Artists Comment on the World Around Them

by Angelina
Peer Group: Jackson, Jack, MPS4

Question - How do artists in different parts of the world use their art to comment on the world around them?
Topic - Art
Hypothesis - People will use their talents to spread awareness for an ongoing problem.

Argumentative Essay

Museums house the work of millions of artists, famous or not. Some art is worth billions. Those pieces are usually painted by the famous painters, like Picasso, Michelangelo, and Van Gogh. Would those pieces be less valuable if they were painted on the street? Van Gogh's most famous masterpiece, Starry Night, was painted in an asylum. This fact doesn't make it less valuable or famous, or even disqualifies it from being a piece of art. Why isn't it the same for graffiti? Graffiti, or street art, still has a message behind it. It is a way for artists to showcase their art if they can't afford spending money on exhibition fees and canvases. Besides, it is already accepted by many people and museums. Graffiti is another form of art because it is a form of expression, which is the definition of art.

There are many important messages behind street art pieces. They can bring attention to political, social, etc. issues. For example, Pat Brentano made silhouettes of birds and other nature forms in New Jersey. She wanted to remind people to be respectful towards nature and preserve it, not destroy it. In Brazil, groups of street artists made murals to spread awareness of the growing issue of domestic violence towards women in their country. There isn't a law that prevents that issue, which is why it has become a big problem. Banksy, probably the most famous anonymous street artist, has countless social justice paintings. One mural, that was removed for "being offensive and racist", depicted one colorful bird and a group of pigeons with signs that said "Go back to Africa", "Migrants not welcome", and "Keep off our worms". Banksy wanted to speak out against a candidate running to be a MP that opposed mass immigration.

Graffiti is a way for artists to showcase their art if they can't afford spending a lot. According to Museum Planner, exhibitions cost $75-$550 per square foot. Most artists aren't wealthy enough to pay that price just for one piece of theirs to be in an exhibition. Painting on a wall in the city can have its perks. The artist has a larger possible audience - the entire public that happens to walk past that wall - versus a small audience (that had to pay to see the painting). Artists, like the previously-mentioned Banksy, can choose to be anonymous, either for privacy/safety reasons or for their own desire.

It is already being treated as an art form, and therefore is widely accepted. Banksy sold his most expensive piece for almost $2 million according to Arrested Motion. While it is no Van Gogh price, it shows that his art is valued. Many museums decided to add exhibits that showcase graffiti. The Museum of the City of New York has a graffiti exhibition called City as a Canvas. Brooklyn Museum has many exhibitions featuring a specific artist as well as many permanent installations. The Victoria and Albert Museum of Art and Design in England has numerous graffiti prints and books they sell. These are only a few of the museums that showed up after a quick search on Google. By adding graffiti to the museum, cities and museums have acknowledged that art can come in any form and, as the times change, different mediums become widely utilized.

Many people argue that graffiti is illegal, and therefore it isn't art and should never be done. Graffiti does have destructive properties, which is considered unpleasant, but that doesn't exclude it from being art. As stated before, famous street artists like Banksy have been paid for their work and are highly sought after which alludes to its valuableness. Though there work is illegal, it is protected in many places. For example, one of Banksy's most famous pieces 'Spy Booth' was protected earlier this year (2015). Other places, such as Australia, with a more pro-graffiti attitude have also protected pieces after an incident where a $20 million piece was painted over.

While there is still many organizations that's sole purpose is to cleanse a city from graffiti, many museums, cities, and others have helped promote the idea of graffiti being thought of as another expressive art form. Imagine if no one had spoken out in favor of graffiti. New York City, Berlin, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, London, and many other colorful cities would be stripped of their art. The walls would be left dull, blank, and without any personality. Many artists wouldn't be inspired to make their own art because they haven't seen the wonderful masterpieces other artists had devised, which would make the world even more boring. The next time someone says, "They should really clean up those walls/subways. There is a lot of graffiti," remember that "a lot of graffiti" shouldn't be bad, it should be an indication that the city is full of creativity.

