Tag Archives: popular culture

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 All the magic has been sucked out, the art reduced to an outdated fashion object for sale at a discount price.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


High culture & Popular culture

I haven’t really thought about high culture and popular culture for decades but it has come up recently in comments and conversations. It always felt like a slippery concept and boring as it was involved with finance and connections with European royalty. I do know that ancient Rome had two types of art: the high classical art and the popular style which can be seen on Hadrian’s column (high) and Trajan’s column (popular). I thought that the distinction wasn’t relevant in a post-modern world where high culture mixed with popular culture. The destruction of the boundaries between high and pop art was blurred by everyone from Robert Venturi considering the architecture of Las Vegas to PILtd doing a dub remix of Swan Lake. My view of culture is larger, multi-cultural and post-colonial idea.

It was the English critic, Matthew Arnold who invented the terms “high culture” and “popular” culture. It wasn’t a good theory from Matthew Arnold in 1869 and it remained Euro-centric and poorly defined. Was the term “high” an indicator of quality or class? It was not as if Arnold had a high regard for the any class; he described the upper class as “barbarians” and the middle class as “philistines”. However, Arnold’s readers were enmeshed in 19th Century class distinctions and if he didn’t consider popular culture as working class his readers did. Arnold’s terms then become class distinctions rather than a qualitative term. The “populus” was Arnold’s term for working class and seemed to indicate that popular culture was be working class but if Arnold’s intended this then he would have used ‘barbarian culture’ or ‘philistine culture’ instead of the term “high culture”. Bringing class into the discussion simply confuses the simple point that Arnold was making that the popularity of art does not equal its quality.

Arnold believed that culture would eventually destroy class by replacing it. Arnold might have meant by high culture something that worked for the improvement of humanity. In this version of high culture and popular culture The Wire is high culture and Big Brother is just popular culture. The quality of The Wire can be measured in many ways whereas the quality of Big Brother can only be measured in the ratings. However, by the time The Wire and Big Brother came along the terms high culture and popular culture had developed to mean something very different. High culture means the cannon of art, literature, music etc. taught at university and not a way of distinguishing between different types of TV shows.

Arnold’s theory barely lasted a century before it collapsed. Maybe we need a new terminology to distinguish between work with blue chip enduring quality and the junk bond equivalent in art or a cultural nutritional utilitarian value of the ingredients. Maybe the terms are already there, ordinary words like: quality and trash.


Only Rock’n’Roll

Seventh Gallery consistently has good shows. It is remarkable for a small artist-run shopfront gallery with a second windowless backroom gallery space. Reading their website the management committee make these problems appear to be features; the lack of any natural light in the backroom is promoted as giving the artist has greater control of lighting.

The current exhibition at Seventh, “We’ve Got A Love Like Electric Sound” is no exception. This group exhibition by Catherine Connolly, Candice Cranmer, Stephen Palmer, Carl Scrase, Sally Tape and Fiona Williams is about the relationship between contemporary art and popular music. This is a common contemporary art theme; a great theme since the pop art of 1960s, not an original theme but it is still a very fruitful source of inspiration. Popular culture and music is the revolution of that you can dance to. And popular culture has inspired many famous artists: Toulouse Lautrec, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. Popular culture might be juvenile, utopian and romantic but it is fun.

And “We’ve Got A Love Like Electric Sound” is a fun exhibition. The wow work of the exhibition is Candice Cranmer’s musk-stick column that reached from floor to ceiling. (The work had a reference to lyrics by Joy Division but I neglected to note the quote. Many of the other works also had pop music references in their titles.) Carl Scrase’s two works appropriated and rearranged pop material with playful fun and spectacular results: in one bouncy balls and toothpicks becomes the universe. Catherine Connolly’s video installations, reframed the video screen with timber and gloss enamel paint, showed sections of crowds at concerts. Fiona Williams’ faux naïf oil paintings on aluminium reminded me of the popular culture focused paintings of Elizabeth Peyton. It is apparent from her work where Sally Tape gets her name (or is the other way around); her day-glo and silver tape on wall-work was like Frank Stella on acid. Oddly there is only one piece of sound art in this exhibition, Stephen Palmer’s Pacing.

It is only rock’n’roll but I like it.


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