Categories: EnglishUncategorized

Why street art is no longer the artworld’s bastard

by Nicole Chaput

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Mural by Low Bros in Brazil

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The academic art sphere has an obsession with two terminologies: lowbrow and highbrow. Each one of these has a subtype that adjusts to a specific medium or form: galleries and public spaces, haute couture and streetwear, sculpture and pottery and stretched canvas vs. an abandoned building. The high brow is idolized and the arts belonging to the low brow are frowned upon. But what makes high art and low art so overwhelmingly different that a war must endure? Especially if these two opposites are no longer distant.

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As a Painting major I am used to hearing my teachers talk about good painting and bad painting: outsider and insider. The insiders have an MFA and the outsiders are graffiti artists, they say. But while we all listen to our teacher, trying to brainstorm what indeed is good painting, we forget about one thing: there are many bad paintings out there; but street art can no longer breathe under that oppressive category.

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Academic Fine Arts claim technical mastery, an art historical awareness, the ability to conceptualize a motif and most importantly, an academic degree that confirms these abilities. Knowledge from other intellectual fields like science, psychology and politics is promised as well. Thus, for street art to be its antithesis the qualities mentioned previously should be absent; and they are not. Street artists today are inflamed with monumentality in content and execution.

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Mural by DALeast in London

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When looking at works by street artists like DALeast or Low Bros (Christoph and Florin Schmidt) there is an unquestionable technical competence and a mastery of skills is fancied. These artists have an obvious understanding of composition, value, temperature and color present in academic painting. Street artist D*Face has openly appropriated Roy Lichtenstein’s aesthetic and has critiqued inner circle Pop Artists for not going far enough to comment on consumerism. Contemporary MFA artist Doris Salcedo addresses the violent circumstances in Latin America and that thematic parallelism is found in the work of Franco Fasoli Jaz and many other street artists. In addition, most street artists have an academic degree of either plastic or fine arts.

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Kiss of Death, D*FACE

Kiss V, Roy Lichtenstein

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Technical understanding? Art Historical knowledge? Insight and relevance? Check, check, check. Stylistic choices are taken confidently and inventively to make a surface smirk no differently to those of an inner circle artist. Yet, there is one characteristic that heightens street art from traditional delimited painting: its interaction with space. It can be argued that this has been seen before in the works of Minimalist artists Donald Judd and Frank Stella and also with Robert Rauschenberg’s combines that painting and sculpture merge. The negative space created by Stella’s paintings as well as the  juxtaposition of  mediums-sculpture and painting-present Rauchenberg’s combines both challenge traditional delimited painting.  But the interaction with space present in street art is found and not created. The intention in urban murals is similar to Marcel Duchamp’s readymades in some aspects.

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Empress of India, Frank Stella

Combine by Robert Rauchenberg

Bicycle Wheel, Readymade by Marcel Duchamp

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In Duchamp’s readymades, the found object was stripped from its practical use and a new value was reassigned after being decontextualized. The intentionality in found art lies in the artist’s decision of whether or not an object is worth the viewer’s attention. Something similar happens with murals and their interaction with found architectural spaces: the pictorial dimension adjusts to a surface and the surface is re contextualized with this intervention. The figures and objects painted are intentionally related to the architectural space and that intention is evident in works by street artists like Zonenkinder, Kim Koster and Kislow. Thus, Duchamp commented on the elitism in gallery art and questioned it in his practice. Street art echoes this notion by yielding these murals to the public eye and not to the hand signing the paycheck.

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Mural by Kislow in Ukraine

Mural by Zonenkinder, Fokus Festival in Görlitz


Kim Koster, Cheb

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The elements that make street art and gallery art dispersed are very slim and a sincere reasoning explaining why fine art is highbrow and street art isn’t – speaking aesthetically and conceptually, not socially – has not come to my attention. The apparent differences between highbrow and lowbrow perhaps contain their own rationale because the latter is more democratic. Yet, this should not be because street art lacks intellect or intention, but because it does not seek to enter the unfriendly circles of pedant frowns and elitism.


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Mural No Surrender  by DALeast in France

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