Street Art: A Form of Political Activism or Vandalism?

Chloe Saharic, Online Editor

Street art, often in the form of graffiti on the walls of urban streets, has become a popular way for citizens to show their opinion on politics in our current society. It is a form of art that many people can do, including Prep students and world famous artists.

“If I had to define street art, I would say it is nongang related murals painted or drawn as a way of artistic expression throughout the city. True street murals aren’t painted for no reason or in areas where it is inappropriate to,” says Senior Jillian Bankaitis.

Bankaitis is a street artist herself and loves it because “I just feel like it’s the best and most accurate way I can artistically express myself. It’s a rare art for people to practice and I like being unique in this way. Because I usually have to paint alone, graffiti is a way in which I destress and have fun, especially going to a school like Prep.”

Bankaitis’ inspiration to paint came from Chris Brown, and the many art pieces he has posted on Instagram. One aspect of street art she does not like is the negative connotation it receives. “For most people, I am the first person they know who paints graffiti that isn’t the classic crusty troublemaker…I have even had someone come up to me and say that I really changed their perspective on street art because I do it legally and for fun, not for destruction. The issue is the fact that street art is more common in areas high in crime and is associated with gang behavior,” Bankaitis said.

Recently, one of the most famous and talked about street artists has been Banksy. Located in England, but performing his many “tricks” around the globe, Banksy is an anonymous street artist who is recently best known for shredding his own piece of artwork at an auction, called Sotheby’s, after it sold for $1.4 million in early October. The artwork, entitled Girl With Balloon, has much debate on its interpretation. It depicts a young girl trying to catch a red heart-shaped balloon that is floating away in the wind. The artwork is captioned, “There is always hope.” Banksy does not explain the meaning behind the art pieces, which leaves the interpretation of his art up to the individual.

When asked about this event, Bankaitis said, “I think him shredding his painting was dope. People get so caught up in price tags and trends that meaning is often lost. I’m sure, with the type of artist Banksy is, the shredding was an act of protest.”

Onlookers of the event were in shock as seen in a video of the shredding event was posted on Instagram. After the video came out, there was much speculation about who installed the shredder, how it was activated, and why someone would do this. Many of these questions were answered after Banksy posted a video on his website entitled “Shredding the Girl and Balloon – The Director’s half cut.” In the video, Banksy showed himself installing the shredder into the base of the picture frame at the auction. It also showed an anonymous person pressing a button on a remote control, which prompted the frame to shred the artwork.

After the event, Banksy posted a video on Instagram of the event, which he captioned “’The urge to destroy is also a creative urge,’ -Picasso.”

Some people have said that after this incident, the artwork is worth more. When hearing this, Nora Conaty ’22 said, “I agree with this statement because there has been a lot of attention from the public about it, so it is probably more valuable.”

Much of the street art during the 2016 presidential election depicted President Trump and Hillary Clinton either in a positive or negative light, depending on the artists’ ideology. Now, as the nation approaches the 2018 midterm elections, many artists take the streets to share their opinion of the current administration. Some of these art pieces include graphics that encourage eligible citizens to vote and increase their political participation.

Bankaitis says she thinks that street art has the potential to play a role in our current political society, but it is not seen as a serious form of protest. “There are not very legitimate artists around the world in general so there is not enough content going around to truly influence our politics. Europe does a better job of using street art in society than America does.”

According to Bankaitis, “street art is very cool and is one of the best ways to reach the public with art, but at this point in time it is not extremely influential in our world. Without street art, artists wouldn’t have this extra avenue of expression and I think the more opportunities to express, the better.”