The first time I saw street art, I was 14. I marveled at its aesthetic and knew it would be the perfect way to start curating my cool, edgy persona on my Instagram. As with most things that you discover at a young age, I wasn’t quite able to conceptualize or intellectualize what I was truly looking at. Being pretentious is a learned habit, it seems. As I grew older, my affinity for street art grew in tangent with my mother’s, prompting me to think more critically about what the art I looked at represented.
It began to click once I read the journals of Keith Haring. Despite his early death due to AIDS, the impact and imagery of his art continue to grow — his art and iconography are still seen everywhere, from city streets in Paris to Urban Outfitters graphic tees. Throughout his career, Haring’s prevailing philosophy was that art was meant for everyone. Not just those who would attend galleries and museums and their paywalls, but for anyone and everyone. In the 1980s, his art could be found in New York City subway stations and other public locations around the world.
But Haring’s beliefs as an artist are not ubiquitously shared throughout the art world. Andy Warhol’s major works are estimated at a price point well beyond millions. A betrayal to his legacy, his original pieces now retail for thousands of dollars. The art market has always confused me. How do we assign value to art? Arbitrary supply and demand curves seem to lack the depth needed to analyze the inherent worth of creativity. How, then, do we differentiate high art from the rest? It seems to lie in its accessibility.
This transcends physical paintings and murals, and can particularly be seen when comparing television and films.
In the early days of television, TV production was looked down upon as it was often cheaper and easier — notoriously referred to as a “vast wasteland.”’ However, in the past few years, with high-quality networks and companies such as Showtime , HBO and Netflix moving into production and putting more emphasis on television, the production quality has risen immensely, creating television shows that mirror films. “Stranger Things” season four spent $30 million per episode, not entirely off from the average $50 to 100 million budget of Hollywood movies. So now, it seems the only thing differentiating movies and television is accessibility.
Television shows are often widely made available either on cable networks or streaming platforms. While the same can be said for some movies, films that come out on the big screen and straight into the Criterion closet aren’t pieces of art seemingly meant to be enjoyed by the masses. The same goes for Van Goghs and Da Vincis that hide behind glass panels and expensive museum admission. Street art and television create power through access to the arts that is not so limiting.
While many may view television, film or museum visits as a simple way to pass the time, the artistry and craft that goes into the production and creation of art are immense, in both tangible and intangible ways. Referring to people as “cultured” seemingly has a socioeconomic barrier. If someone is “more cultured,” more understanding of the complex world around us due to the art that they consume, it should be accessible to all. Art prompts us to think, and to reflect upon the world around us. We all exist in this world and are all privy to what it details. We all deserve to enjoy a little beauty in the form of man-made creations.
As reflected in street art, there is beauty and a great equalization through art accessibility. As a society, we are losing the ability to connect with one another in neutral spaces on neutral topics. Water-cooler shows bring us together and help us relate to one another.