Graffiti has been at odds with the art world since its’ beginning. Not only does graffiti’s thrifty, anti-sell-out mentality continue to clash with the galleries’ need for profit in order to subsist, but by its’ illegal nature is forced to keep all discussions with the public to a bare minimum. However, graffiti’s difficulty to enter the current academic hierarchy shouldn’t stop it from being seen as a relevant art form, for it helps produce several acclaimed artists, has a large audience and is an effective representation of societal groups and mindsets.
The idea that graffiti can produce noteworthy art and artists is not necessarily a new one; Basquiat and Haring opened the doors for writers into the art world, but the movement lacked the momentum, or rather the maturity, to generate a sufficient acceptance in the art milieu to keep those doors fully open, resulting in the recognition of graffiti individuals rather than the movement as a whole. Afterwards, however, the culture kept moving forward, organizing galleries, magazines and festivals, finding ways for graffiti writers to subsist and develop their work. While street art has made itself a solid place in the contemporary art world, with Vik Muniz praising Os Gemeos in the latest issue of Bomb (no 102) and an article in the latest Art Newspaper (no 226) titled “Walls Come Tumbling Down - Has street art finally gone mainstream? A plethora of recent shows might suggest so”, graffiti also finds itself creeping in, with a full page ad for Retna in ArtForum, graffiti on the cover of Art & Australia and Artnet’s “Urban Scrawl: Graffiti and Streets”, Fondation Cartier’s “Né dans la rue” and MOCA’s “Art in the streets” shows. Although the art world appears increasingly interested not so much in the graffiti artist as an individual but rather in the graffiti movement as a whole, certain artists, namely Steve Powers, Dash Snow (RIP) and Barry McGee, have been able to pierce through as a new generation of artists rooted in graffiti, with additional names such as Horfe, Lush and Swampy gaining attention.
Not only does graffiti have increasingly recognized artists, though, but it also has a steady audience. Asides from the hundreds of millions of people who see it every day, through movies, magazines and the internet, people can look at their favorite writers’ work; and they do. Not only that, but graffiti festivals attract big crowds all over the world. Graffiti’s clientele, mainly composed of adolescent boys, go to all types of forums and blogs, buy magazines and videos, and look at it in person as well. Although it may not be a very adult audience, it doesn’t stop it from being a relevant visual medium, just as punk or dubstep qualify as music.
But the contemporary art world is interested in more than art for art’s sake; it’s looking for an overall representation of society, both of the individual and of the world as a whole. While the art that generates the highest revenues is that which appeals the most to those with the most wealth, with Damian Hirst coming to mind, it seems logical that the most plebeian medium would also be the cheapest to obtain. Graffiti, with its’ grit and speed, shows anti-authoritarian beliefs, frustration and anger, but also a desire for something different, a world where all people are offered a voice and a DIY alternative to advertisement and exposition. It is a voice for those who feel unheard. It seems arrogant to deny a form of self expression its’ validity. Self expression is rooted in a person’s core, between their conscious and unconscious, and one may pass judgment on it and have preferences, but overlooking any form of it is also overlooking a slice of one’s demography. If outsider and children art can sell for millions of dollars, and if we’re to believe that the world is becoming more acceptant of one another, it would seem only fair to consider graffiti before rejecting it altogether.
It seems reasonable to say that because of its’ contribution to the art world, its’ steady stream of viewers and its’ accurate depiction of a slice of society, graffiti is a relevant art form and deserves some consideration.