graffiti and the so-called contemporary “street art” movement

We will be concluding the history of California in this class with a brief look into the world of graffiti and the so-called contemporary “street art” movement, particularly in Southern CA. We’ll launch this discussion with a screening of the “documentary” film Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010). Produced and directed by the British street artist Banksy – and featuring California street artists Shepard Fairey (of OBEY fame) and Thierry Guetta (aka “Mr. Brainwash”) – Exit Through the Gift Shop was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Feature Documentary” in 2010, and became incredibly well-known in the independent film and art worlds for its free-wheeling style and borderline-fictive storytelling of the international underground street art movement.

There has been a lot of interesting discourse generated around these “giants” of street art in the years since the release of this film – especially around Banksy and Guetta’s respective roles in the making of the film – which leaves plenty of room for some really fascinating visual culture discussions on our end. This screening will be followed up by a class discussion of the film and an overview of the US history of graffiti art, as well as graffiti in California and the rise of Shepard Fairey’s OBEY street art campaigns.

Below are some questions to consider for this last journal of the semester!

How does Nicholas Alden Riggle define the term “street art” in his essay “Street Art: The Transfiguration of the Commonplaces”? How does he compare and contrast “street art” to “public art”? How does he define the word “street” in “street art”, and how does the “street” directly and indirectly factor into street art? Do you agree with his definitions? Why or why not? Use quotes from the reading and examples of street art from the text and/or from our class discussion to support your ideas.
How does Riggle define “graffiti”? What does he mean by “mere graffiti” versus “artistic graffiti”, and “general” versus “specific” uses of the street with graffiti? Also, how does he distinguish between “street art” and “graffiti” definitionally? What is Riggle’s tone about “street art” vs. “graffiti” vs. “public art” in this essay? Do you agree with these definitions and his overall argument here? Why or why not?
Do you agree with Riggle’s argument that “the meaning of street art outstrips the power of its manifest aesthetic properties”? (250) Why or why not? Is this always the case for street art? What exceptions, if any, can be made? Use quotes/passages from the reading and examples of street art from the text and/or from our class discussion to support your ideas.
What is the relationship of street art to the greater commercial-based art world, according to Riggle and according to your own ideas? Do you think the increasing commercialization of street artists like Banksy and Fairey changes the way we (the audience) perceive the works? Does this aspect of seemingly “selling out” street art diminish or strengthen the art? Why or why not? Use the readings for the week in your journal, with proper citations, to support your ideas.
Does street art inherently exhibit a greater political position or obligation over other forms of art, as Anjali Nath argues in her article on Banksy’s Disneyland Guantanamo piece? How do you think Banksy’s Disneyland piece communicates a political message to its audience (the Disneyland park-goers)? How is context important in this case? Cite quotations from the Nath reading in your journal to support your ideas.


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