Is graffiti a form of art?
  • Introduction
    • Thesis: Graffiti is another form of art because it is a form of expression, which is the definition of art.
    • There are important messages behind many street art pieces.
    • Graffiti is a way for artists to showcase their art if they can't afford spending a lot of money.
    • It is already being treated as an art with many museums opening graffiti exhibits and such.
  • Body
    • There are important messages behind many street art pieces.
      • Can bring attention to problems (example: Domestic violence in Brazil)
    • Graffiti is a way for artists to showcase their art if they can't afford spending a lot of money.
      • Can keep artists anonymous
      • Larger audience
      • According to Museum Planner, exhibitions cost $75-$550 per square foot
    • It is already being treated as an art with many museums opening graffiti exhibits and such.
      • Banksy is sold his most expensive piece for almost $2 million according to Arrested Motion
      • Museum exhibit examples
      • Shows how widely accepted it is, which means that people can accept that art changes over time
    • Counter: It is illegal.
      • It can be illegal and art at the same time.
      • Big street artists can sell their pieces for a lot of money even if it is illegal (examples)
  • Conclusion
    • Using Banksy as an example so many times shows how much recognition and popularity one could receive from being a street artist
Resources to Use:


Draft Posts

Link to Project or Embedded Project
This Thinglink discusses the famous British street artist, Banksy. This artist has chosen to be anonymous. He is famous for making "stencil"-like graffiti. His work is controversial because he often makes pieces that cover social/political issues.
Credit for Pictures:
Main News Stories:

"Noobie" Questions

  • What are some of the most common topics covered by artists?
    • Some of the most common topics are equal rights, different wars, and environment. It varies from place to place because there are different problems occurring in different areas.
  • Who are some of the most famous artists?
    • Banksy is probably the most famous artist. There are also others such as King Robbo , Miss Van, and Invader. If you wish to find more artists, look at these lists (1, 2) or Google "famous street artists" for many more lists.
  • What are some mediums (painting, sculptures, etc.) the artists use to spread awareness of the problem?
    • Artists use many different mediums. In this PBS video, the artist used paper cutouts to represent what people have taken away from nature (trees, birds' homes). Another common resource is graffiti. It is a way to express your opinion and have others see it without taking it to an exhibition of some sort. This can be shown in this PBS video where street artists make murals in Brazil promoting awareness of the issue of domestic violence against women. Street art, or graffiti, is the most common art type when it comes to speaking about world problems because of the large audience and the possible anonymity.
  • Why do these artists choose to promote awareness of the problem?
    • Many people have personal ties to the problem. The this PBS video tells of a woman that saw many trees around her house cut down. She knew the birds that lived in all of those trees would have nowhere to go, so she tried to raise awareness and tell people that our actions have consequences on the world around us.
  • Are there more artists in certain places around the world?

  • What is so unique/special about Banksy?
    • His art style is very unique. Banksy has the trademark "stencil" art. He is also one of the most (if not the most) followed/favored artists. Many people search for Banksy murals as a hobby.
  • Are musicians artists too? What about "performance" artists? Any others that might be included in the definition of artists?
  • What about artists vandalizing properties? What is your opinion on this?
  • Why don't street artists put their art in a show/exhibit instead of building walls?
  • How do these street artists become well-known (anonymous or not)?

My Questions

  • Does the location of the artist affect what problem they choose (ex. like Columbians singing about the drug war and Americans painting about equality)?
    • Sometimes it does.This news story shows that Brazilians are painting murals against many problems. Some of those problems include domestic violence, war, and how the government's money was used to build a soccer stadium for the World Cup. You can see that the artists are influenced by their location. But artists like Banksy seem to cover broader problems that affect the whole world such as this ABC article.
  • Do the artists donate/help the cause by creating piece of art? Why did they/why didn't they donate/help?
  • Do the artists usually have direct connection with the problem they are spreading awareness of?
    • Not always. In this NPR interview, the artist, Willie Baronet, wasn't homeless at some part of his life. His inspiration came from the guilt he felt when he encountered a homeless person on the streets. However, one artist in PBS video, Panmela Castro, made street art that called attention to domestic violence against women in Brazil. This was a personal connection because she was a victim of domestic violence.
  • How do some of the artists learn about the problem?
    • Artists are sometimes connected in some way to the problems they discuss. This video from PBS tells of an artist that painted and used paper to create nature-related art because people had cut down trees near her house. But some artists like Banksy (in stories like this) cover problems that may not be connected to him such as spying, working conditions (for children), and migration issues.
  • Why haven't more artists chosen to promote a cause in their pieces?

