For a Nuanced Appreciation of Urban Creativity

Unveiling the Social Subversion in Street Art and Graffiti

  • Andrea Lorenzo Baldini Nanjing University
Keywords: street art, graffiti, public art, definition, subversiveness, social norms, urban creativity


Why should we have a journal dedicated solely to graffiti and street art? This essay defends the rationale for establishing GSA. Since the rise to prominence of street artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey, there has been renewed interest in urban creativity. In many major cities around the world, city walls have been transformed into canvasses for artistic expression. However, these works do not fall into the same category. Graffiti and street art belong to a specific kind. I argue that graffiti and street art are forms of art whose primary function is to challenge the dominant order of visibility in urban spaces. They embody the art of social subversion. Often, for various reasons, works of official public art are miscategorized as street art. But rather than being subversive, official public art aims at establishing a new order of visibility. It is the art of social change. My interest in developing an account distinguishing between graffiti and street art, on the one hand, and official public art, on the other hand, is not purely theoretical.; it is also practical. I'd like to develop a distinction that can help us better appreciate different types of urban art while also securing discursive and critical spaces that are unique to each kind. Throwing everything into the same pot risks losing some of the unique characteristics of these various art forms. A more nuanced account, instead, may have a positive effect on cultural and urban policies regulating creative expression in the city.