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The Wide-Reach Of Street Art: From Graffiti To Social Media

Throughout history, street art has been popular in mostly poor and oppressed communities. Pretty recently, street art has grown to be a worldwide phenomenon. A voice has spoken and it seems that many groups of people are feeling oppressed and are using the arts as a platform for self expression and the search for justice and equality.

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1. Defining Street Art


Wikipedia defines street art as “any form of visual art in public locations, usually unsanctioned artwork executed outside of the context of traditional art venues.” Traditional street art ranges from painted murals, sticker art, yarn bombing, stencil art, street installations and even video projection. Guity Novin wrote that “the universal theme in most, if not all street art, is that adapting visual artwork into a format which utilizes public space, allows artists who may otherwise feel disenfranchised, to reach a much broader audience than traditional artwork and galleries normally allow” (Novin, 35).

2. From Tagging to Murals - A Brief History


Cedar Lewisohn tells us in his book Street Art: The Graffiti Revolution that in Pompeii, “graffiti was associated with politics and was a popular way of speaking back to authority. The city walls constituted a place where people would ridicule, or complain about, the authorities” (Lewisohn, 27). Much of graffiti has revolved around political or social messages intended on challenging the norm. During times of oppression and injustice, individuals are inclined to make their voices heard in any way that they can. Graffiti is a very powerful tool with unlimited possibilities due to its sporadic nature and guerrilla tactics which cause it to be very difficult to contain or control. Graffiti emerged in the late 1970s in Philadelphia and New York City. Graffiti was prominent among the poor and oppressed youth in urban areas. Covering public and private property with graffiti was a technique to take back the streets and oppose the greedy corporations who took advantage of the poor neighborhoods.

3. Connecting Street Art with the World


Among the endless advertisements, news articles, online shops, forums, entertainment sites found on the internet, there is an opportunity to disrupt the norm with thought-provoking art and join like-minded people on a global scale. Artists can easily and conveniently connect with the global population and reach out to other artists in a sort of worldwide-collaboration effort. Ideas are instantly shared and the art is evolving more rapidly than ever before. Prior to the internet, street art pieces could only be seen in person or through photographs. The situation today is drastically different: a work of art on the streets Tel Aviv, Israel can be seen on a computer or mobile device in Montreal, Canada just a few moments after the artwork has been completed.

4. Street Art and Politics


During the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, the internet was home to a plethora of social media users debating, arguing, fighting, and calling for change. Artists from all around the world weighed in with their opinions with photos of political paintings, sculptures, wall murals, stickers, and picket signs shared on several photo-sharing platforms. In once case, several sculptures of Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton standing fully-naked were erected in several public parks around the United States. With the current state of social media popularity, viewers immediately took pictures and flooded the internet with photos for the rest of the world to see. Regardless of the artist’s original intention with the sculptures, the social media posts sparked intense political dialogues on several platforms.

5. Coming Together with Social Media


A fairly recent historical event, the Arab spring uprising of 2011 in Cairo, Egypt was organized almost exclusively via social media. Protestors were seen gathering in Tahrir Square resembling a sort of “performance” through videos and photos shared on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. The instant, second-by-second, coverage through social media led to the crowd growing larger and larger until eventually the Egyptian military was visibly nervous by the large group of protestors. Many protestors in this event as well as other events, brandished the mask of Guy Fawkes. This mask was made popular by the movie ‘V for Vendetta,’ and quickly became an iconic symbol for the new age of Anonymous activists around the world. The power of social media is endless in terms of spreading ideas and gathering individuals with the common goal of challenging ideals believed to be unjust. In the film “Traitor” written and directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff, the villain and terrorist mastermind states that “The art of asymmetric warfare is less about inflicting damage than provoking a response. Terrorism is theater, and theater is always performed for an audience.” It is most suitable then, that groups of artists and creative will rise up to make their voices heard and fight such acts of planned theatrical terrorism.

