Graffiti Art Essay

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Street art, c. 2010, is a paradigm of hybridity in global visual culture, a post- postmodern genre being defined more by real-time practice than by any sense of unified theory, movement, or message. Many artists associated with the “urban art movement” don’t consider themselves “street” or “graffiti” artists, but as artists who consider the city their necessary working environment. It’s a form at once local and global, post-photographic, post-Internet, and post-medium, intentionally ephemeral but now documented almost obsessively with digital photography for the Web, constantly appropriating and remixing imagery, styles, and techniques from all possible sources. It’s a community of practice with its own learned codes, rules, hierarchies of prestige, and means of communication. Street art began as an underground, anarchic, in-your-face appropriation of public visual surfaces, and has now become a major part of visual space in many cities and a recognized art movement crossing over into the museum and gallery system.1 This chapter outlines a synthetic view of this hybrid art category that comes from my own mix of experiences and roles—as an art and media theorist in the university, as an owner of a contemporary gallery that has featured many street artists, and as a colleague of many of the artists, curators, art dealers, and art collectors who have contributed to defining street art in the past two decades.2
The street artists who have been defining the practice since the 1990s are now a major part of the larger story of contemporary art and visual culture. Street art synthesizes and circulates a visual vocabulary and set of stylistic registers that have become instantly recognizable throughout mass culture. Museum and gallery exhibitions and international media coverage have taken Shepard Fairey, Banksy, Swoon, and many others to levels of recognition unknown in the

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