In Defense of Street Art

All
other justifications aside, I think the real reason most street artists
work off-canvas is the sheer joy of it. Working outside and in opposition
to authority is incredibly thrilling. Art should be fun and life-affirming!
Working on the street filled me with the sublime. I was working at my
own peril to thwart those who would destroy aesthetic beauty in order
to enforce arbitrary rules. One time two associates and I devised a
plan to paste a giant poster of Death personified from Ingmar Bergman’s
The Seventh Seal
on top of a dilapidated grain elevator. The project
would be both a tribute to a girl who had fallen to her death at the
site of the poster and a memento mori to the people of the area, reinforced
by the gigantic corpse of the blighted building.

First,
we had to figure out a way to enter the building, which had all the
exits welded shut ever since the girl, walking through the building
late at night, fell through a hole in the floor. We ended up digging
a tunnel underneath one of the walls. We disguised the entrance with
steel debris. Tenderly, we carried our gear up a dozen flights of stairs,
dodging holes in the floors on each landing. Falling through any of
them would have been fatal. At the top of the grain elevator we gingerly
made our way to the site, and checked our gear one last time: a specially-made
twelve foot brush, buckets and Tupperware filled with wheatpaste (a
home-cooked flour-based adhesive that is extremely hard to scrape off),
three rolled-up sections of the poster, and a camera. We took a deep
breath, looked out over the park the grain elevator faced, and began
to work. Our attempt failed, miserably. We didn’t cook the wheatpaste
correctly and our brush couldn’t reach the top of the poster, which
was almost three times as tall as us. Dejected, we packed up our gear
and headed back down. Days of work amounted to nothing.

The
next morning we tried again. There were other environmental dangers:
it was the middle of winter, we were exposed to people playing a soccer
game in the park below, and we were mere feet away from stumbling past
space to a quiet end. By having one of us stand on the others’ shoulders
we managed to get the thing to stick. A half hour later, frozen and
covered in sticky wheatpaste, we triumphantly took some pictures and
climbed down. We were no longer just artists but also engineers, adventurers,
and criminals. The adventure, the challenge, the breaking of property
taboos was very exciting. The entire process combined with the actual
image in an incredible act of creation. My childhood fantasies of laying
siege to the castle, doing battle within, raising my flag, were fulfilled
and I couldn’t help but grin all day long after.

Of
course, it was gone within three months. But it was okay- who could
feel bad about the abolition of Death? It’s the transience of street
art that makes it so beautiful and special. Knowing that your art won’t
endure, that it will be gone in hours, weeks, days, months, is a very
empowering feeling. Street artists toil not for money or recognition
but for the pure moment where creativity and danger intersect. By following
their impulses, they are creating the purest sort of art, untainted
by motivation for money or personal recognition. In our increasingly
homogenized world, where critics scream that the medium is the message,
what do the media of spray paint and Sharpie markers say about us as
a people? We’re very far removed from the era of Titian and da Vinci
painstakingly mixing their own special paints. We live in the petrochemical
age, and although many, many disasters have been born from our laboratories,
at least we can proudly boast this: the materials for making art are
no further than the nearest Wal-Mart, Home Depot, or Target, and anyone
can participate. Even you.

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