One of the reasons that the movie “Mona Lisa’s Smile” was so popular is that the main character challenged what was perceived as art. Throughout history there has been a marked difference between what is considered purist and what could be commercialized. For example, Michelangelo was a funded artist; where might the world have been culturally if he had died in the way of Van Gogh? Recently, as cities are working to attract those with the most disposable income, there have been several parts of communities that were deemed as unsightly, and unfortunately some of them have included street art. However, local governments would do well to remember what makes people take notice of a city in the first place, because if all communities look the same, no one has a particular draw over another.
Street art takes not only the same skill as many artists, but requires extensive planning because of the lack of personal ownership of a public space. Most murals are commissioned and require retouches and community agreements. There are parts of the country where people travel just for the street fare because artists are often poorly paid and work other jobs while creating. Sadly, cities such as Phoenix and New York are becoming too expensive for the possibility of undiscovered street artists because of the need to guarantee profits for the owners of the work. Such trends suppress the development of talent as more people consider the practical and begin to rob communities of creativity.
Graffiti is one of the most contentious forms of art not only because of the legal aspects but because of its spectrum. While some may be the territorial markings of street posses, many are the honest expression of people for whom there may be no other outlet. Several artists spend years developing their talents and hours perfecting their skills because art requires personality outside of income. Consequently, graffiti parks have thrived for years and allowed those with few resources to vent some of their frustration.
As it stands, the country is at a crossroad during which local government entities and private interests are discussing whether all communities are for everyone, or if constituents exist at the whims of the moneyed few. More graffiti parks have shut down to make space for “revitalization,” meaning the displacement of those who were able to exist and express in the same place for decades. Art is the soul of the citizenry, and when people take away the soul of a location, desperation becomes much harder to ignore.