The question has resonated with people of all ages, races and demographics for centuries. Scholars that have devoted their lives to studying the subject wrestle with this question while, across the world, an 8 year old visiting a gallery will be thinking the exact same thing.
“What makes art art?”
The truth is, there is no definitive answer. There exists no set of criteria that defines art, no list of bullet points that check boxes that need to be ticked off in order for someone to declare a piece of art to be a piece of art.
The answer to what defines art as art mostly boils down to perception. And, depending almost entirely on your perception, you will likely have a drastically different view on the concept of street art.
Street art, very much like art in general, has no set rules or definition. And, very much like virtually every form of art, the range of talents is almost boundless. There are amateurs, those who spray paint their “tag” onto dumpsters or obscenities on the bricks behind a Denny’s–though relatively few would call that “art,” nor the culprit with the can of spray paint an “artist.” But there are also professionals, those who are able to capture and portray their emotions with little more than an arsenal of spray paint, a stencil and an idea. It is these people who truly turn graffiti into a form of art.
Even the name street art can conjure up criticism. To some, it isn’t “street art,” it’s grafitti. To others still, it’s neither, as they opt instead for the legal term “vandalism.” It becomes difficult then to look at street art–if that’s your preferred name, with a sense of open mindedness. People often find that when so often the typical exposure to street art is the “art” of the amateurs, the middle-school students with spray paint cans, the real art is forgotten.
Perhaps modern day’s most well-known street artist is UK based Banksy, whose pieces adorn the walls across the UK and in parts of the US and other countries. Though his identity is unconfirmed, Banksy’s paintings on walls and props across the world draw huge crowds and, very much unlike the graffiti and vandalism many associate with street art, often remain indefinitely. Though pieces have been defaced by others or painted over at the request of the cities, many elect to leave them, recognizing them as legitimate pieces of art, as they feature themes and often touch on issues in the political or social world including inequality, big government and social justice.
So while there may not be a definitive and all-encompassing guide to what is and is not art, disregarding street art simply because of where it’s painted would be ignoring an entire artistic realm that so many fail to appreciate amidst the graffiti tags and real vandalism.