Graffiti: Sidewalk Art Museums

As a society we love to celebrate art. We build massive buildings of steel and stone, and place our favorite pieces deep inside behind retractable locked gates, security cameras, laser beam motion detectors, armed guards, and bulletproof glass. So valuable to use are our paintings and sculptures that we imprison them for their own protection. If you actually want to own even one of these pieces you had best be prepared to spend more money than most people will make in a lifetime and even then you’ll still need to keep it safely locked up or risk it being stolen and sold on the black market. It’s interesting to me that some types of art receive this incredible treatment whereas others are regarded as criminal and destroyed by the local government whenever convenient. I’m talking of course about graffiti.

Graffiti is essentially the (often) illegal painting, stenciling, engraving, or drawling of images on publically or privately owned property. Usually with the purpose of these images being seen by as many people as possible. Due to the unlawful nature of this practice, these artists often sign their work with an alias. However, despite the illicit nature of its creation, graffiti is often beautiful, moving, inspiring, and not uncommonly, political. These works are not intended to be put up for sale and many graffiti artists are never identified. It’s very difficult to get famous from graffiti no matter how talented you are. The motivations of these artists are therefore quite different than traditional artists working the scene. Take a look at the pieces below and decide for yourself what you think the artist wanted out of their work.

This work is clearly inspired by Aztec art and creates a striking juxtaposition between fashions of the past and modern city life.
Some art eschews politics in favor of community pride.
Here we have another image inspired by the art of native peoples. This one blends the old style with modern imagery.
In my opinion, some graffiti is the rival of any work you’ll find in an art museum.
This one might just be my favorite of the bunch. I have to imagine it’s scared at least one lost tourist who turned the corner and came face to face with it.
The perspective of this piece creates quite the disorienting optical illusion.
Like many graffiti works, this L.A. piece features the artist’s name written in an extraordinary style.
This New York factory is covered from head to toe in tags.
Some artists are entirely political and go for powerful imagery that sticks with you long after you walk away.
I can’t help but think of stained glass when I see these birds.
Chicago also has a thriving street art community.
As does London.
Like any artistic medium, graffiti often enjoys playing around with the proportions of the human body.

At this point I’d like to say that although I appreciate graffiti I don’t necessarily condone it. I think it’s best for everyone if these talented artists avoid legal troubles and actually get paid for their work. That said perhaps there will always be a place in our society for this kind of “constructive vandalism” (for lack of a better term.) What do you think? Tell me in the comments below!


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