Street art is a broad term used to describe various forms of art that have been applied to a public outdoor surface such as walls, fences, sidewalks, and even automobiles. This includes illegal graffiti and murals sanctioned or sponsored. This public form of artistic expression has been practiced for centuries. Greeks and Romans alike painted and inscribed images and text throughout their city walls. Putting images and text outdoors for public display show the existence of humans, therefore creating the meaning of place through our existence. Street art is viewed as an act of vandalism for most but seeing it in this new light, as the story of human existence, changes the meaning of street art. Like most artistic forms of expression, street art has a function within our culture, specifically because of its close relationship to the community it appeared in.
“Street art can change your relationship to a place,” says Marc Schiller, cofounder with his wife, Sara, of WoosterCollective.com, a Web site devoted to street art around the world. “It opens up your peripheral vision, so you start to notice things you didn’t before. You start to tap into a city’s underbelly, its soul”(Gold). A community and its residents are tightly knit together, having a shared bond because one could not exist without the other. A community has its own style, point of view, and form of expression. Street art functions as one form of artistic expression used within most communities today. It adds beauty to these urban communities where pollution, housing projects, and poverty are well known subjects.
Street art gives a community a voice, therefore giving them power with this voice. It has the ability to hear the outcries and needs of the people, giving the people that make up this community a sense of pride for where they come from. It helps these people shape an identity within themselves as well as their community. Street art helps a community build a stronger foundation, helping the people have hope during hard times. Street artists use their art to not only gain recognition but also respect within their community for their pieces. These artists help tell a community’s story through their public art, just as cave paintings did in prehistoric times. According to Marc Schiller the fact that street art “can be torn down” and destroyed just hours after being created is “part of what makes it magical (Gold).
Annice Jacoby, a California based street artist states that the community response is “the organizing tension, the instrument, of how you decide what compels you to create something and share it with your community”. She goes on to say that “watching someone have the audacity and capability to transform their community with a message, a tyrannizing message” with passion, beliefs, and politics behind it. She says, “that kind of nerve is where the excitement is” because it makes the art’s message come alive. “Street art makes no boundaries in media”; no subject is off limits (Hughes 33).
Street art is “often referred to as post-graffiti”(Bou). Street art got its roots from graffiti but encompasses much more than typical graffiti because it is more than just a tag, “meaning quickly spray-painted signatures using letters and/or numbers to create a 3-D effect of a word through specially placed lines” (Hughes). Street art is not legal in majority of cities but image one was taken in the city of Tacoma located in Washington, where this form of street art is legal. Our local street art is hard to find since the city of St. Petersburg has “an aggressive graffiti ordinance” making it possible for officials to act quickly in counteracting this “unsightly graffiti”. “Clean-up occurs within 48 hours” and in “most cases within 24 hours”. Since the program started in 1994, “more than 20,000 cases have been removed”(Welcome to St. Pete). However this ordinance has not stopped some residents of St. Petersburg from showing their appreciation of this unique art form. I found a unique example of a different kind of outdoor application for this art used by a local resident, see Image 1. This picture is of a valve cover within an engine bay of a Mazda Miata. The owner, a local resident, shows his appreciation for this art through his own expression and individual style, adding a diverse edge to this community.
Another example of local street art is a local mural in Oldsmar, see image 2, painted by Carl Cowden III. He is referred to as “Tampa Bay’s premier painter of murals”. “He is proud of the contribution they make to the community” and states that before he begins a design he likes to “speak to the local community and the individuals who will live within it”. He does this because “this way, it is more than just a pretty picture – it is something that has meaning and value to the community” (Fredrick).
Street art is a part of one’s community just as they are, even if they never noticed it. Every single person adds a characteristic to his or her community. Street art summarizes all these characteristics into a single entity. It represents a community’s response to things affecting them. When people in a community disagree with a response they usually have it quickly taken down or put something else up in response to the original piece. Even though street art keeps being destroyed, it reappears, even more vibrant and beautiful than before. This constant circle of creation, destruction, and recreation shows that street art and graffiti will always be in our culture, functioning as an important unknown voice in our community. Whether you view street art as art or an act of vandalism, it will forever affect your life by always appearing throughout the community. It appeared with the beginning of human existence and continues to exist today. We should learn to appreciate the value street art adds to our culture and use this art to look deeper into each community’s soul.
Bou, Louis. Street Art: The Spray Files. New York: Collins Design, 2005. Print.
Frederick, Beth. “Pinellas Newsboy Real Estate Blog Â» Carl Cowden III is Tampa Bay’s premier painter of murals.” Pinellas Newsboy Real Estate Blog. N.p., 28 June 2009. Web. 21 Mar. 2010.
Gold, Sarah. “The best cities for street art – Destinations- msnbc.com.” Breaking News, Weather, Business, Health,
Entertainment, Sports, Politics, Travel, Science, Technology, Local, US & World News- msnbc.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2010.
Hughes, Melissa. “STREET ART & GRAFFITI ART: DEVELOPING AN UNDERSTANDING.” A Thesis submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Art Education in the College of Arts and Sciences. Georgia State University 2009,Under the Direction of Dr. Melody Milbrandt, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2010. .
Interview with Annice Jacoby. “The Evening Class: STREET ART SAN FRANCISCO: MISSION MURALISMO” The
Evening Class Interview with Annice Jacoby.” The Evening Class. N.p., 2 Nov. 2009. Web. 21 Mar. 2010.
“Welcome to St.pete.” Welcome to StPete.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2010.