Welcome to rdamstreetartguide!

Thank you for picking up the Rotterdam Street Art Guide. We hope you enjoyed your walk through Rotterdam along some of the finest free artworks.

Here you will find some more background information on street art.


Street art (AKA urban art, guerrilla art, post-graffiti, neo-graffiti) is a visual art form that is created in public locations, usually unsanctioned artwork executed outside of the context of traditional art venues such as studios or galleries. It gained popularity during the graffiti art boom of the early 1980s, with leading street artists from the mid-1970s such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring in the US. Modern examples of street art include stencil graffiti, wheatpaste poster art, sticker art, street installation or sculpture.

By using urban areas as their canvas, street art is often motivated by the preference of the artist to communicate directly with the public, free from the ‘rules’ and conventions of the formal art world. Street artists like Banksy and Dolk sometimes present socially relevant content that is infused with aesthetic value, either to attract attention to a cause or as a form of “art provocation”. Trajtenberg (2014) mentions that with various types of knowledge, artists create their work with the awareness of aesthetic and possibly political purposes in their actions.

How it all began


Street art developed itself around the time of Popart. Modernism had separated art and life by insisting that the significance of art could solely be found in a work’s aesthetic properties instead of its representational, social or metaphorical content. The Popart movement challenged this idea by abandoning the modern distinction between art and life. Popart artists entered the post-modern art world by allowing everyday objects to enter the art world; the museum, gallery and conversation about art. However, street art showed another response to modernism by doing exactly the opposite of Popart artists. Instead of bringing the everyday into art, they brought art into the everyday. Thus it can be argued that street art is neither postmodern nor post post-modern, but a completely other response to modernism parallel to postmodernism (Riggle, 2010).

          What’s also important to keep in mind is the context in which street art developed itself. First of all, street art was a call to hack the urban landscape that consisted of heavy advertising and controlled visibility. The motivation was to insert images in urban space that challenged the corporate-government monopoly of visible expressions. Street artists wanted to show that there can be other images on the streets coexisting with advertising. Secondly, street art emerged in a time of urbanization and globalization (it’s no surprise that street art is mostly visible in global world cities). In many ways, street art responded to the emergence of these big cities with high concentrations of people, capital and buildings and information. Street artists wanted to interrupt the large amount of homogeneous public spaces in modern cities with local and place-bound gestures (Irvine, 2012).

Street art as an avant-garde movement

Street art can be perceived as avant-garde, intending to break with the current, traditional forms of art and confines of the museum, gallery, or indoor environment. Instead of using a usual canvas or paper to construct their work, artists rely on urban spaces or walls to do so. Before making their work, artists either practice with notebooks or “Blackbooks”, or at a hidden area such as an abandoned factory or warehouse (Trajtenberg, 2010). Street art (especially uncommissioned and illegal pieces) is also still created under totally different social conditions; such as in secret at night, and may also be subjected to outdoor weather conditions. This makes street art requiring more effort in constructing “different ways of imagining, mapping, using, mediating and making urban space” (Iveson, 2010).


          Street art also reveals a closer relationship with the outside environment, through the use of walls or gaps of a building or the street itself. Through street art, there is a call and response relationship between the artwork itself and with “existing aesthetics of the urban landscape”, treating streets as an “open source for urban design” for artists to “edit” in a broader environment (Burnham, 2010). Street art can therefore be seen as innovative, experimental and maybe even radical.

          Furthermore, street artists push the boundaries of what is acceptable, challenging the status quo. Using a public space, streets contained “renewed strategic significance for emerging social control efforts, for corporate branding strategies, and for radical politics” (Iveson, 2010). Street art here may be seen as both acceptable and/or unacceptable to some members of society, be it authorities, companies, gatekeepers in art or the public masses. Street art has also been frowned upon as a problem rather than treated as an art form, being quoted by Glazer and Kelling as “another form of anti-social behaviour threatening “community values”” (Iveson, 2010).  This results in an ongoing debate over whether street art should be acceptable or not in society.


          Even though there are plenty of arguments supporting the idea that street art can be perceived as avant-garde, there’s also a line of thought supporting the opposite. This is especially the idea that street art used to be avant-garde, but isn’t anymore. Since street art is slowly becoming more institutionalized it might not be so innovative and experimental any longer. Take for example Lastplak, an artist we featured in the Rotterdam Street Art Guide. Their work is not always illegal anymore, as institutions like the city government allow or even commission their work. And of course there is the argument that street art nowadays can be found in galleries and museums, which counteracts one of the initial aspects of street art that makes it avant-garde.

Street art and its impact on society


It’s also interesting to briefly highlight some of the impacts street art has on society. The mere act of creating street art already has an effect on the world we live in. It challenges the authorities, as street art is often illegal, and the mainstream status quo. Even if the work of art itself conveys a positive message, it’s still inherently politically charged because the work is made to protest the privatization of the public environment. In contrast to traditional art, which can stimulate us to think about the world, street art takes it one step further by actually inserting the art into the ordinary world. It might seem very obvious but it’s worth mentioning that by placing works of art in the street, street art changes the streets we live in. Street art literally changes our world (Bacharch, 2015). And as street art breathes life into walls, it stimulates conversation among communities. Passersby are forced to reflect on what they see and become aware of their surroundings. In this way, street art is a powerful tool for inspiring, energizing, generating morale and raising the spirits of the public. As a voice for engagement, street art may even lead to activism and in turn might have political power (Gleaton, 2012).