Oregon Trail all left a glimpse into their lifestyles and culture in the form of paintings and writings on walls for future generations to see. The most impressive ancient form of graffiti however, is the Egyptian markings found in the pyramids and other historical sites in Egypt. Modern day street art is believed to have started in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and is seen as a branch off hip hop culture which also began around that time.

What Types of Street Art Exist?

Street art is specifically optical art displayed in public places. There are several types of street art, according to Art Radar Asia, nine categories which include:                                           

1). Traditional – This is art in the form of letters and symbols (writing) or pictures and drawings drawn, scraped, or sprayed illegally on walls or other infrastructural faces in public places.  

2). Stencil – With this type of art, the artist makes a stencil using a cut out cardboard or paper, and then paints the cut out image onto a surface to create an illustration that can be easily replicated. The desired design is taken from a chosen source, and the acquired image is transmitted to a surface using spray paint or through the use of roll-on paint.                                                                                  

3). Sticker – This type of street art is also referred to as  sticker bombing, slap tagging, and sticker tagging. The artist paints, draws or writes and image or message on a homemade sticker or poster and then sticks it in a public place. Stickers usually endorse a political plan, remark on a guiding principle or matter, or consist of a forward-thinking art campaign. Sticker art is deemed a subclass of postmodern art.

4). Mosaic- Mosaic artists create images by assembling many small parts or pieces to look like one giant piece of art.5). Video Projections - These are computer manipulated images that are digitally projected onto a surface using a projection system and light.

6). Street Installation- Street installations are a slightly different but fast expanding subclass in street art. Unlike graffiti and conventional street art, installations do not damage the property or location of their placement. This is because street installations use 3-D objects in a space, which interfere with the regular environment visually without damaging it. As with graffiti work, when the installation is complete, the art work is left where installed there by the artist.

7).Wood blocking- In this type of street art, plywood or other cheaper materials are used. A painting or words are drawn onto the wood, and it in turn is bolted onto street signs using bolts with a backward bend. This is a form of graffiti used to obscure signs, posters or any advertisements that are standing or hanging.

8). Flash mobbing is a form of art that uses people as the art material. A large group assembles suddenly in a previously agreed upon public place to display a curious performance for a brief time, then rapidly scatter. 

9). Yarn bombing- This type of street art incorporates or uses brightly coloured cloths that have been knitted or crocheted instead of using paint or chalk.

What Are The Pros and Cons of Street Art / Graffiti?

One has to question if there are any benefits to graffiti. The disadvantages are obvious. For one thing, it is very costly to clean up graffiti. For example, according to The Herald’s Kylie Williams, the graffiti cost almost $2.7 million in clean-up bills in 2008, for that year alone. That is a lot of tax payers’ money that could have been put to better use. But there is no use crying over spilt milk. Also, graffiti opens up youths to crime, like burglary and assault. If for example one teenager tags another’s “work”, there is likely to be violence over the said offense. Another con is that people find graffiti distasteful because of portrayals of violence in some of the murals, as well as the use of vulgar words. This is generally seen as sending the wrong message. It also defaces and devalues property, which again is very costly. Graffiti has also been generally associated with gangs, who use graffiti to mark their territory. The erasing or painting-over of one gang’s mark by another sparks a violent retaliation from the offended party. This leads to a perpetuation of gang on gang violence, which society obviously disapproves of.

The pros / benefits of Street Art are not as obvious, they might be considered more social than economic. First, street art is an open kind of art, it is not reserved for elite artists who can find sponsors and have exhibitions in galleries. This allows artist who would otherwise be unable to show their work, to do so with an unlimited number of audience. It is an art that cannot be bought and stashed away by the rich in their private collections. It allows people from all walks of life to voice their opinions, whether they are social or political, freely and without fear of retaliation, therefore in controlled environments, it can be a platform for many artists to show their work. Graffiti has also been used as a tool in workshops to help keep youths off the streets. Sometimes, it can even be a way for a neighbourhood to add beauty to old infrastructure that is falling apart. Street art is a legitimate way to encourage conversation about social, economic and political issues that people would otherwise not feel free to discuss. It presents a level platform for the exchange of ideas, without an individual’s fear of discovery or exposure, especially if they live in a closed government run system.

Does Street Art Benefit Society in Any Way?

Street art, therefore, does have benefits to society. It encourages individualism. For example, according to Dawn Marie, when used as a tool in art education, it allows teenagers to express themselves and also expands their career choices. It also encourages them to think creatively, teamwork and helps them develop decision making skills. According to Ian Johnson’s article, “The Art of Individualism,” in a nation where individualism was strongly frowned upon, underground street art was a haven for a radical Chinese man (Qiu Zhijie), who cared a great deal about politics and how it controlled art, philanthropy and art history, and above all, who cared enough about his daughter to want to teach her to be an independent thinker. In this case, street art, although hidden, was a way for a man to express his true political opinions, while also advising his daughter against the evils of society. This also supports the fact that street art is more likely to portray the social issues at hand than any other art form.

Is There a Message and Meaning Behind Street Art?

Every artist has a message associated with their work. The same is true of street art. In Senegal’s Dakar, graffiti is accepted socially as a tool for young people eager to speak out. It is also considered a tool for development rather than pointless vandalism. In many African countries, the message behind graffiti is one of hope. For example, in South Africa, during the apartheid, street art was a political crime. However, since independence, although it is still illegal, graffiti art is on the rise and in some instances used as a tool to change lives. This is the case with Freddy Sam, a muralist who displays his work in the rundown suburb in Cape Town called Woodstock, once a prosperous clothing and textile industrial area which has seen the closure of most of the factories. In his interview with CNN, Freddy says that he does graffiti for good, in an effort to improve the look of the suburb and the lives of those living in it. He even enlists the help of orphaned teenagers to help with the mural projects, as well as the help of the community.  All street artists experience the same lifestyle and their paintings or creations allow them and other people to envision a better future. People that have limited access to museums and the art world can benefit from street art and express their emotions and their feelings with regard to neither their whereabouts nor their economic status.

In conclusion, although there are many unpleasant effects of graffiti / street art, I think that the social benefits are not to be overlooked. Street Art is true a form of art that benefits the artist by allowing freedom of expression without the restraint or critic of rigid art critics. It benefits society by creating a platform for dialogue on real issues affecting the set community, it is the only form of art most likely to address everyday problems faced by ordinary people in an ordinary community. Street art captivates, exudes beauty and charisma, is rebellious to a fault, defaces and devalues public property, has been tainted by gang association, is frowned upon, is illegal. The list is endless. And yet, no one can deny that in the right hands, in the right environment, it is a tool useful for building up youths, for exchanging ideas and for making the otherwise voiceless, heard. Street art is true art.

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