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Street Arts: Arguments on it as a Form of Expression

Street Art, A Form of Expression
Art is defined in the dictionary as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. Creating art seems to become an issue when the word “street” is added in front of it. In my modest opinion, street art should be continued and expressed for it is a way that someone shows their ideas and creativity. Individuals believe street art should be banned and consider it as vandalism. In addition, civilians say that street art is trashy and makes their communities look uninviting. On the other hand, some argue that street art is expressive. Activists, regarding matters beyond measure, even say that street art is a form of commentary on societal issues. The list goes on. The issue that arises most, is that street art is simply just vandalism. Street art is created mostly on side-walks, buildings, and tunnels. Not all street art is done by painting. Methods such as yarn bombing are used, which involves covering surfaces in knitted patterns. It can also be expressed through stickers and stencils to make a statement. Street art is usually shown in urban areas, and yes, it falls within the lines of graffiti to an extent. This type of art usually is created with the intent of conveying a message. The intent of one’s act is the distinguishing factor regarding graffiti vs. street art. Both acts are a form of expression that aren’t always done with permission. This is where the issue of vandalism comes into play. Graffiti is usually done with the intent of giving a message to an individual or specific group; no intent of public understanding. Whereas, street art provokes discussion and calls for a reaction.
An issue proposed, is that graffiti and street art are the same thing, however, that topic is debatable. From my perspective, graffiti is the rebellious and care-free act of expression, usually done with the intent of little to nothing. In addition, artist who perform graffiti, have no consideration of property or the law. Street art is a form of creative expression with the intent of portraying one’s feelings or perspective on matters they feel are important to share. The legality of the two seems farfetched, since some cannot determine the differences between street art and graffiti. In this light, I can understand the concern and problems that may arise. For example, when does art become too expressive or even out of hand? Who determines what is significant enough to be “acceptable”, by means of street art. However, who are we to determine what is important to someone or not? What exact harm is being done? As more questions emerge, I believe that it is an issue of respect and acceptance. Art is made to project and express feelings. It is a form of therapy, communication, and even an act of connecting with people. The point of street art is not to diminish or destroy buildings and the community, but to make it a community where voices and points can be made without regulation or fear. Also, most street art is not made to take away from the already, “beautiful building”. Artists aren’t doing their works to take away from the picture, but to enhance and promote ways of change; in a positive way. Some things are too vast and wonderful to confine!
Contrary to my beliefs, Heather MacDonald, a contributing editor of City Journal, says street art is vandalism. MacDonald stated that “Graffiti is something that one celebrates, if one is juvenile enough to do so, when it shows up on someone else’s property but never on one’s own (“Graffiti Is Vandalism”). To my understanding, I do not believe that McDonald is an open minded individual when it comes to the realm of art. I make these assumptions based off multiple reasons. The editor makes several comments on the invasion of privacy. “If your home were tagged during the night without your consent, would you welcome the new addition to your décor or would you immediately call a painter, if not the police” (MacDonald). She explains that graffiti and street art isn’t art at all. Although I can understand her point regarding one’s personal property, it seems like she has no understanding of self-expression. Artists are not going to individuals houses involuntarily, especially with a goal to harm. Most artists do think about the place in which they are using. MacDonald focuses more on the negative aspects of street art, and not the true meaning of what it is. The argument proposed is that graffiti is not artistically compelling and that it is a crime. In Heather Macdonald’s perspective, she sees street art, graffiti, and tagging as the same. Tagging is the practice of ownership by writing your name or a group on surfaces. Again, street art does not aim at ownership, but more so creating a message. Although this is one’s property, there are laws that protect the performance of street art.
The Copyright Act is a law that gives artists the rights to their expression, “criminal acts”, AND freedom of choice. The law imposes, “… the sole right to produce or reproduce the work or any substantial part thereof in any material form, to perform the work or any substantial part thereof in public, or if the work is unpublished, to publish the work or any substantial part thereof…” The Copyright Act also states, “to produce, reproduce, perform or publish any translation of the work; to reproduce, adapt and publicly present the works a cinematographic work; to communicate the work to the public by telecommunication, to present at a public exhibition, for a purpose other than sale or hire.” This means, regarding street art, that it is legal to display, produce, and commercialize these works. Regardless if the work is anonymous or not, the work lies in the hands of the creator. Although there are rights that protect property, The Copyright Act still protects these artists. As mentioned before, street artists do not create their works with the intention of vandalism. Most artists consider where they are creating their masterpieces; the placement of art contributes to how the art is presented.
