The Great Controversy of Street Art

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Art is a way for people to express their emotions or get a statement across. Artists do this by working with different mediums or surfaces to create their work. Some popular forms of art are photography,painting, sculpture, literature, music, dance. Although these art forms can cause an uproar by the way they are presented, the most controversial form of art would be street art. Over the years street art has made a name for itself and some may say it was not in a good way. The artists themselves create inspiring work, but also have gained a bad reputation. Street artists are influential artists who bring new and unique elements to public locations, although they can be labeled as controversial.

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Street art has been around for a long time now, but in the past 10 years it has blown up. In some places, everywhere you go you see street art. We are surrounded by this art whether it is in an alley or on the side of the building. Artists leave their work across different cities. Some artists use this as a way to connect with the community, make a statement, or get their voices heard. In reality, do we really know what street art is or do we just make assumptions based off of what others have said?

Walking down the street people see art everywhere, like graffiti or murals. These two things are very different, but have some of the same qualities in the way they are perceived. When first thinking about graffiti, people think of writings or drawings that are scribbled in a public space. It is illegal because it is considered vandalism. A lot of people do use graffiti as a way of vandalism and destruction of property. When first thinking about murals, people think of a painting that is created directly on a wall, which is in a public space. It is a way for artists to display their work in a unique public way. This is considered street art, but is it considered legal? Do these artists have the right to use these public spaces?

Street art is created in spaces typically where they did not get permission. They create their work “undercover” to avoid being recognized. This makes it seem like the artists have no respect for the law. In places like London, law enforcement regularly retaliate against artists by removing their artwork from walls. People consider street art illegal because artists do not ask for permission to use a building. They also consider it vandalism even though artists are putting up amazing work. There has also been studies as to what theses artists motives are, which has helped people understand them, including their ownership and rights to the work (Flessas and Mulcahy 221).

In 2013 there was an issue with a piece of artwork that was taken from a north London suburb. The residents of this town were not quiet when part of a wall, owned by Wood Green Investments, was removed and sold. That specific piece of the wall was home to a mural by popular street artist Banksy. The work “Slave Labour” was offered for sale in Miami even though the artist had previously tried keeping it from being sold (Flessas and Mulcahy 219). This ultimately caused outrage within the town because the work was given to the community for public enjoyment. Politicians argued that people had no right to take the piece and that it should be returned immediately (Flessas and Mulcahy 220).

There has been so much trouble with trying to control the issue of generating, selling, or preserving street art. Currently there are two laws that focus on these issues. “The first involves the law of property, or more specifically “damage” to property which is said to be caused when street art is created. The law of property has also been evoked in attempts to protect works of art when they are removed from their original locus, as was the case in Wood Green. The second involves the laws and regulations seeking to protect and preserve cultural heritage” (Flessas and Mulcahy 222). In the UK, artists can be prosecuted under section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 for damaging property (Flessas and Mulcahy 222).

In the streets of places like England, Israel, France, Canada and the United States, a secret artists has been placing his work on the walls of different towns. This artist goes by the name Banksy and he is known as one of the most controversial street artists of our time. Banksy is an international street artists whose real name and identity are not known by the public. This adds to the mystery behind his works of art. He is also known as a political artist due to some of his statement pieces (Brenner 34).

Banksy uses a recognizable stenciled style which has shocked the world. One of his most famous murals, which had a major political statement, was Son of a Migrant from Syria. This artwork depicts Apple founder Steve Jobs as an immigrant traveling with a bundle on his back and a Macintosh classic in hand. This image was left by Banksy in the “Calais Jungle,” a migrant camp in France. This artwork also had a statement under it saying, “ We’re often led to believe migration is a drain on the country’s resources, but Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant.” The Calais Jungle later shutdown due to the mural and some say Banksy contributed to this (Brenner 35).

Over the years Banksy has grown a large fanbase. Their support of his work has kept him in the spotlight. He has struggled with his works being removed from their original space and being sold (Brenner 36). This is a problem because Banksy may not get the money from the artwork being sold. The whole idea of his work is to make a statement, not to get glorified for it. He has created this idea of a revolution. This revolution continues to change society’s view on street art, while still bringing attention to social and political issues. This is known as “The Banksy Effect”. It describes an increased interest in street art because of the artists popularity. Even though his art’s value is growing, he still brings his fun and mysterious nature to his work.

During an auction in 2018, a drawing of his Girl with Balloon image was sold for 1.3 million dollars; that is until a secret button was pushed. Once the button was pushed the frame began to shred the picture. This caused the value of the painting to go up (Brenner). This prank shows that the Banksy revolution will never die. He still will remain anonymous, which keeps everyone wanting more.

Banksy is just one example of why street artists are influential. A lot of street artists use their talents to express emotions or like Banksy, addressing social and political issues. Even though some of his stuff is controversial, he still presents his work on good terms. He does this for a good reason. Street art can also contribute to communities by bringing life back to them. Artists could show their appreciation for the community allowing them to place their work there by creating murals for them. There are plenty of ways to reduce legal controversy by communicating with artists and creating a better environment for all.

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