By Kainoa Garo, Nethan Sivarapu, Maxwell Taniguchi-King and Ian Vu
Functioning as a foundation and reinforcing the network of cultures, art is the crucial factor that enables us to express our passions. While walking the streets of downtown San Jose, said art is found on virtually every corner.
In many cases, this art appears in the form of visual art, in which pieces are produced and displayed in public locations. This is recognized as street art, where, oftentimes, positions regarding specific ideologies are demonstrated.
Pieces of art, seen while driving through the streets of countless cities, have influenced a considerably large amount of the world’s opinions. Whatever the effects of street art are, they have occurred for centuries.
According to Smithsonian magazine, the action of marking walls with art has occurred for more than 35,000 years, making street art a form of art generated from thousands of years in the making. Despite this, the appearance of this type of art in cities is quite recent.
The first signs of graffiti (not to be confused with street art and believed to have been started in 1967) were created by a young man named Darryl McCray, known by his tag name, Cornbread. In an effort to capture a girl’s attention, the Philadelphian high schooler began tagging city walls. KQED claims that only decades later, during the 1980s, did street art get the respect and attention it deserves.
According to Google Arts & Culture, as graffiti became popularized, it spread across the nation and the globe, quickly branching into various genres. From this, modern street art emerged, as it too quickly branched into various types.
Graffiti artists began using stencils for portraits and landscapes and created public murals. Specific names such as Barry McGee, Taki 183 and Keith Haring revolutionized street art, leading and growing street art into the very form it takes today.
Born and raised in San Francisco, McGee “is considered to be one of the most pivotal members of the street art movement.” Invaluable claims he utilized large, bold cartoon figures in ways that drew awareness to the homeless population in the Bay Area.
The new form of expression on the street started spreading internationally in the 1980s. According to Invaluable, Blek le Rat pioneered street art in France; for Britain, it was a man who went by Banksy.
As the years advanced, street art evolved immensely and will continue to do so. Downtown San Jose demonstrates the history of street art, in addition to the ever-changing current state of it.
As residents and visitors walk across the downtown area, they marvel at both the quality and quantity of street art. Pieces include everything from painted electrical boxes to large-scale murals covering an entire wall.
See below for a look at the San Jose street art scene:
Art directly influences the people who experience it. Whether or not that influence is beneficial depends greatly on how different people receive the artist’s intentions. Nick, (a San Jose pedestrian who asked to be identified solely by his first name), said the positive or negative effects of street art on society depend on its origin.
“I think it depends on the street art. I think it depends on who made the street art; if it’s paid legally, if it’s hired by an artist. I think- I think if it’s hired, I think it’s good. It promotes – different viewpoints,” he explained. “There’s a – the artist has a canvas to convey their thoughts. So it’s good in that it promotes expression. Even if it’s illegal, even if someone is graffiting. So I see it as a benefit, yeah.”
The topic of public street art, especially the illegal aspect of it, has been controversial since the birth of graffiti. While paid murals are completely legal, producing street art on a property without the permission of the owner is not permitted.
The argument that, while this style of street art is considered vandalism it enables artists to express themselves and communicate their viewpoints, is a strong point. Disputes concerning the advantages of criminal street art occur consistently as many hold strong opinions on the issue.
Art, in turn, also affects society, changing the artist and what they are attempting to convey. Nick communicated his thoughts on that as well.
“Looking around I see a lot of street art; I see that street art is big here. So I would say that it promotes it – people seem to be OK with street art and seem to like it and seem to want to want it all over.”
This holds true in nearly every city, as society takes its toll on the surrounding art. Events and attitudes, such as political views, play substantial roles on the exact message artists carry.
Street art seems to weave itself within society, solidifying as an everlasting piece in the network. Subsequently, the society that surrounds street art affects every art piece.
Ethan, another San Jose pedestrian who asked to be identified solely by his first name, summed up the difficulty of categorizing street art: “Street art allows people to have the room to be creative and to express themselves freely … like all things, you could express a positive emotion or express a negative emotion.”