MacDonald mentions a politician named John Lindsay, who “declared war on graffiti” in 1972. To the politicians understanding, he associated graffiti with disorder and law-breaking. The point proposed, is one criminal act being accepted implies that other criminal acts are also accepted. Some examples include stealing, assault, and drug usage. MacDonald uses Lindsay’s theory to justify her own, by pulling unrelated criminal acts into the picture. Macdonald associates street art, “vandalism” in her mind, as the beginning of unlawful acts. It is almost as if MacDonald associates these criminal acts towards a specific group of people. The editor’s understanding and mindset seems to be extremely minuscule, regarding street art. Instead of looking at it as forms of communication and self-expression, she associates it with criminal activity. To my understanding, MacDonald is solely focused on her own self and her property, as if artists will specifically choose her as a subject. MacDonald looks at vandalism, street art, and graffiti as one, and believes it is a juvenile act. This means MacDonald sees anyone who practices the art, as an adolescent and childish. In conclusion, we can see that Macdonald lacks understanding of what street art is and why it is practiced.
Although there are individuals strongly against street art, there are still people who are highly supportive of this medium. Urban art specialist, Mary McCarthy, believes that street art is a tool for change. McCarthy states that street art speaks as a form of spiritual survival and starts at a place of rebellion. “It was often the only tool of the poverty stricken, the disenfranchised, to communicate their stories, their sense of place” (“Street Art as A Tool for Change”), says McCarthy. The Urban specialist explains that when you have little to nothing, being able to “claim” something as yours, gives you ownership of your community, or place. Street art is a mark of identity and serves as a medium for the future. McCarthy believes that the Street Art Movement has gone beyond all art movements to date. “Stylistically, politically, and socially it has inspired, challenged and changed people’s lives positively across the world” (“Street Art as A Tool for Change”), implies McCarthy. She notes that artists are now using their environments as canvases, and that street artists create their works “from walls to railings, from wood to metal, from buildings to vehicles”. McCarthy describes this act as unprecedent. Like other supporters of street art, she agrees that it has a political affect. With the streets as a medium, individuals can express their opinions and broadcast their voice. In agreeance with McCarthy, this type of communication has an influence on rhetoric and opinion; throughout the community to the people. The Urban specialist uses many examples to show how influential street art can be. One example given, is Shepherd Fairey’s “Hope” image, that was reproduced across the world by pro Obama supporters.
When the voices of individuals are expressed through street art, places across the globe transform. Mary McCarthy does a wonderful job at capturing the true purpose of street art; influencing change and making a statement. The activist takes Miami for an example. The Goldman family, from a dangerous part in the city, changed their community greatly. McCarthy explains that the Goldman’s “good hearted” (Street Art as A Tool for Change”) program, encouraging street art, has been transformed. As a result, the once dangerous area, is now an “international tourist attraction and affluent neighborhood in its own right”. Finally, another influential example of street art is JR’s artwork in the favelas. Mrs. McCarthy sees this as an “encouraging sense of pride” within disenfranchised residents of Rio. Mary McCarthy not only appreciates the art, but clearly has done her research.
Many people may think that not everyone can relate or understand street art, so it proposes the question; what is the point? McCarthy put into words, “One of the main reasons why this art has been so accessible and popular is the artist’s ability to relate to the here and now- to live in the moment and to express a personal, a social and a political rhetoric “(“Street Art as A Tool for Change”). Pursuant to her belief, this is a rhetoric that can be understood and relates to all. The streets give an artist a canvas that all can see. An example given, is Banksy’s Mobile Lovers. McCarthy explains that Mobile Lovers had a double impact on the community; where it took place and the message. The artist of this work points out that modern technology distracts us from our company. Banksy’s artwork was done in a dark doorway at the end of a dead-end street. McCarthy emphasizes the usage of glow-in-the-dark spray paint, which she claims, “added weight to the idea that this piece is intended to be only ‘half seen’” (“Street Art as A Tool for Change”). The artwork was done behind a club in Bristol. In later findings, I was shocked McCarthy knew Banksy. She was responsible for the sale of Mobile Lovers, with permission, that had a powerful impact in Bristol. Broad Plain, a Rugby Football Club, purchased Banksy’s artwork and its proceedings went to the club where the art was located. Banksy spent most of his time in this club and was ecstatic when he found out that his artwork helped it from foreclosing! McCarthy concludes that this is a prime example of how street can affect many people in various ways.
