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Adopting and Coopting Urban Art

The Grunge line from Marc Jacobs drew its look from the art and fashion Marc Jacobs saw in the streets. Soon, upscale designers also began looking to the city to feel the energy of urban art and using the street art they see as their inspiration. Prominent designers such as Versace, Alexander McQueen, Lanvin, Louis Vuitton, and Hermes have been inspired by urban art, as have filmmakers and other artists.

Urban art’s content celebrates the soul of the city it represents. Originally it was crafted by city-dwelling artists who had an intrinsic affection for the atmosphere and highly energized pace of city life and want to celebrate and enhance it. Now, though, street art’s influence has spread. The fashion industry isn’t the only one to adopt the urban art aesthetic—filmmakers have also embraced urban themes.

Art films and independent filmmakers borrow from street art as they speak to audiences who want more than escapism from a movie. These filmmakers incorporate the sense of “in-your-face” social realism that permeates urban art.

Urban Art in Its Rawest and Most Curated Forms

The visual aspects of urban art can be traced back to the most “raw” form of street art, graffiti. Graffiti is created by scribbling, scratching, or spray painting words, names, tags, or symbols on public structures and walls. Graffiti can contain a code or message for other graffiti writers and not for public interpretation. While not all graffiti rises to the level of art, true graffiti artists create imagery that stirs the senses of the public. It influences, informs, entertains, and sometimes socially or politically motivates the community.

High-quality street art, whether based in graffiti or not, can be thought-provoking, uplifting, multi-layered, and intricate. Often, it is inspired by architecture and other urban themes. Its placement within the city is often unusual and surprising. Discovery of this work is an integral part of the experience. It isn’t a stretch to find urban artwork built from discarded old doors, tucked into an alleyway, or covering a concrete wall to blend with the natural landscape. The art can even be found on sidewalks or curbs. Urban artists are aware of their work’s often fleeting existence, knowing it can be painted or built over at any time. Sometimes they even use temporary media such as chalk to both acknowledge and confront the precariousness of urban art.

But there is a counter-movement against the evanescence of street art. Urban artists are now bringing their work inside. Galleries and museums attract audiences from around the world who have taken an avid interest in this evolving are form. The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art has exhibited works of urban art from almost every continent, as have a number of prestigious museums throughout the world. The tension between the counterculture of street art and the high-dollar world of traditional art collecting will continue to play out in coming years.