June 22, 2024

The Shift in Street Art from Urban Scribbles to High Gallery Art

Traceable back to the 1940’s, street art has been a means for artists to communicate with their communities and reach thousands, if not millions, free of charge and with the knowledge that the impact of their message can be powerful.

The derelict and destroyed cities which the Second World War left behind became not merely the backdrop for young creative minds to express their political disillusionment, but rather their canvas.


The 1970’s saw a shift as New York street artists began to gain national attention through their “tagging,” more often than not, getting arrested as a result of their practice. Targeting subway trains specifically, the writing became larger, bolder, more colorful and more intricate over the decade. The decline in the 1980’s – brought on by the government’s strict attack on graffiti – led to the remaining, undeterred artists facing a challenge. This resulted in experimentation, moving beyond trains as a surface to paint on and simply tagging. The work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring opened the way for graffiti to be considered a form of “fine” or “high” art,” bringing in as much demand and publicity as its’ contemporary movements.


As far as the impetus for creating work on the city streets, it is as varied as any approach to any genre of art. From the political to the purely aesthetic, each artist possesses their own personal motive for working in the streets. Ironically, what began as a purposefully ephemeral means to create imagery is nowadays, with the amount of websites and photographic evidence of street art, captured and reproduced, which belies the initial intention.


The question of whether elevating the status of urban art to a gallery setting allows the genre to remain true to its underground, anarchic, in your face and, sometimes, ugly, roots is particularly relevant today. With the works of Banksy and Shepherd Fairey selling for millions and their imagery becoming icons of the 21st Century, it is fair to say that their work has strayed away from the origins of street art.


It is now tackled by a new generation of educated artists who approach their surroundings with empathy and deep identification. Whether created in protest or humor, the piece reveals the history and work within the context of the chosen niche, bringing attention to an otherwise invisible space.


Whilst I am in favor of giving the public the opportunity to own a piece of art which they connect with, having seen it on their local streets, or for the implications the imagery had in its original city setting, I also believe that street artists possess a lot of power and should never neglect or forget that. They are ultimately in control of visibility in the same way that the largest corporations utilize massive city spaces for advertisements. There is also the issue of the action of making street art; creating the work is a performance requiring agility and fearlessness, all for the culminating and all important conclusion. What remains is a short-lived trace and sign, just as important as the act.


Being a city girl all my life, I recognize the significance of street art in today’s urban life. There is something beautiful about leaving a mark to be shared with your fellow city inhabitants, despite them being strangers and knowing that your art may be covered up or taken down at any moment. Yet I wholly encourage the ownership of such pieces of art, knowing the feeling of satisfaction all too well of being attached to an object on many levels. Urban art is only becoming increasingly popular and significant, appealing to modern mentalities. And why should anyone deny themselves the pleasure of owning a piece of the city they live in?




2 Comments on The Shift in Street Art from Urban Scribbles to High Gallery Art

  1. I think the best thing about street art is that no one can really own it. It’s there to be indulged in by everyone. No possession. Just owned by anyone that walks past it and only for the moments during which they’re passing by.

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