Street art is a form of expression and communication across the world that has both negative and positive effects. It is becoming more popular in our modern-day society and is becoming a voice regarding political, social, and personal issues. Street art has the power to change society, people, and even the energy within places. Although some opinion may differ, through street art, we are all heard!
Works Cited
MacDonald, Heather, “Graffiti Is Always Vandalism.” The New York Times, (2014)
https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/07/11/when-does-graffiti-become-art/graffiti-is-always-vandalism
McCarthy, Mary, “Street Art as A Tool for Change.” Huffington Post, (2017)
https://guce.oath.com/collectConsent?brandType=eu

Value of Antony Gormley’s Artwork the ‘Angel of the North’

When it comes to the value of a piece of art, it is understood that value covers more than just a financial viewpoint. Value is how a piece is desired. Its desirability is based off many factors and theories that all interplay to dictate how much something is worth to an individual, or a group. Overall, value is more poignant than numbers on a page. There are many things that influence the value of an artwork. From the contexts that surround it, to the people that gave it life and a story. Through various theories this essay will focus on the ideas that society and the theory of art and civic responsibility; viewing experience and the entanglement theory; and the making process, all have an impact on the value of a piece of art. Whether that be a personal value, or public. And these will all be applied to the chosen piece, the ’Angel of the North’.

Fig. 1: ‘Angel of the North’ (2011) Andrew Yates
There is more value held for a piece when there is a societal understanding of it. “Try to imagine society without the humanising influence of the arts, and you will have to strip out most of what is pleasurable in life, as well as much that is educationally critical and socially essential.” (Bazalgette in Arts Council England, 2014). What Bazalgette means by this is, that society is built upon the arts. Society wouldn’t be what it is without the arts. It is an integral piece of what holds humans together. It teaches us lessons. The values and ideals portrayed can be a backbone to the communities that hold them. It brings people together, through moral principles and ideologies. “The arts are made by and for people… embodiments of people’s political and ideological beliefs, understandings, and values, both personal and collective.”(Elliott, Silverman, and Bowman, 2016) This ‘civic responsibility’ channels the unanimous ideas of a community and materialises them into something physical, something to be seen, understood and passed on. Art can be created with the intent to influence. To dictate a standpoint within the social and political climate. “Art, freedom and creativity will change society faster than politics.” (Victor Pinchuk, 2018). When art resonates deeply with the audience, they will hold that piece with high regard, and more value. As George Bernard Shaw says, “you use works of art to see your soul.” (Shaw, 1921).
When the ‘Angel of the North’ was commissioned, Antony Gormley wanted to create a piece “That would be a focus of hope at a painful time of transition for the people of the North East, abandoned in the gap between the industrial and the information ages.” (Gormley, 1998). The North East is famously a historic hub of industry. From the Shipyards to the Coal mines. With “the shallowest, most accessible coal seams lay so close to the Tyne.” (Simpson, 2016). The Angel is built on the site of old Pithead Baths, the place miners would wash after a shift, so they wouldn’t go home dirty and in soiled clothes. “Before pithead baths became widely available, most coal miners, already exhausted from a day’s work had little choice but to travel home from work still filthy with coal dust.” (Thompson, 2011). Gormley took this historical context into consideration when designing the piece, stating it is “to remind us that below this site coal miners worked in the dark for two hundred years.” (Gateshead Council, 2019). These industries were an integral part of building Newcastle and its surrounding areas. However, in recent history, the North East’s industry has declined into being relics of a bygone era. From the mines being closed, to industry being outsourced to other countries for cheaper costs, “overall from a total of 1,250 pits in 1947 to the present day” (Bradley, 2015). Gormley wants to celebrate this ‘work in the dark’ with his ‘work in the light’. He wants to portray Northumberland “Grasping hold of the future, expressing our transition.” (Gateshead Council, 2019). A symbol for hope. Gormley also notes that “this is a collaborative venture. We are evolving a collective work from the firms of the North East and the best engineers in the world.” (Gormley, 1998) This also plays on the fact that it is a piece made for the community it was built in, not just the land it sits on. It is a homage to the hard working people that built the industries and communities of the North East. It even used “the engineering vernacular of ships and the Tyne Bridge, to produce a strong structure.” (Gormley, 1998). (See Fig.2) As the picture shows, the ‘Angel of the North’ does have strong parallels to its inspiration, the ‘Tyne Bridge’. They both have that industrial aesthetic, from the large beams that make it up, to the industrial processes that assembled them. This is a definite homage to one of Newcastle’s most iconic artefacts.
