Am I right in thinking there’s a proliferation of street art at the moment? Or is it just that I’m noticing it now my eyes aren’t fixed on my children.
Art is spilling out from the confines of museums and splashing itself into everyday life. It’s fed up of being restricted to formal frames and an elite audience. It’s there, in front of us each day to brighten up our routines and make us stop, think, laugh, (crash the car).
The first time I noticed street art was back in the 1980s, when middle classes reacted in shocked horror to vandalism graffiti. OK, some of it was pretty awful – but there were also some great colour and lettering combinations. These were the work of creative vandals; vandals who took pride in their chosen form of communication.
Because communication is what it’s all about, isn’t it?
People need to express themselves. As Julia Cameron says in ‘The Artist’s Way‘, everyone is an artist: you just need to let yourself be creative.
In these difficult times, when political perspectives are bleak and religion is undergoing a frightening revolution, we need to find ways to exhale all the emotion we’re inhaling from our endless sources of information and misinformation. There’s increasing stress at work. We spend more time in front of screens than drinking tea (beer/wine) with friends. And many of our pastimes are passive. We need to release our reactions. We need to create.
The sharing of art – both as creator and recipient – gives us something positive to hang on to, something we can control and decide for ourselves. At least, it does until the artist has to bend to the criteria of businessmen who promise glory.
Traditionally, artists have needed ‘middle men’ to communicate with others. I’m talking about art galleries, publishers, museums, theatres, concert halls etc. What I find so exciting today are the other ways artists reach their audiences. We have street art, street theatre, buskers, blogs, self-publishing, body art. We have yarn bombing. We have a whole lot of other free forms that I haven’t yet discovered or can’t think of right now.
We have this explosion of art because the globalisation of mass entertainment is squeezing so many artists out of the traditional forms of communication. The same (safe, predictable, trivial) TV programmes can be found in all western cultures. Everything is glossy: there’s no room for improvisation or natural reactions. Anything which may make a spectator think for himself is deemed too ‘arty’ (meaning ‘inaccessible’) and is cut.
Is it just me, or does this smell of sneaky oppression; of keeping people passively busy with trivialities to dissuade them from the deeper issues, from revolution? Of working longer hours to make more money to buy the lifestyles we’re shown on TV? Of encouraging people to reproduce the perfect homes of TV programmes so they have no time to drink tea and discuss the state of the world with their friends?
These free forms of art also exist because we have a certain amount of liberty to express ourselves (if we ignore those middle-class glares). Today, we are pretty much free. But if, one day, we’re not allowed to express ourselves freely through art, how will we express ourselves? Through aggression?
Perhaps we should issue paintbrushes instead of guns; make vandals instead of terrorists.