Possible Arguments

  • Argument 1: Should graffiti-designated areas be made to prevent properties from being vandalized/artworks from being removed?
    • Side 1: Yes, we should build areas like that.
    • Side 2: No, we shouldn't build areas like that.

  • Argument 2: Is graffiti art?
    • Side 1: Yes, graffiti is art.
    • Side 2: No, graffiti isn't art.

  • Argument 3: Should graffiti be legal?
    • Side 1: Yes, graffiti should be legal.
    • Side 2: No, graffiti shouldn't be legal.

Annotated Resources

  • Turning negative space into a plea for environmental respect
    • Artists have an opportunity to let people know about a problem
    • The birds are beautiful at first, but then fall into "chaos" in the piece
    • When you take something away from nature (trees), it starts a chain reaction (no homes for birds, then they become endangered, ecosystem is unbalanced,etc.)
    • Why do people take animals' homes away?
  • Handmade Signs From Homeless People Lead To Art, Understanding
    • Some homeless people are optimistic even though they are in a bad situation
    • Artists often do something to help the problem they are spreading awareness for (in this case, giving the homeless money for their signs)
    • Detroit is the only city that Baronet has never seen humorous signs
    • Why do people think the people who have homes and those who don't are different?
  • What do these uploaded videos say about society?
    • Many depictions of crimes that were posted on social media to get likes
    • "N.A." are about modern technology as well as racism and poverty
    • Some videos of police harassment in the distressed neighborhoods
    • Has the "American dream" become similar to an "American illusion"?
  • Graffiti artists take to the streets of Brazil to combat violence against women
    • Domestic violence used to be common in Brazil
    • There was no law against domestic violence
    • Some of the graffiti artists working on the murals were victims
    • Why was domestic violence seen as a personal issue?
  • Banksy mural at Clacton in south-east England removed for being racist and offensive
    • Graffiti covering social issues was removed because it was considered racist and offensive
    • Pigeons with signs like "Go back to Africa" gathered away from a more exotic bird (immigrant)
    • This was commenting on the debate on whether Britain wanted to elect an MP that opposed mass immigration
    • Why do people have problems with people trying to move to another country (possibly to try to start a better life)?
  • Wikipedia - Graffiti
    • Graffiti, a very common type of art used, has been around since Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and the Roman Empire
    • In the U.S., we have strict laws prohibiting this (vandalism) which may be why people often turn to other spots like Asia (has designated graffiti areas)
    • There have been lots of experiments in the field of graffiti like using "regenerative" graffiti
  • British graffiti artist leaves his mark on New York City, controversy too
    • Banksy is a (in)famous street artist that spent a month in New York working onn pranks and street art
    • He wrote an article criticizing the building that replaces the World Trade Center that was destroyed on 9/11 (remarks include "vanilla ... something they would build in Canada," and "It so clearly proclaims the terrorists won.")
    • Some citizens think street art is "a sign of decay and loss of control" while others praise him for being an innovative artist
    • What are some major arguments both sides (people who like and dislike Banksy)?
  • Los Angeles lifts 10-year ban on public murals
    • This ban started because advertisers sued the city claiming it was unfair that street artists could paint murals but they were banned for commercial enterprises
    • In 1970, Los Angeles was a place of many murals about political issues and was one of the "mural capitals" of the world
    • Artists were treated unequally as some of them were able to make murals after the ban was made
    • When the ban was still in place, why were officials letting some artists paint graffiti?
  • Teen poetry program with a purpose
    • Teens can write and preform poetry for contests with the program "WordSpeak"
    • Usually write about equality among all people, violence, and other problems defacing the world today
    • Encourages teenagers to speak their opinions/ideas and help change the world
    • Could these types of programs have an impact on the future (generations)?
  • A gallery in Dubai gives Syrian artists a haven safe from civil war
    • A gallery where artists can safely show and sell their pieces
    • Most of the pieces, such as "Syrian Olympics" (shown at the top of the article), are about issues is Syria
    • Artists are struggling to hold onto the art and culture in Syria as the civil war consumes the country
    • War destroys more than lives and families
  • Graffiti warrior wages war
    • "How do you stop it [graffiti]? That's the question everyone is asking."
    • "Richard Hampson is one of the members of the Anti-Graffti Group, set up by a man who just got sick of seeing buildings being defaced by disrespectful vandals."
