At this point in time street art can be found pretty much everywhere across the globe. Over the past 30 to 40 years we have seen it go from simple tags and mostly graffiti and/or vandalism to fully recognized works of art where often the artist is paid for their work. This is due, I believe, to artists not only being persistent in their endeavors but also through their decision to raise the bar and create great works of art that people will want to see and pay for.
I won't deny the fact that as I was growing up and attending art school, I saw street art, for the most part, as gimmick art at its best and vandalism at its worst. Granted, this was a time where most street art was some guy named Jerky or Ballz who spelled their names in such a way it was incomprehensible and spray painted it on some poor bastards garage door or across a street sign that had now become illegible so every time you passed by it while lost, you'd yell if you ever caught Jerky you'd kick him in the balls!
During my time in art school in the early 2000's, there was always a select few students who'd attempt to change my view on the subject and even though, on very rare occasions, I would come across some street art that was quite good, there just wasn't enough of it to be considered as a viable art form. Also, being a student at the time, it didn't make any sense to me as to why people who called themselves "artists" would spend so much time, energy, and money to create something that would just piss someone off and be painted over by the city or a building owner?
Then something changed. You started seeing street art as actual art and not only did it stay up on building but artists started getting paid by owners to do it. It was at this point, I believe that street artists started not only getting smart but also very creative with how they went about making their art. They must have realized that in order to be taken seriously that they'd have to band together and create truly great work and make it in abundance. Which in turn would change people's minds about what they were doing all the while separating themselves from vandals or (in some cases) converting from a vandal to a street artist.
By the time I was converted and started seeing street art as a an actual art form, it was rather late in the game. But like seeing snowboarding in the olympics for the first time, making it officially a sport and no longer an activity, my views were just as quickly changed with street art. When I saw truly great artists like Dave Choe, James Jean and Shepard Fairey commit some of there finest work to the side of a wall or a building, I knew there had been a shift. Later we all saw this shift continue when art stores started carrying spay paint and artist no longer had to go to Home Depot to buy their wares.
I saw further confirmation of this while walking around foreign cities during my travels. Now, I'm a person who one could say does a good amount of traveling. By that I mean I will always do one big international trip a year and if at any point during the year I end up with time off and/or can get a good deal on flights, I'll do 2,3 or even 4 trips a year. This has been a motto for me since college and it' something I find myself doing more as I get older. And recently, the one thing I've noticed that most cities have in common is an abundance of quality street art.
Typically, when I land in a new place I've never been before, there are a few things I do first in order to get not only acquainted with but to find the pulse of a particular place. These things include, finding a popular local places to eat, local places to get a drink and a places that have good local live music. These things, I've found, are the best places that, if found, can not only make a foreign place feel less foreign but give you a greater connection to yourself and the new community.
In addition to the places mentioned above, I've also included finding street art to my list and the reason is that it allows direct access as to what is going on at that particular point in time at that particular place. This can range from politically, to people feelings and emotions regarding the place they live, to what's the newest fad, to music and sports. I also find street art preferable over museums and galleries because generally what you find in those places is either dealing with what was happening in the past or you get a skewed view of what is presently going on in the mind of one particular person, who's views quite honestly are usually far from what is happening in reality.
Recently. I was in a museum in Oslo and there I saw a cow and a calf split in have and suspended in jelly so people could walk in between. Now I know not all art is supposed to have any significant meaning but what really was this artist saying? Maybe he's a former butcher and wants everyone to see the innards of a cow and like cows, we humans should understand that we have innards too? Or maybe it's just to make us grateful that no one has invented a cow corpse flavored jelly? Whatever it is, and regardless if you consider it art or not (it's not) one gets the feeling that it's creator probably resides on the fringe of society and spends his days taking centerfold photos for his own publication "Mooboy."
On the other side of things, in this same museum, I came across hundreds of plastic heads placed on the floor, claiming to resemble Tom Cruise (they didn't) and I also saw a giant glossy statue of a lounging Michael Jackson and his monkey. Like the sawed up cows, I struggled to find any meaning or significance in these pieces but at least they were amusing, fun to look at and showed artistic craftsmanship.
The reason why I bring up these three pieces is not to say that every work of art created has to have deep meaning or cultural significance, I mean look at my work. I'm also not saying that all street art has to have some deep cultural meaning either. Right now, somewhere in the world Mr. Jerky and possibly Mr. Ballz are probably out spray painting beef jerky and their testicles to the side of some poor, unsuspecting shop owners store. On the other hand, I've noticed that a lot of street art in general, whether done by one person or few people, does show in one way or another, what is going on in that particular place at that particular time. With that being said, if you find yourself in a new city and you're having trouble getting a foothold on the place walk around the block find some street art, then go into a bar, meet some locals, have some food and with a few cocktails floating around in you, go to the museum and have a laugh at Michael and his magical monkey. And remember, whether you like it or not, street art is here to stay.