Selling Street Art: The Case For And Against
To say street art exists as a reaction would belie the origins of artistry. While over the past few hundred years street art has challenged the mainstream, art existed long before there were art galleries. The oldest evidence of art was found on cave walls, not canvases.
Nonetheless, in today’s world, street art plays an important part in the rebellion against the status quo. Artists whose works would never appear in a ‘serious’ museum play to a much larger audience on public buildings and sidewalks. Street art is a means of expression unfiltered by ideas of profit or social capital.
All of which is why the sale of street art is such an odd concept to many. Today, you can buy works by some of the greatest street artists. Artists are finding ways to detach their works from the canvas so that they can sell it to collectors. You can even get insurance for art that covers the street art you bring home. To purists, it seems like a betrayal of the very ethos of street art.
Should street art be sold or does that go against its entire purpose? There are cases both for and against.
For: Street artists need to eat
The image of the starving artist has captivated society for hundreds of years, but most starving artists at least have the chance of turning their fortunes around. Even if they do not become famous, they may start selling some of their work, bringing in enough money to live comfortably. For street artists, the opportunities are few and far between.
Is compromise inevitable once you start selling street art? Probably. But street artists need to eat, too, and the alternative is generally working a soul-crushing day job, wasting precious time that they could use to create more art.
Against: Intentions are compromised
One of the biggest drawbacks of the sale of street art becoming commonplace is that artists’ intentions become compromised. People who once made street art to express their unfiltered creativity inevitably start to think of the opportunities. Instead of creating artwork that is uniquely theirs, they start creating something that might catch the attention of a buyer.
The greatest achievement of capitalism is to turn everything into a commodity. Even anti-capitalist statements become products. When you can spend the same currency on street art as on a TV, something fundamental is lost.
For: Make a difference
Some street artists just want to express themselves. Others want to fight for a cause. They create art that sends a message. The most powerful messages come from art.
Selling street art not only gives artists the chance to find a wider audience, but also gives them the funds to commit to fighting for their cause. They can create more art, perhaps even using their art to raise funds for their cause.
Against: The next crop of street artists
Once the sale of street art becomes widespread, a generational problem emerges. One generation started off making art for its own sake. The next generation starts making art for fame and fortune. It becomes mainstream and is ultimately lost as a form of protest.
For: It lasts longer
There have been endless street art masterpieces around the world throughout the years. Some of them have been photographed or captured in some other way. Most have been lost to the inherent impermanence of the form. Of course, this impermanence is part of what makes street art so powerful, but sometimes street art deserves to be seen far and wide.
Against: The wealthy triumph
What is the best way to stifle something you don’t like, whether an important cause or a simple means of expression? Throw money at it. Governments and corporations have used this approach since time immemorial to silence agitators. Once you start selling something that originated as a form of process, you open yourself up to this. A powerful statement about the 1% is bought by the 0.1%, erasing the message simply by compromising it.
There can be no hard and fast rules about selling street art. In some ways, it is a natural and necessary evolution. In others, it serves as an indication that the soul is gone. In the end, it comes down to individual artists.