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Does all street art brighten a community?

I like how the curves of Mental312's graffiti mimics the curve of the tree

When does unofficial street art become accepted by the public? Sixty Inches from Center has an interesting blog post, “Street Art Approval” analyzing the work of Mental 312, and how his unofficial murals have managed to remain. It’s a very interesting blog post.

I left a comment on it about how some street art can be destructive. I’d like to republish my thoughts here. (note, i edited my comments a little bit to make my points more clear, if you’d like to read my original comment check out the comments section on the blog post on Six Inches from Center)

There’s something good to be said about artwork that fits in with the environment. (A subtle poke at artwork that is more about peeing on turf than about fitting in). I applaud artwork that is welcomed by the general public. I know, I know. What you may be thinking is, “what about artwork that challenges us?” Yes, there is that street artwork that does exist. And it does get painted over, because people don’t want to be challenged.

But I’d like to challenge the street art community and ask how often does our artwork really challenge the public? Or is it more about simply “expressing myself.” Does your expressions really impact the public? What are your motivations? Are you just wanting to get your work seen? Are you doing it so you get the high out of taking ownership of a certain location?

I know those feelings. I like being able to see my work sitting somewhere.

I want to share my thoughts here not as someone standing higher up criticizing, but as someone who is in the trenches with you. Someone who really wants the public to get something bright out of their day. I want us street artists to really touch people. When I leave my artwork around, i think about how it will be received. I don’t want to just fulfill my desires as an artist to express. But I want to consider my audience and their reception.

And I also don’t like destroying someone’s property.

I hope my work is uplifting and non-destructive. I know most of my fellow street artists don’t agree on the non-destructive part, but whatevs. That’s just my own perspective. But I find it kinda sad when people complain about their destructive work being painted over. (it’s both sad to have their work painted over, but it’s also sad that we have this expectation of ownership of certain places when we really don’t. Which is another interesting topic is the ownership of public spaces, because we do in a way own public spaces, but in a community fashion. So if the community deems the work not fitting, it gets painted over.)

So to not destroy someone’s property, I simply let my art be removed. Easily removed. In fact, I embrace that, because it means someone likes it enough to actually take it. If they take it home or give it to someone else, then hopefully that work will have even more impact.

Back to Mental 312’s murals. Despite my personal viewpoints on street art destroying property, I only have those view in terms of MY OWN work. I still greatly appreciate others good street art, even when it’s painted on walls. Granted, I’d like street art to be more of a gift to the community, rather than a promo for the artist. I like Mental 312’s work, because it does brighten up the community.

There is something very culturally interesting about his/her work and how it strikes a fine balance of acceptance and outlawness. There is one of his works in my neighborhood in Lincoln Square (at Lawrence and Hoyne). I appreciate his work. One of these days I want to do a more full analysis of why his work succeeds. If anyone has any thoughts on Mental 312’s work, please leave your ideas in the comments on this blog post.

If you disagree with anything I said, please also let me know. I’m totally open to dialogue on this issue. And I know I take a stance that is not really accepted in the street art community.

6 Responses to Does all street art brighten a community?

  1. unlikelymoose September 19, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    I don’t understand how someone can interpret OWNED PROPERTY as public property. Sorry, guys, someone owns that wall that you’re spraying paint on. Our society certainly lacks an appreciation of studied visual forms. The remedy is not to unwelcomely force your art onto the walls of privately own property.

  2. Matt Maldre September 19, 2011 at 8:56 am #

    I have a followup post in my mind to this. It comes down to intent. Do you want your art to uplift? To inspire? To challenge? I would image artists want one or more of those. I don’t think artists want to destroy. The tone of my post here, I want it to perform the same function. To challenge street artists. I want to build up the street art community by making us think about what we do. I certainly don’t want to destroy. And I feel like the tone of my post here isn’t exactly the most uplifting to street artists. Excuse my tone. But these are thoughts I would like street artists to consider.

  3. Matt Maldre September 21, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    You know what word you don’t ever really hear for street artists or graffiti artists? vandals. i hear the term vandalism, but you rarely hear them called vandals. It makes you wonder. Perhaps people are willing to let the object be called vandalism, because it’s just the object, but ooooh to call the PERSON a vandal would be too offensive. People who destroy property are vandals. Their work may be great. I personally may enjoy their work. But it’s still remains that they are a vandal. I’m probably sounding too mean when I say that. I want to be more supporting of vandals. But I want people to think about what they are doing.

  4. Matt Maldre September 21, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    actually, I’d like to ask that to street artists. “Do you consider yourself a vandal?” It’s a question I have to seriously ask myself, because I do leave my artwork in public. Am I vandal? I am changing the face of a particular object or fence, because I place a sticky note on it. But I like to think that since the sticky note is removable, I’m not damaging the property. Thus, I’m not a vandal. But maybe just the fact that I added something to something in public makes me a vandal. That’s my fine line. I’d like to hear street artists think about where they are in the scope of the word vandal.

  5. Matt Maldre September 21, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    I imagine most street artists would admit they are vandals. If that’s the case, i’d like to hear the rationale for how they morally feel about what they are doing. — Is it that the value of beautifying the area outweighs the vandalism? — Or maybe the value of the challenging people outweighs the wrongness of property destruction. — Or maybe one might not even consider themself a vandal, because all public land belongs to everyone, thus everyone has a right to do as they wish to the property. — Or maybe one is a vandal and they simply don’t care.

  6. Matt Maldre January 5, 2015 at 7:43 pm #

    One of my favorite art centers where I have taken several classes, LIll Street, tweeted a link to my blog post!

    Here’s what ArtReach at Lillstreet said:
    Some thoughtful commentary from an artist about what counts as public art and who’s work is accepted/rejected by…

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