Masterpiece or Eyesore? Street Art and the Battle for Public Spaces

Spend any time in a city of even modest size and chances are you will have been confronted by the abundance of visual stimulation that surrounds. It seems that everywhere we look we are bombarded with images screaming for our attention. It can be incredibly noisy.  In amongst the din, some real gems come to light. I am talking about street art.

Professor Alison Young is an expert on the subject of street art, and has made it the focus of her academic career. She has written three books on the subject. Her most recent Street Art World delves into this fascinating subject and tries to answer a number of questions. Questions like what is street art? Is it the same as graffiti? Does it have to be in a gallery, or at the very least officially sanctioned to be regarded as art at all? These questions are not new, and while this book doesn’t definitively close the debate once and for all, it provides an interesting and compelling salvo on the side of urban artists.

Often derided as vandalism and banished, street art brings a vibrancy and an energy to a city. It provides tangible proof that living, breathing, and feeling human beings occupy the space; and not just soulless corporate automatons. Without street art our public spaces would be completely monopolised by the McDonald’s and Nikes of this world. Our world would be sterilised and airbrushed beyond all recognition from reality.

Aside from the aesthetic, street art, as with any art, challenges us to think. Whether it’s a commissioned mural, a cheeky stencil or a statement scrawled across a wall street art provides an insight into the collective psyche of a populace. It is a snap shot of the prevailing feelings and controversies of the day. Take for instance the current wave of so called ‘bollard art’ popping up across Melbourne. In response to a number of incidents both locally and abroad, it was deemed necessary by the powers that be to erect concrete blocks in places where people gather in large numbers. Within a day, local artists began anonymously turning the grey concrete from depressing eyesores into interesting pieces of art. In addition to making the blocks more attractive, the beautification project raises the question about what citizens will tolerate in the name of their ‘safety’.

For your ‘To Read’ List:

Alison Young- Street Art World (2016) (Aus)

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