20.10.13

Opinion: Streetart or Sellout?



The Weird
An increasing number of street artists in Berlin (and worldwide) seem to be putting up designs that are well executed and eye catching, but strangely lacking in meaning.  I'm not really sure why, but I find this unsettling.  Same goes for the many streetart prints that I have seen described as 'a piece for your living room' by decor websites and artists, alike.  Isn't streetart supposed to speak to the world?  Or is it just there to make the world look more interesting?  I think that the answer is 'both'.  In either case, the living room is the wrong place for it.

XOOOOX
The relevance of streetart lies not in its aesthetic but in its ability to speak to passers-by via its aesthetic (and by passers-by I mean regular people too, not just art critics).  To do that, it should say something that 'everybody knows' but  they have never seen written or illustrated anywhere else.  Scrawling that view on the outside, underside or backside of an existing structure is a large part of the statement.  It says, "I may not own any property but my view still counts".   However, that statement is entirely predicated on the artist putting forth a view.

In a world in which the 1% (all of whom have corporate interests) control the media, the money and the governments of the 99% , commandeering a public space to put forth a contradictory point of view is still a highly original move.  Commandeering a public space just to show off one's clever design skills, meanwhile, is just the same old, same old.  I don't mean to denigrate the skill that goes into purely-stylistic works like the those by The Weird but if an artist wants to compete with other designers, then mainstream Western culture already has many ways of doing that.

Besides which, we are already exposed to fresh, clever designs every day.  Notebooks.  Phones. Clothes. Cars. Coffee table books. Even mundane outlets like H&M and Ikea are an orgy of new design, popping out the same goods in different styles each week.  A clever new design is the Grail of manufacturers that are desperate for us to keep buying, but have nothing left to sell us except for the fact that our current design is out-of-date.  Design for design's sake alone, is entirely the preserve of Western decadence.  The 1% are always on the lookout for new designs, and what better way to find one than walking down the street and seeing it spray-painted 25 feet high, on a wall?  I suspect some of the more cynical streetartists put up paintings with this in mind. If they're hoping to find success through distinctive style alone, though, they should be aware of the pitfalls.

Perfect example: in 1915, artists from the Cubist movement were stationed in the first military unit to use camouflage patterns in WWI.  The artists - a young Pablo Picasso among them - ended up helping to develop camouflage patterns that enabled soldiers to kill more efficiently.  Is Picasso famous for camouflage today? Nope.  Quite the opposite: he is famous for painting pieces like Guernica which criticized war, depicting it in nightmarish, hallucinatory blobs.  If you squint at it from far away, you can almost see the fading undertones of a camouflage pattern.  

What I'm trying to say is that a design, no matter how successful, is forever linked to the product it is found on and not to the designer who invented it.  Not only that, but the product it is found upon can entirely negate the designer's aims and views... which is why many real artists prefer the freedom of working on the street and outside the system, where they can control their message. 

BLU makes bold statements, whether in Lisbon, London or Berlin

By decorating the walls of the present establishment with aesthetic, statement-free art, streetartists are tacitly glamourizing it.  They are painting over its many flaws when they should be exposing them; beautifying them with fresh, new designs instead of challenging them with a fresh, new perspective. Streetart that is purely decorative is a visual agreement; it's a form of surrender.  It is giving away talent away for free, and without any demands, to the same people who would charge them for everything.

Style + Substance = Escif
There are still street artists that make actual statements with their art, but they are in danger of being crowded out by the people that would resign and design, instead of challenging and changing, the system.
These streetartists are on the streets metaphorically, as well as physically. Their existence is tenuous.  Because the establishment rejects all realities outside the 1% , the message being sent by these artists is perpetually eroded by the forces of censorship and denial, as well as the wind and the rain.  In the face of that erosion, the only weapon that they can wield to defend their freedom of expression is the message itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All writing & images © A. E. Elliott (unless otherwise specified)

Search This Blog

My photo
Berlin, Germany
...is NOT a fashion blogger! I write about underground music, activism, social media rights. Other publications that I have written for: OpenDemocracy, Urban Challenger, Siegesaeule, Alternative Berlin and Sensanostra.