The value it holds for the people around it is significant. It speaks for them, it embodies their struggles and hardships. “In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay.” (Fischer, 1959). But it stands for their future. And like the people that paved the way, the sculpture is solid, and can withstand the tests of time and it’s trials. It is this understanding and impression that is the key to the public’s value of the piece. However, its initial impression was less than nice. With one critic stating “the most inflated and most vulgar of his works.” (Sewell, 1998) But over time, it grew on people and has since come to acclaim and love. “People seem to have developed a sense of ownership about it.” (Norman, 2018). They value its place within their society. It stands for their pride of the North East.

Fig.2: ‘The New Tyne Bridge’ (1928) Robert Johnston
The viewing experience is fundamental to how value is given to the piece. Ian Hodder states, “There is a two-way dependence of human bodies and things.” (Hodder, 2012). What Hodder means is when we experience a piece of art within a space, we gain an understanding of how our body works and feels. Value is given to art when they help us experience the world around us. Hodder also states that “The going towards and away from things [that] is also at the heart of the attribution of value.” (Hodder, 2012). This is to show that if we decide to go and see something, it dictates what value we have given that object. The fact that we have dedicated time and effort, just to witness the piece shows that the piece in question is valued and held in regard. This is the case for the ‘Angel of the North’. It is situated on a mound at the top of a valley. The site is historically valuable, as it is where the old pithead baths were. It is not confined within a white walled gallery, it is out in the elements. Everyday, all year. But yet, people still decide to go see it. “Antony Gormley has created a powerful landmark which is seen and enjoyed by tens of thousands of people every day.” (AboutBritain, 2007). The North East has a rough climate, where it is most likely cold, or raining. (see Fig.1) In the photograph, the Angel has been coated by a layer of snow, this proves that it can be in an uncomfortable environment. People are still willing to brave the harsh conditions, just to stand next to the Angel, and bask in its majesty. Antony Gormley backs this up when he says, “the Angel is rarely alone in daylight hours, it is given a great deal through the presence of those that visit it.” (Gormley, 1998) Its value is dictated by those who venture to see it. The reputation of the piece, alongside the viewing experience brings value to the piece, as more and more people are drawn to go see it. To experience it.
However, Gillian Rose argues that the world is becoming more ‘ocularcentric’. This is the idea that visuals are being prioritised over the other senses. She states, “we are almost constantly surrounded by different sorts of visual technologies – photography, film, video. They render the world in visual terms.” (Rose, 2016) This implies that a physical structure, which has to be experienced in the open, has less value than another form of media, that one could reference from the comfort of their own home. It seems that two dimensional renderings are more important than seeing the piece in real life. This is evident by the amount of information and photography online considering the Angel. It is a well documented piece, in various forms of media. It can be explored and learnt about from the viewers home.
However, In opposition to this, the Tate disagrees, and states that, “the brain understands the world by combining what it receives from all five senses. Can taste, touch, smell and sound change the way we ‘see’ art?” (Tate, 2015). This question poses the idea that, yes, we do need the rest of our senses to fully experience and appreciate art. This applies to the ‘Angel of the North’. The Angel has to be seen in person to fully experience it. A huge part of the experience is getting to the sculpture. Standing there at the top of the hill with the Angel. Feeling the wind, smelling the open air. Being able to touch it.
