What is legitimate Street Art?

September 4, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Posted in Social Responsibility, Society | 2 Comments
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There is a person in our area whose tag is scrawled on almost every sign, including safety and speed limit signs, between us and the town 10km away. It appears on the roadside reflector posts, on people’s fences, and on the walls of local businesses. Is it street art?

Every time it appears, it has to be cleaned off, costing Council, businesses and individuals a lot of money – not to mention angst. This sort of antisocial, self-aggrandising, destructive, uncaring behaviour makes my blood boil. This is not street art; it is vandalism.

I have also seen some stunning pictures painted on walls and fences. They are original, colourful, and present a message. They are street art. But are they legitimate art?

The term ‘street art’ is used to encompass all the written, painted and drawn expressions that appear in public places. This does not include advertising signs (though many of those are visually polluting). It covers the range from Yawk’s crude tag to brilliant art works.

But is any of this legitimate art? Here are some meanings for the word that are appropriate in this context.

Legitimate: 1. according to the law, lawful; 2. in accordance with established rules, principles or standards; 3. of the normal or regular type; 4. genuine, not spurious.

According to meaning 1, anything painted, drawn or written on a surface where permission of the owner has not been obtained is not lawful, therefore not legitimate. If permission has been granted, it is lawful (as long as it doesn’t break some other law – e.g. obscenity).

Meanings 2 and 3 deal with a commonality of what ‘art’ itself means, and therefore involves acceptance by the community, or artists, or individuals in determining if it is legitimate art for art’s sake.

Strret Art by Beastman, Sydney, Australia

The last (4) involves the attitude and purpose of the person creating the street art. This person must be doing it for a purpose. What that purpose may be, some art critics would argue, is irrelevant. It is this argument to which I have a strong objection, as it does not take into consideration the respect one should have for others’ property. Doing it just to put one’s tag out there does not constitute a valid purpose. To do it for justifiable political reasons may. However, there is more to it than sending a message.

In this blog entry, apart from looking up the dictionary meaning of ‘legitimate’, I have done no objective research. I am writing this from my point of view, but expressing also what I believe are views widely-held by ordinary, thinking members of the public, and I am using the commonly accepted meaning of words.

I am not an artist who creates work onto the surfaces that other people own and/or maintain. I am not one to scrawl messages on public buildings. I respect the property of others and, in an orderly society, I see it as at least morally wrong, if not criminal, to deface the property of others, regardless of the quality of the art.

To me therefore, street art is legitimate when it expresses some sort of idea in a creative way, and in places where the custodians have granted permission for it to be there.

If that permission has not been granted, then the street art, regardless its quality, is not legitimate. It is simply graffiti – and that means it is also vandalism.

What is your view of ‘street art’?

Do you see it as legitimate art no matter where it is posted?

© Linda Visman

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