Jun 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Street art becomes a political force

A person writing defund police in graffitti.
Photo: John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Crises always hit the poor worse than the rich. The art world, however, might be an exception. Museums and galleries are struggling, but street-level artists are more visible then ever.

Why it matters: Street art has been recognized as an important part of art history for decades, and it has always been political-with-a-small-p. The current protests, however, have elevated the art form to a fully-fledged political force.

How it works: Black Lives Matter protests were initially accompanied by looting, which caused businesses to board up their windows with plywood. That in turn was the catalyst for an explosion of political street art.

  • It didn't take long for the new artistic movement to be legitimized and/or co-opted by politicians and corporations painting slogans on their streets and storefronts. Expect an official Black Lives Matter mural outside Trump Tower any day now, to match the one near the White House.
  • New York magazine realized that the best way to demonstrate the unpopularity of Mayor Bill de Blasio was simply to wheatpaste his picture onto the streets of the city, and let New Yorkers express themselves naturally.
  • The Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia, will soon come down — covered in paint and anti-racist graffiti.

The bottom line: Most high-profile art in recent years has been elitist, sealed within a bubble of wealth and privilege. Those days are over. The defining art of 2020 is distributed, anonymous, and much more powerful.

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