Coloring Outside the Lines This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

October 24, 2013
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The Museum of Modern Art in Los Angeles held an exhibit in 2011 featuring urban art, and city dwellers celebrated the modern masterpieces. However, visitors could also see a fresh coat of paint outside on the back wall of the museum, where unwelcome graffiti had been hidden. What's the difference between what was on the back wall and inside the exhibit? Is something only considered art when it's framed? Street art serves as public decor, is a way to express oneself, can be used as therapy, and has economic benefits. Although some consider it nothing more than vandalism, street art is a form of art and should be legalized on public buildings and communal areas.

The famous street artist Banksy said, “People become cops to make the world a better place. People become vandals to make the world a better looking place.” Street art is a way to make dreary buildings or transportation stations vivid and special. Moreover, murals – extended spray paintings – keep tags and gang symbols (images that fuel war between these groups) away from the walls of the city. Nevertheless, in the U. S. we are prohibited from painting on any building without the owner's consent.

In Bogota, Colombia, however, graffiti was legalized a few months ago. The law was described by the mayor's office as “a good way to protect cultural interest and artistic expression,” according to Revolución Tres Punto Cero, an online Latin American news source. Thanks to the new law, Bogota neighborhoods such as La Candelaria attract visitors because of the murals. If Colombia, a country just getting over major violence, can look at graffiti as art, why can't the United States?

Spray-can art can be therapeutic. The Teresa Group, a Canadian organization that helps improve the situation of children in AIDS-affected families helps kids express their feelings through graffiti. With the help of Mediah, a Canadian street artist, as role model, the teens created a giant mural reflecting their feelings of loneliness, fear, and hope.

Graffiti can also have economic benefits. When I lived in Rome as an art student, we went to shops and offered to paint the shutters for extra credit. Some shopkeepers eagerly accepted our proposal because the vivid colors draw customers in. In Bristol, England, there is a craze to have storefronts painted by urban artists. An article in the Daily Mail explains that the urban art in Bristol transformed it from a collection of dreary neighborhoods to a place where visitors want to shop. Australian graffiti artist Crisp created the Bogotá Graffiti Tour, where guides lead tourists to outstanding examples of contemporary, colorful, and political street art. These guides receive 20,000 to 30,000 pesos ($10 to $15) for the tours; the street art lets them earn a living.

Many photographers base their work on urban art, including Martha Cooper, who published a collection of urban photographs in the 1984 book Subway Art. Artists who have profited from their street art include Mr. Brainwash, who has sold nearly $1 million worth of pieces, and Banksy, who directed the documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” which has grossed over $3 million.

Various fairs like the Sarasota Chalk Festival and the RVA Street Art Festival attract international fans of graffiti, creating tourism in these area. Museums with graffiti exhibits like the Museum of Modern Art in Los Angeles profit from their displays. Art collector Wendy Ashers buys work from urban artists and even gives tours of her home. Her extensive collection benefits the artists, the auction houses that sell the pieces, and those who come to see the collection.

Street art – any kind of graffiti using stickers, spray paint, posters, and other materials – is a form of cultural expression and influence. For example, in 2006, Banksy placed an inflatable model of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner next to one of the rides at Disneyland. This symbolized the continual presence of the harshest realities of life, even in “the happiest place on earth.” Banksy also was one of the first to paint on the Israeli West Bank barrier, where he painted images of breaking holes in or getting over the wall. Some images even pointed to a paradise on the other side.

During the Soviet era in a divided Germany, messages and pictures were painted on the Berlin Wall. Such walls painfully divide people against their will, and the graffiti gave hope that these conflicts would end. These images influenced others to paint on the walls and shed light on the cultural issues in those countries. Unfortunately, gang symbols can cause turf wars. Murals and other extended and colorful street art keep tags and gang symbols away, but the restriction of graffiti does not.

In 1980, artist John Fekner posted “MY AD IS NO AD” on empty billboards in the United States to represent how commercial and materialistic modern society is. Street artist Shepard Fairey wrote “OBEY” on the streets as a symbol of brainwashing; the word and the design of the red background is now the logo for a clothing company. Fairey also designed the red, white, and blue take on Barack Obama's portrait and painted it in the streets. This image has become an icon that has appeared on merchandise, ads, and even the cover of TIME Magazine. In “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” Fairey said that when people see a recurring image, they start asking what it means. In turn, that consciousness gives the image power.

Street art should be legal in public places in the U.S. It is a form of legitimate artistic expression, and being jailed for creating art is not justice. Niels Kantor, a Los Angeles art collector, said, “Art has to start somewhere. Cavemen drew on walls.”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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AlphabetJ said...
Mar. 10, 2014 at 9:04 am
Esthercurly! I really enjoyed reading this article! It's one of the best pieces I've read! Keep up the good work! P.S Pro work.
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