Street art is anti-modernist – consider it from this angle.
Street art is a significant post-modern art movement. It rejects the art gallery defined art object, exemplified by Duchamp’s readymades, for art that is identifiable amongst the bins in a back alley. It is site-specific. It is follows other post-modern, contemporary art trends but often take this further than the gallery art.
Modernism rejected humanizing decorative elements in architecture and street art decorates those bare concrete walls. In architectural terms (not that street art should be reduced to an architectural art form regardless of the number of walls involved) street art cannot be reduced to eclecticism, kitsch or “featurism”. These terms are meaningless outside of a modernist context, where theoretically a style can be debased. There was no kitsch in the Renaissance and, likewise, the term “kitsch” is meaningless in street art. Tattoo style and comic book art are part of the street art mix not in appropriation or when converted to art but as an equal part. Other contemporary post-modern artist have also rejected the modernist high culture and popular art distinctions and tried to create synthesis.
Street art rejects the modernist (fascist) hierarchy of styles; the hierarchy is based on the same faulty reasoning that lead to the fascist hierarchy of races. There is no pure art, no more than racial purity. For street art is practiced without economic or political stimulus that places the patrons at the top of any hierarchy; it is often practiced in defiance of the plutocrats.
In rejecting the traditional system of patronage, street art subverted the modernist aesthetically sterile gallery and the creation high-end commodity art objects in favour of free art often in multiple editions. Instant fame on the street subverted the traditional media filters.
Street art rejects the modern art education system, many street artists are self-taught coming from various backgrounds. If they do have an arts eduction a street artist is more likely to have studied design rather than fine art. On the street artists have created a master and apprentice system and crews operate a quasi-guild system.
Many street artists collaborate on large projects and this is a change to the modern artist’s identity as a unique creative genius. Collaborative work has a significant presence in post-modern art with artists like Gilbert and George, Brown and Green, Warhol and Basquiat. Collaborative art uses the merging of ideas and identity rather the modernist unique creator, the heroic artist. Street art has a different kind of hero artist, the trickster and prankster, who defies the authorities with a spray of his can.
Street art is a rebellion and not another modern revolution. Rebels seek to alter something in the present; a revolution wants to change everything in the future.