From illicitly painted scribbles and drawings tagged on city walls once perceived as vandalism to graffiti, street art’s evolution has a long and fascinating story.
Street art and graffiti’s history that has spanned decades is complex yet proud, with many graffiti artists being far from the criminals or gang members that they were assumed to be. These artists were skilled in their craft, centered on community, passionate about giving social issues a voice through their “writings” or simply just needed a creative channel to express themselves.
This’ll Look Nice When Framed — Banksy
It is widely acknowledged that the first contemporary graffiti writer, Cornbread, made his first mark (pun intended) in 1967 in the efforts to impress a girl named Cynthia by tagging places he knew she would notice. However, it wouldn’t be until the 1980s that galleries recognized graffiti as art and showcased them to the public.
Cornbread’s tag accomplished back in the 60s what it aims to do today. No longer is street art unique to street gangs or viewed as vandalism. Today, much like CornBread, street art aims to grab the attention and gain adoration.
Yesterday’s street artists worked swiftly in the shroud of night, carrying backpacks that concealed their cans of spray paints ready to sprint in case the authorities showed up: “Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint” Banksy said in 2007 book, Wall and Piece. By daybreak, fresh tags glistened in the sunlight, barely even dry yet. And as the communities woke up, they became unsuspecting audiences to these images that did what art is meant to do, evoke emotion and spur a reaction.
Blank Walls Are a Shared Canvas and We’re All Artists — Carla H. Krueger
Decades ago, the debate existed on whether or not street art is vandalism. And in the 2000s and 2010s, it was recognized that the majority of street art’s intent was not to destroy property nor aim to represent street violence.
Today, these works of street art that were once perceived as defiant criminal acts have earned respect as honest representations of art. No longer are street artists constantly looking over their shoulder as they rush to create their masterpieces, ready to make a run for it at first sight of a passerby. Today, street artists have admiring crowds to watch their artistic process in action. And street art has also evolved beyond its spraypaint roots to murals, stencils, stickers, mosaics, street installations and even video projections.
Through the mission to enhance a city’s tourism through public street decoration came the birth of street art festivals where designated public areas became galleries for invited street artists.
Wynwood Walls: Museum of the Streets
Tens of thousands of art lovers, collectors, aficionados, media, and tourists flock to Art Week in Miami. But to experience art with no fees and no registrations, people go to where art was made just for them, the public. What began as an effort to improve the pedestrian potential of Wynwood has now transformed into the art movement that is the outdoor museum, Wynwood Walls, where everyone is welcomed to appreciate street art for free.
At Wynwood, art is admired just as the first street artists intended their art to be recognized decades ago. Street artists know that whether commissioned or not, once the paint has dried, their art belongs to no one, not even them. When drawn on the public walls of the city streets, it becomes their gift to the people.
But while none of us will ever say we will ever own street art, there’s no stopping us from keeping a little piece of it for ourselves. Through the ARTDEX app, you can take a photo of your favorite street art and store it in your personal digital archive. Or better yet, use it as the channel to share art you’ve discovered and often bewildered, in places you would never expect from those streets of places you’ve traveled.