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.

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