Will in the future street art have that church fete moment? When the artist discovers their own work amongst some tatty lamps and ornaments. All the magic has been sucked out, the art reduced to an outdated fashion object for sale at a discount price. This is also the point when collectors start rummage through garage sales looking for treasures from the past.
Will street art become just another viral meme on the Internet? The image of day – something that you look at for a few seconds, “like” or “share” on Facebook and then forgot. Instant classics like instant coffee are lacking so many qualities. This is also the point where street art becomes democratic and the institutions of the art curators, collectors and academic critics are overturned.
Will street art become another step in the career path of artists on their way to major galleries or corporate sponsorship? Major art galleries around the world competed to show the first, major street art exhibitions. In the future Melbourne could have a street art gallery where the crowds exit through the gift shop to buy the t-shirt, posters and other souvenirs. This is also the point that street art becomes an art movement recognized in books on the history of art.
Or will street art remain a kind of design/craft? Street art has always been so close to a craft as design, illustration and craft are major features of street art. Street art is the folk art of the 21st Century. Folk aren’t making corn dollies anymore or whittling wood – we are urban folk now and we use of modern technology: spray cans, Photoshop colour separation, modern printing technology for and modern materials for vinyl stickers and photocopy enlargements.
Design/craft are both a strength and weakness for street art. Often there isn’t much more to street art than craft and daring. Take that away and you are left with things like Ghostpatrol illustrations on limited edition ceramic plates. Sure there are exhibitions of basket weaving and patchwork quilts at major art galleries and I’m not disputing the quality and craftsmanship of William Morris wallpaper, nor the relevance of exhibiting a sample of his wallpaper in an art gallery but it is great design/craft and not great art.
Popular culture theories applied to street art shows the usual trends. There is the conservative theory of mass society where moral and aesthetic degradation accompanies a loss of authority. There is the left wing/structural theory of culture industry where the culture industry adopts and capitalizing on street art in the same way those other groups, the punks and the hippies were adopted. And there is the whiggish theory of progressive evolution leading to more democratic participation and more authentic opportunities for personal expression. All of these theories can be supported with some choice examples from street art – the question is which of these theories street artists are going to apply to their own work.
These popular culture theories are could be portrayed as class based. The institutional elites are conservative because it protects their control of culture. The institutional theory appears Marxist in considering the culture industries as just another way of making a living by manufacturing widgets – art/design/craft makes no difference. And the whiggish, internet-idealist progressive theory can quickly degenerate into a Facebook ‘Like’. The issue of street artists “selling out” and making money only applies in the progressive theory.
Maybe it was seeing Banksy’s film “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and Thierry Guetta’s mass-produced, copyright violations, massively hyped art that put the fear into me. This is the way that street art ends, not with a bang, not with a whimper but with something crass and stupid.