Street art is the greatest artistic movement of this early century.
It is now present on every continent, in every medium-sized city, in every wasteland neighborhood, in the countryside and even in deserts.
Nothing matches street art in terms of progression and visibility. In fact, this movement, which was spurred on in the United States in the late 1960s, has continued to spread around the world.
Some countries are still relatively closed to this art and urban culture in general, but it is nevertheless visible there through denunciatory or protest graffiti, commissioned murals or pieces painted as vandals in the street.
Propaganda art vs street art
In reality, totalitarian or autocratic countries, most of them hermetic to free street art, have for part been long-time users of art as a propaganda medium. It can be found in many regimes, such as North Korea, Vietnam, Belarus or China.
In these countries, artists paint gigantic murals to the glory of their principals, visible to the greatest number.
In both cases, public space is used for precisely opposing causes. Free art against totalitarian art, free art that denounces what totalitarian art praises… Whatever the form, urban art covers all continents.
The movement is growing at an unprecedented rate around the world
This powerful movement is reinforced by all the elements of street culture: fashion, music, and all the arts performed in the street. These cultural currents are now massively conveyed on social networks, which tends to significantly increase their visibility and by the same token their expansion.
While it is institutional in some cities, street art still remains repressed in almost all of the world. This is certainly one of the driving forces behind this artistic movement. Indeed, this culture originating in the Bronx, contentious, anti-system, gang-affiliated, has helped forge this vandal side.
Street art and trains
Since the 1980s, a considerable number of urbanites in cities around the world have thus seentrain and subway being targeted by graffiti artists, both indoors and out.
Graffiti comes in all sizes, depending on the time left to the artists during their nightly raids on the depots. Over the decades, municipalities and rail companies have set up brigades to prevent graffiti artists from painting.
Artists like Azyle or the 1UP crew are in their own way representative today of the gigantic nature of these works covering entire trains.
the train as a historical medium
If trains have been taken by storm, it is mainly because of their ability to convey artists’ works. Indeed, the train was an easy way to reach a wider exposure, in the stations and regions through which they passed. American artists of the time had already grasped the issue of visibility, and this was long before the advent of social networks.
Despite today’s multiple opportunities to showcase one’s work, trains and subways remain a historic medium of expression. In addition to the taste of risk and adrenaline needed to make the pieces, hitting a train is a challenge for many graffiti artists and artists. This perenniality of action certainly plays into this perception of vandalism that has stuck to street art since its inception.
Urban art is gradually becoming institutionalized
In parallel, it has been years since urban art entered a more institutional phase. Cities in industrialized countries have understood the importance of the movement and the need to work with artists rather than systematically oppose them. For the most committed municipalities, it is even an opportunity to generate a new attractiveness, at different levels. Indeed, cities are now competing to attract talent and retain their inhabitants. The industrial exodus, a consequence of globalization, has taken a toll on many once-prosperous cities, both in the United States and in Europe.
The industrial cities decline
Industrial cities have been slow to renew themselves and turn the page on the boom years. Long focused on preserving the last jobs and hoping for a revival that never came, these cities lost their appeal. Suburbs have flourished, sometimes causing the disappearance of historic city centers. The most emblematic case of urban disinheritance is Detroit, in the United States, a city that has undergone a massive decline, with the number of inhabitants now three times less than at the city’s industrial peak in 1950.
The role of History
History, too, has played a role in the abandonment of entire urban areas. For example, after the fall of the wall in Berlin in 1989, the city was left with a disparity between the two former East and West parts that caused intense urban change for nearly 15 years.
Wars and conflicts around the world in the last century have often resulted in population displacement, forcing the restructuring of impacted regions and cities by many abandoned or destroyed places.
At the extreme, it can be the total closure of entire regions or cities, such as Chernobyl and the abandonment of the city of Pripyat, or the region of Fukushima during the last nuclear accident.
Mobility creates the change
Finally, mobility has continued to grow around the world. Faced with these movements, cities have had to reinvent themselves, promoting urban culture and its arts, among other things. Industrial wastelands are gradually being transformed into new neighborhoods reborn from their abandonment. The dynamic is operating in most countries, where there is a massive influence of street art in medium to large cities.
Urban culture leads to an economic revival of these revitalized neighborhoods. Shops, businesses, services are developing. The growing visibility and mobility of artists is part of this development. As an example, City Art tours are directly born from this increased visibility and promote local economic development.
Cities today compete for the podium of attractiveness and no doubt urban art is a preponderant element today in the latter.
A Vandal Art
This willingness of cities to sit alongside associations and artists to create the remodeled spaces together has fostered an opening to a reality of artists. Regardless of their fame indeed, they are still considered vandals and many remain in the shadow of their blazes. Some world-renowned artists, such as Takashi Murakami or Shepard Fairey get arrested and pay fines for murals painted on unauthorized walls.
.This shows the persistent difficulties of this art that is both represented in galleries, auctions or museums, while being vandalized in the street and denigrated by a part of the population that does not consider it a full-fledged art.
This duality is also nurtured by the “historical” rivalries between graffiti artists and muralist artists. If the first claim to be anti-system and intervene freely on all urban supports, the others aspire to the increasing decoration of building facades, paintings requiring equipment and authorizations.
They should not, however, be pitted against each other. In reality, graffiti artists and artists contribute to making our cities new spaces of expression and open us to another form of thought.