6. Worldwide Street Art Collaborations


Now more than ever, artists of all mediums are coming together on a truly global scale to make art that connects all people of all languages. One organization, Pow! Wow! Worldwide hosts events in cities all around the world to encourage muralists, exhibitionists, musicians, story tellers, dancers and other street artists to come together for a “pow-wow” of ideas, feelings and expression. I have been following Pow! Wow! Worldwide on Instagram for 3 years now and have been amazed by every work of art that they post on social media. Without their social media presence, Pow! Wow! Worldwide would not be where they are today. They attract participants and attendants from so many countries and have gained so much popularity online that they have had to extend their events to even more countries. Organizations like Pow! Wow! Worldwide have the luxury of collaborating with well-known artists to widen their social media presence and cross into new groups of international followers. Organizations that promote creativity and art in troubled areas are already doing so much to impact communities on the local level. When more and more communities reach out to these organizations through social media, a worldwide movement is created that presents endless possibilities.

7. Social Media As A "Street Art" Tool

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In some cases, social media is used to further the artist’s medium of choice. BLU is an Italian street artist who uses a photography technique to give his street art life through stop-motion animation. BLU’s art seems to literally crawl through countries such as Italy, Israel, the U.S. and many places in South America. BLU has used new media and social media to engage viewers in a journey that might otherwise be unachievable by traditional means of street art. As a result of BLU’s technique, many murals and works of art have been covered and destroyed in the process. Street art rarely withstands the test of time. Some murals are defaced by other artists; others are removed by building owners. In regards to the people trying to appropriate street art for their own greed and monetary gain, BLU has a few choice words: “We are faced with arrogant landlords who act as colonial governors and think they’re free to take murals off our walls,” he wrote. “The only thing left to do is making these paintings disappear, to snatch them from those claws, to make hoarding impossible.”

8. From Street Walls to Facebook Walls

Facebook walls have become the place for sharing content. Users may share videos of heart-warming events, pictures with inspirational quotes, and share life-changing moments with friends and family. Other users may choose to share political cartoons, news articles that highlight injustice, calls for organization or photos of new experiences. In Banksy’s book Banksy: Wall and Piece, the artist and author suggests that “A wall has always been the best place to publish your work,” and due to availability and convenience we can conclude that Facebook is also one of the “most honest art forms available because there is no elitism or hype” (Banksy, 8). Differentiating it immensely from the traditional physical walls of our world, Facebook walls free the user from the threat of arrest and fines that painting on physical walls come with. The internet and social media has given way to an unfiltered world where users can post whatever they choose. Responding to crude criticism of his political standpoints, former Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott exclaimed that "The thing about social media is that it is anonymous, so it can be much more vitriolic and extreme than normal media and yet it is there for everyone to see. It is kind of like electronic graffiti.”

8. Are Memes "Street Art?"

Of course, not all graffiti and street art is in good nature. Now more than ever, the internet and social media has given way for users known as “trolls” (internet slang) who, according to Wikipedia are people who “sow discord on the internet by starting arguments or upsetting people by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response.” This description sounds almost completely in line with previous definitions of street artists, but I must discredit the “trolls” for often promoting hate and disunity. These “trolls” often use memes to further their hateful points and have even gone so far as to get certain images placed on the Anti-Defamation League’s list of Hate Symbols. One symbol, “Pepe the Frog” also known as “Sad Frog” has been placed on the ADL’s list for repeatedly being used in racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic contexts. Another symbol that gained popularity among a large group of users is Harambe. The gorilla that was killed at a Cincinnati Zoo during a tragic event in June of 2016 sparked outrage and criticism from so many people that his name is still prevalent on social media and has even received Presidential nomination and was rumored to have received over 11,000 American votes on the ballot. This outrageous trend shows just how powerful and influential social media can be.

The Great Impact Of Street Art: From Graffiti To Social Media

Our world is so closely knit together by social media that many street artists have opted into exhibiting their works of art online for everyone to see. With this trend in mind, it can be said that social media has allowed for a new form of “street art” to emerge that, as author Lyman Chaffee would put it, successfully “breaks the conspiracy of silence to form social consciousness. In authoritarian systems where outlets for free expression are limited, it is one of the few gauges of political sentiment. In more open systems, street art enables various entities to lobby for their interests. Street art, in essence, connotes a decentralized, democratic form in which there is universal access, and the real control over messages comes from the social producers.” (Chaffee, 4). This same breaking of the silence that occurs when an artist paints on a brick wall can be compared closely to sharing something mind-opening and thought-provoking on a person’s Facebook wall. Though it would be an exaggeration to state as fact, the new walls exist on the smartphones that we give our attention to. This puts social media as an even greater outlet for modern “street art.”

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