Antony Gormley goes on to say, “If your work doesn’t speak to people, it’s beyond comprehension and risible, but if people engage with it, you become tarred with the brush of populism.” (Gormley, 2011). It is this ‘populism’ that Gormley focuses on, he wanted the piece to be accessible, and applicable to regular people.This experience is far more valuable than seeing a photo of it. When on site, physically there with the piece. You are able to make contact with it, and thus a relationship is formed. A personal value and meaning has been placed onto it. People will remember and value the piece and the time they spent with it.
The making process for the piece adds value to it in the way that its materialisation affects the people who surround it. Nina Hole is a ceramicist who makes an event out of the firing of her piece. She live fires them in front of an audience. This spectacle exists for the benefit of the public and those who choose to witness it take place. In her own words, she has “developed the concept of constructing large outdoor sculpture that contains all the elements of a kiln… built and fired site specific.” (Hole, 2006). Her live firings are called ‘séances’, and draw many people who come to view her work come to life with fire. They marvel at it.
It is not a very common experience to be able to watch a ceramic piece be fired. It would usually be done in a kiln. “You have witnessed and taken part in a process that by tradition is reserved for the artist alone.” (Navo, 2000). The process inherently does not require many people, so to have an audience that is willingly there to watch it take place must imply that this version of the process holds value for people. They are watching something rare. This will have huge value to the audience, as they will forever have the memories of watching the piece being born. They will value their experience as being a part of the process. “Performance art can involve the audience with taste, smell and sounds not available with electronic media.” (Bowman, 2006). This is apparent in Hole’s work (see Fig.3), where all the senses are used during the performance. The feel of the heat from the fire; the smell and taste of the smoke; the crackle of the flames. This would also be applicable to Gormley’s piece, as it was February, therefore it was colder. It would have been frosty. There would have been lots of noise from the machinery, and the crowds. The smell of the air would have fresh and sharp.

Fig.3: ‘Fire Sculptures’ (2009) Nina Hole
This theory of live process as an event is also applicable to the ‘Angel of the North’. The Angel was assembled in public, in front of a large audience. It had to be, as it wouldn’t be be able to get transported to the site if it was fully assembled. When it was being assembled,it became an event. The public were, like Nina Hole’s audience, witnessing something rare. Something usually “reserved for the artist.” (Navo, 2000). This sculpture will only be assembled and installed once. It is a permanent piece, which was designed to stand the tests of time, it wasn’t designed as a show piece that would be paraded around various galleries. It was commissioned, and briefed as a site specific, installation. The whole occasion will only ever happen once. The value of being able to watch this exceedingly rare occasion, is immense.
When it was being transported from the workshop to the site, the ‘Angel of the North’ “was treated like royalty.” (Williams, 2011) There were huge crowds that lined the roads as the Angel was being transported. ”Every corner, every roundabout, every turn – hundreds, thousands, everywhere” (Porter, 2011). Claimed the man, who was tasked with driving the lorry that bear the ‘Angel of the North’. The public had already decided that this piece had value, and desired to lay witness to its release.
Eventually there were thousands there, all wanting to see the Angel. “Everybody had been told to stay away – but they didn’t,” (Gormley, 2011) stated Antony. This shows that, regardless of being told not to be there, the public still crowded to spectate the exclusive occasion. They had already valued the piece enough to come and watch it, just to look at it for the first time, before it was even assembled. And the crowd stayed there to watch it be assembled full of intrigue, and pride. As they watched on, they had already accepted its place within their community. They already valued its presence.

Fig.4: ‘Construction of The Angel of the North proceeds in 1999’ (1999) Don Mcphee
Art can hold huge value. From everyone involved with the creation of it, to the audience who view it. Value can be drawn from various factors that influence it. Such as the societal value it has, and the cultural and historical contexts, the civic responsibility. The experience of viewing the art and the theory of entanglement, and the experience of making it. When these things are applied to the ‘Angel of the North’ it is apparent that value can come from anywhere, but it is not only a matter of money and numbers. It is a emotional connection to piece of art, that everyone who comes into contact with it in one form or another have.
List of Illustrations:
Fig. 1: ‘Angel of the North’ (2011) Andrew Yates
Fig.2: ‘The New Tyne Bridge’ (1928) Robert Johnston
Fig.3: ‘Fire Sculptures’ (2009) Nina Hole
Fig.4: ‘Construction of The Angel of the North proceeds in 1999’ (1999) Don Mcphee
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