    • "I think if all of us join together and become empowered and look after our own little section, it'd be so much easier [says Richard Hampson]"
    • Why do people oppose graffiti?
  • The 50 Greatest Street Artists Right Now
    • Artist Blu, with many political statement murals primarily in Italy, is ranked number 1.
    • Artist Banksy, with commentary on social/political issues using stencils based in the United Kingdom, is ranked number 5.
    • The top 10 artists are mostly based in European countries, like the U.K., Italy, and Germany, or in South American countries, like Brazil and Portugal.
    • Why are most of the higher ranked artists in European/South American countries?
  • Graffiti in Seoul
    • The graffiti found in Seoul if very diverse and is often overlooked as a place to see street art
    • Graffiti used to be illegal in Seoul, but after many projects launched to dissolve resentment towards graffiti, Seoul turned into a canvas for artists
    • Artists paint many cultural and thought-provoking pieces such as the "Before I Die..." piece where people are encouraged to write what they want on the wall
    • Much of the art in Seoul is similar to New York or Los Angeles
  • Domestic violence in Brazil
    • This has information about laws and prevention efforts against domestic violence in Brazil (connects to "Graffiti artists take to the streets of Brazil to combat violence against women" article).
    • In August 2006, the Law of Domestic and Family Violence was signed (it triples the punishment for those who are convicted of this crime).
    • Help stations have been set up where victims can get psychological counseling, shelter, and hospital treatments.
    • The number of crimes reported increased since these efforts to help victims have been established.
  • Syrian Civil War
    • The information in this article shows why the Syrian Civil War started (connects to "A gallery in Dubai gives Syrian artists a safe haven from civil war" article).
    • War started when nationwide protests started against Bashar al-Assad (president of Syria)'s government and Assad met their protests with violence.
    • The rebelling people eventually split into different groups such as the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front (some groups fight with each other).
    • Many people have taken refuge in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq.
  • Plan to bring exhibition glorifying graffiti vandalism to the Brooklyn Museum should be tagged NoWay
    • The author said that the MOCA had a graffiti art exhibition, which is true.
    • They said that the museum was inviting schools to see exhibitions, which is true.
    • Isn't moving some exceptional street art pieces to a museum more cost efficient than spending hundreds of dollars to cover just one graffiti piece on the street?
    • Instead of telling graffiti artists to stop expressing themselves because you don't want it on private property, why not support building graffiti designated areas so both parties are satisfied?
  • The Olympics miss: Why street art should be embraced not snubbed
    • The author said that there were many "exciting artists such as...Pablo Delgado, Christiaan Nagel", which is true according to the official London Street Art website
    • They said that there was a London Festival where there would be installments of street art, which is true.
    • Why do you feel that street art should be more embraced even though artists could paint on objects others don't want painted?
    • Do you think artists should be able to paint over "big companies'" murals if they painted over theirs'? Why or why not?
  • Africa: Women Are Saying - Enough!
    • The abuse/harassment of women is a big problem all over the world
    • Many African women decided to stand up and spread awareness of this ongoing issue using street art, social media (hashtags), marches, etc.
    • One American painter, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, paints women with captions that address this issue and offers to come to many cities to spread the word
    • Why does abuse still happen even though there are many public "campaigns" to raise awareness and eradicate this problem?
  • "Permission walls" help create a canvas for managing graffiti
    • Denver made some "permission walls" for graffitists to legally paint
    • Some people say that these walls will not help decrease vandalism
    • Graffitists organize a community mural and invite people to contribute (" helps build a sense of pride in the neighborhood")
    • Why aren't "permission walls" more wide-spread?
  • NYPD Chief Blasts Museum Over Graffiti Exhibition
    • Museum of the City of New York had "City as Canvas" graffiti exhibition
    • NYPD thinks it is ridiculous to celebrate graffiti and its impact on the city
      because it encourages kids to vandalize
    • Jeffrey Deitch (curator of MOCA graffiti show) says, "The young people who invented this style didn't have access to art supplies. They didn't have a garage at home where they could work on canvases. They had the streets."
    • When and how will graffiti ever be seen as a true form of artistic expression, but not on a conventional canvas?

Resources to Use:
Is Our Art Equal to the Challenges of Our Times?