My blog entry Street Art & Galleries attracted a lot of comments some of them espoused a non-commercial ideal for street art. However, much of the free art on the streets appears to be advertising for street artist’s highly commercial enterprises, (see my blog entry Advertising & Graffiti). Street art is the most commercially accessible of contemporary movements; street art is far more commercial than even the Surrealism. Street artists produce art from the high to low price range, from museum quality pieces to badges, and this allows anyone to purchase the artist’s work. Keith Haring opened shops in New York and Tokyo for his merchandise and generations of street artists have followed his example.
The marketing strategy of street artists is similar to that of KISS, the most commercially successful rock band ever. KISS gave extravagant concert tours at less than cost ticketing, as a promotion for the band’s t-shirts, figurines and other marketing spin offs that is KISS’s main revenue stream. Like fashion designers many of these artists also produce diffusion ranges – the number of sneaker, t-shirts and figurines by street artists is incalculable. Collectable is a sales feature for these limited editions designed by street artists.
Toys, miniatures and street art are not something that I’ve paid a great deal of attention to although I know that many well-known street artists make limited edition toys. It is not that I don’t understand that models making and miniatures are an art, especially after painting many models in my teenage years, it just isn’t my scene anymore. Dean Christ, who I met when he was exhibiting at the Melbourne Stencil Festival, sent me a link to some of his toys. These are not cute, they are very much boys toys. Dean Christ combines military vehicles with insect forms.
Street artists make many other promotional deals: from minor deals like putting a business’s name or logo on a legal work to major deals like local artist, Phibs’ YouTube video promotion for VB Raw. These many different income sources means that street artists, unlike most other artists, are not entirely dependent on gallery sales, arts council grants or other institutional funding.
Now I’m not opposed to artists making money and I am not criticizing these street artists mentioned for any of their commercial work. I am opposed to the idealism that generates the denial that street art is not commercial; a denial that is not unique to street art but is encountered in so many areas of the arts. Parts of the art world are reluctant to talk about money, as they want to be seen placing certain ideals above financial concerns. Medieval knights and royalty were not meant to engage in business or industry and some artists ape these antique manners. However, this is to deny the reality that art is connected to life, where artists have to live and make a living.
I am impressed with the marketing of street artists; many artists in history would envy their success. Many modern art groups wanted to be able to market their art democratically so that people of different income could afford it, however the technology and distribution market often did not support these enterprises. Marcel Duchamp tried producing men’s shirts, travel chess sets and picture discs (records with op art images) but there he was no internet to help generate international sales for him and none of these enterprises made a profit. The success of street art, an art movement that has spread around the world, is in part due its ability to be commercial successful.