Why Street Art?

Someone found my blog by Googling: “why is there a high interest in street art?” I sometimes ask myself why I am writing all of these entries about street art.

Street art is the only art movement currently around; there are trends, sensibilities and groups of artists but street art is the only one that could really count as a movement due to its thousands of participants. To put it simply all the Surrealists could meet in a Paris café but you would need a stadium to fit all the street artists. Art movements are rare. There were only a few in the 20th century, perhaps, as few as two: modernism (the international style) and punk. And like, punk, street art is a youth art movement.

In the last couple of years I have seen street art in every city that I have visited, with the exception of Singapore, from stencils in the back streets of Malacca to blockbuster pieces along the Rhine. It is an international art movement.

In common with most art movements street art is controversial, it is even despised by some and considered vandalism. Modernism was also hated and considered the hoax by some, Churchill and Hitler, for example. This controversy generates more interest even from those who dislike street art.

There was a growing interest in street art throughout the 20th Century by artists looking for authentic urban expression. Early graffiti artists were seen as primitive, raw artists whose creative energies inspired many modern artists from the Italian Futurists to David Hockney. Now this interest has taken root and produced fruit.

Contemporary street art is a relief from the exceptionally dull, process-style contemporary art in that street art is figurative, decorative and theory-lite. Just as in physics, in art for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, unlike physics this reaction may take 10 to 20 years to occur. Contemporary street art is revolt, armed with fresh attitudes and styles from the street, against a moribund contemporary art gallery system.

Ghostpatrol, a notable Melbourne street artist, believes that the high point for Melbourne street art was in 2003 and that since then it has been in decline for a number of reasons, including the large amount of attention that it received. This attention includes the numerous photographs for everything from private collections to online collections, advertising, wedding and publications. Several books came out about Melbourne street art: Jake Smallman & Carl Nyman Stencil Graffiti Capital Melbourne (Mark Batty Publisher 2005) and Matthew Lunn, Street Art Uncut (Craftsman House, 2006). And along with the books came tv documentaries and more attention. And there are now several galleries specializing in street art. All of this is both a response to the high interest in street art and creates more interest in a feedback loop.

In 1910 someone might have asked: “why is there a high interest in modern art?” In 1979 someone might have asked: “why is there a high interest in punk?” Looking back the answers are obvious.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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