The Future of Street Art

Will in the future street art have that church fete moment? When the artist discovers their own work amongst some tatty lamps and ornaments. All the magic has been sucked out, the art reduced to an outdated fashion object for sale at a discount price. This is also the point when collectors start rummage through garage sales looking for treasures from the past.

Will street art become just another viral meme on the Internet? The image of day – something that you look at for a few seconds, “like” or “share” on Facebook and then forgot. Instant classics like instant coffee are lacking so many qualities. This is also the point where street art becomes democratic and the institutions of the art curators, collectors and academic critics are overturned.

Will street art become another step in the career path of artists on their way to major galleries or corporate sponsorship? Major art galleries around the world competed to show the first, major street art exhibitions. In the future Melbourne could have a street art gallery where the crowds exit through the gift shop to buy the t-shirt, posters and other souvenirs. This is also the point that street art becomes an art movement recognized in books on the history of art.

Adnate & Slicer "Nothing Lasts Forever" Brunswick Station

Adnate & Slicer “Nothing Lasts Forever” Brunswick Station

Or will street art remain a kind of design/craft? Street art has always been so close to a craft as design, illustration and craft are major features of street art. Street art is the folk art of the 21st Century. Folk aren’t making corn dollies anymore or whittling wood – we are urban folk now and we use of modern technology: spray cans, Photoshop colour separation, modern printing technology for and modern materials for vinyl stickers and photocopy enlargements.

Design/craft are both a strength and weakness for street art. Often there isn’t much more to street art than craft and daring. Take that away and you are left with things like Ghostpatrol illustrations on limited edition ceramic plates. Sure there are exhibitions of basket weaving and patchwork quilts at major art galleries and I’m not disputing the quality and craftsmanship of William Morris wallpaper, nor the relevance of exhibiting a sample of his wallpaper in an art gallery but it is great design/craft and not great art.

Popular culture theories applied to street art shows the usual trends. There is the conservative theory of mass society where moral and aesthetic degradation accompanies a loss of authority. There is the left wing/structural theory of culture industry where the culture industry adopts and capitalizing on street art in the same way those other groups, the punks and the hippies were adopted. And there is the whiggish theory of progressive evolution leading to more democratic participation and more authentic opportunities for personal expression. All of these theories can be supported with some choice examples from street art – the question is which of these theories street artists are going to apply to their own work.

These popular culture theories are could be portrayed as class based. The institutional elites are conservative because it protects their control of culture. The institutional theory appears Marxist in considering the culture industries as just another way of making a living by manufacturing widgets – art/design/craft makes no difference. And the whiggish, internet-idealist progressive theory can quickly degenerate into a Facebook ‘Like’. The issue of street artists “selling out” and making money only applies in the progressive theory.

Maybe it was seeing Banksy’s film “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and Thierry Guetta’s mass-produced, copyright violations, massively hyped art that put the fear into me. This is the way that street art ends, not with a bang, not with a whimper but with something crass and stupid.

Dface, spray cans, 2011

Dface, spray cans, 2011

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About Mark Holsworth

Arts administrator, artist, musician, philosopher and writer. Writes Black Mark - Melbourne Art and Culture Critic. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

5 responses to “The Future of Street Art

  • Tracie

    Interesting thoughts to consider, as I am currently on the look out for a street artist for a project in country NSW…… However I do love the ephemeral nature, the discoveries in strange little lane ways, the feeling you have just discovered a rare beauty not seen by the masses. But everything comes to an end.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Thanks Tracie. Would you like me to put a note on my Facebook page for street artists to get in touch with you if they want to paint in Wagga?

  • CDH

    I think you’re absolutely right to describe it as a folk art. Jonathan Jones the critic for the Guardian called street art the ‘philistines revenge’ and he’s kind of right- it’s made by people who hate the turner prize and never go to the NGV. It has no art theory associated with it and so it doesn’t really fit into art history. It should be more accurately called street design.

    I would like to see street artists writing more essays about their practice; theory and reasoning.

    • Mark Holsworth

      This is my pessimistic view but I’m not as negative as Jones. Street art is a kind of folk art, guerilla decorating of the city or street design, with no theory and an anti-academic attitude. But that doesn’t make it the “philistines revenge” because the classic philistine sees art as equal to ordinary objects, that there is no value difference in looking at a painting or looking at advertising (indeed a philistine might see some advertising as better if it provides useful information). On the other hand, street artists do love their art. I don’t know if the breakthrough moment for street art will come with writing about their art or somebody doing something better on the streets but it would be fun to read something that is the equivalent of Claus Oldenberg I Am For Art 1961. I am for an art that does something other than sit on its ass in the museum. I am for an art that grows up not knowing it is art at all, an art given the chance of having a starting point of zero. I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap & still comes out on top.

  • Tracie

    Thank you, it would be much appreciated! Our current public art opportunities can be found at http://www.wagga.nsw.gov.au/publicart

    Thanks Mark

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