Considerations on Urban Arts

A question I am often asked about street art: Can we consider the street as being the largest art gallery in the world?

Paris Graffiti, espace Chapon, 1992 // Paris

Most people in France and even some urban artists are convinced that the street is a gallery open air but I do not subscribe to this view for several reasons that I will try to develop. I do not think the street is a place equivalent to a gallery for many reasons. The first essential is that it is an open space which can be dangerous for those who do not know the rules. The street has its own « laws » and they are very codified: it does not paint anywhere, anyhow or any graffiti without consequences. Then there is not just urban art that is re-appropriate the walls of our cities. Racist graffiti, comic or existential flourish there quite regularly, imitators of urban artists, many collages advertising as well as advertising official … In short, everything is possible, the best and, unfortunately, very often the worst! Finally, the street is not necessarily the right place for all urban artistic practices … 

With experience, I think brownfields, disused railway lines, long gray walls of plants or wasteland seem more often be places are more conducive to creativity. Paradoxically, they get closer even more the gallery as a place receiving an artist and his work than the street.

The street as a space of creation is often seen as a big playground for those who practice urban arts for many years. The paintings, pasted or displayed in the street are available to those who take the time to be attentive to their environment. But he who performs a graff or collage has fun and saw a form of urban adventure that enables him to find an interest to continue, knowing that most of his works are ephemeral and not bring him in anything, contrary to work shown in a gallery. It is an act totally free so antithetical to the world of the art market. Sometimes I think that the largest gallery in the world, rather it is the Internet that combines the pleasure of sight and the ability to merchandizer what we see.

Urban art as a gift of self? I do not think so! It is above all an artistic practice that combines two fundamental concepts: the ephemeral installation and free. However, with the internet, things have changed a lot since the early 2000s … The Web generates awareness in a very short time and much faster than in previous decades. For example, Ernest Pignon-Ernest and Blek le Rat is less celebs on the web as many young aspiring urban artists. However, they are pioneers of street art in France! Mode 2, Bando or Force Alphabetik know somehow the same thing in graffiti … The virtual world has changed the art in its profound nature: it must both be present on the walls of cities and those social networks Some even come to being present on the social networks through occasional night out during which they pasted or painted a work called urban, allowing them to post a picture showing they have made ​​in the street. Counterfeiters exist everywhere even in the street art!

Do not criticize this  modernity because urban arts have adapted to new communication tools. The artist must communicate with intelligence: if intelligence in the form (for once, it must have a form that allows the concept to be well developed), it will be necessary despite the profusion of sites and pages devoted to street art. Never forget that the emotion aroused by the work is essential even if urban art requires the artist to have a direct relationship with passersby. A brief report but must make an impression. On the Internet, it is less obvious.

Present in the public space, accessible to all, urban art affects everybody: it allows the artists to become famous simply and efficiently. It is also a way to get messages claiming opinions … Is it to much art or political protest? I am not convinced that urban art is vector of political consciousness, like the Dadaists or Surrealists!

Some artists, like Banksy or JBC in France, pass messages through their urban installations … They are quite rare! However, more and more urban artists willingly put their skills to the good causes or humanists, but they do so as a citizen-artist and not just a holistic artist.

Street, with its rules to be respected, forces the artist to be quick in its execution, simple and effective. You can not always simplify a complex thought worthy of pedagogy, use a slogan like mass media, or reduce ideas to two or three images easy to reach the general public. In this I think Banksy is an artist unique and that many urban artists choose not too mix politics with their art. An artwork is necessarily done it to say something? I believe this is about art in general and not just street art. At the same time, any form of art is not necessarily a message. The street is not a place tender and those who practice it are often hardened. Humanism and street arts have conflicting visions and goals. I think that to be in the street is a political act and citizens: white wall (often gray …), dumb people!

Danger threatens urban arts: its recuperation by marketing with the aim to use it for the commercialization of minds and culture. Some men without scruples and some opportunists have invented words to describe this art to give a new virginity and alienate their will using it for economic purposes. Why invent words like « artivist » or « pressionism » while terms are in French and English, and they appropriate with current practices. Or is it a form of « lexical laundering » to hide an intellectual vacuum! The term « new » is often used to disguise the mediocrity with excellence clothes to sell his « soup » to neophytes presenting it as the thing it is important not to miss. Just read some press in fashion to be convinced!

Categorize art is a way to better reduce its function, not its essence!

In conclusion I reiterate that the Hip-Hop, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year in France, is the last art movement of the twentieth century. He eventually prevailed in our country despite the misgivings of the Ministry of Culture and all the advocates of an elitist culture that pretend to be concerned with the desires of the people. This is also the case of regional cultures which take vigor and sometimes manage to combine urban art and tradition.

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