Now considered a source of public artistry, both graffiti and street art have evolved from their humble beginnings as rebellious art movements.
While they are often confused with one another, the two mediums differ in their intent and approach, with graffiti mainly using writing as a medium with which to communicate with other graffiti artists, and street art functioning to engage the wider audience. What is the same, however, is the stunning visuals and outstanding artwork both mediums create.
The word graffiti originally derives from the Italian word sgraffio (scratch), originally referring to drawings or scribblings on a flat surface, and the Greek word graphein (write).
Over time this has evolved to the modern practice of ‘Tagging’ or scratching one’s name in a wall with close associations to hip hop culture.
The tag represents the very core of graffiti, with a bad public image as destructive and vandalistic behavior that is symbolic of urban decay.
Certainly, it can be true that many taggers are bent on destroying and vandalizing public property in an act of public defiance.
By contrast, street artists are looking for an emotional response from their audience. They may use a tag but merely as a signature, rather than a medium to convey the message they are trying to get across.
Street art is often placed in difficult locations — take Banksy’s art on the walls of Bristol Zoo. It is a humorous message, intended to invoke sympathy for the animals within.
Arguably, the most famous street art artist is Banksy. Who exactly Banksy is remains a hot topic of debate; while his identity is unknown, he is a household name, even in households who don’t follow the graffiti movement.
Banksy’s artwork fetches prices in the millions, with his most famous work, “Girl With Balloon,” reaching $1.4 million at auction. What made this piece extraordinary, however, was the fact the artwork shredded itself once the gavel hit the podium for the last time.
The frame the artwork was presented in cleverly hid a shredder, something the employees’ of the auction house, Sotheby’s, failed to miss. People travel far and wide to snap a picture of Banksy’s memorable artwork before they are removed or sold.
Street art is a highly considered medium that employs the use of stickers, stencils, wheat-paste posters and outdoor advertising media to produce work which is much more in keeping with traditional art and can be beautiful, conceptual and intriguing to the viewer.
Commissioned street art gives artists a platform from which to build their careers and inspire communities. Rather than being works that are thoughtlessly dropped into public spaces without reference to their surroundings and the local community, commissioned street art is carefully prepared in a studio setting before being applied in public view.
It is carefully controlled and agreed. What’s more, street artist’s often have dedicated painters insurance, allowing them to work with neighborhoods to beautify an area and create displays for the public outside of a gallery setting.
Commissioned street art should provide insights into an area’s social, cultural or political dynamic while simultaneously providing public art that is accessible to all.
As opposed to the urban decay that is representative of graffiti, street art can be used to revitalize an area, creating walkable, beautiful, and safe art hubs with humorous or political themes.
Once ugly walls can be transformed into art destinations using a curated and refined approach, and as for the benefit to the local communities, street art has been found to help drive business revenue by 5-10% by turning spaces into destinations and providing engaging backgrounds for retailers.
This, in turn, is fueling a commercial demand for street art, moving it into mainstream and helping to entice younger generations with edgy aesthetics.