The Changing Voice of Graffiti Art

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

Mick Ebeling's TEDTalk tells us about graffiti artist Tony Quan, whose tag name is Tempt One or Tempt 1.

Tony had no voice.

In fact, except for the ability to move his eyes, Tony was paralyzed in 2003, at the young age of 34, by a degenerative nerve disorder, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Yet, thanks to Mick Ebeling, a Venice-based animation studio executive with seed funding from the "who's who" of the of the graffiti world, a new invention was developed called the "EyeWriter", a device that allows ALS sufferers to control a computer with the movement of their eyes.

It took seven years, but the EyeWriter gave Tony a voice again. It gave him the ability to practice his unique art and to exhibit his work once again at some of LA's prestigious galleries and museums.

The EyeWriter, developed by Free Art and Technology, openFrameworks, and Graffiti Research Labs (GRO), according to Fast Company magazine "combines eye-tracking hardware and GRO's famed L.A.S.E.R. tagging system, which uses a laser pointer and an LED projector to create virtual graffiti as big as a building" and is "meant to provide a creative outlet to anyone who is disabled."

Mick's story and Quan's amazing reentry to the art world make us pause, make us marvel... and make us dream. -- John M. Eger

The EyeWriter brings man and machine in harmony. By the invention of the EyeWriter, the power of technology and will of the human spirit are wed.

Mick Ebeling challenges everyone to think of the impossible and make things happen. Surely we have reached the stage of technological prowess where if you can think something, you can do it. Mick's story and Quan's amazing reentry to the art world make us pause, make us marvel... and make us dream. The human need to communicate that Quan felt so strongly, and our need to hear him as he expresses himself through his art also make us think about the power of the art form too.

Artists everywhere have been using street art -- some legal, some not -- to express themselves for years. These are mostly artists who, in the best tradition want to see change in the world, change in public perceptions or government attitudes and actions. Street art, sometimes called graffiti, is a vehicle for people the world over to express themselves. It is also a vehicle that gives a community a sense of place and an identity.

From the Berlin Wall separating East Germany from West Germany, to the "democracy wall" in Beijing, people have used street art to demonstrate some of their most poignant frustrations and concerns about the world.

Even in Afghanistan, street art, stencil art specifically, has popped up on several walls across Kabul over the past few years. Under the cover of night, artists take to the streets of Kabul. Armed with stencils, spray paint and cameras. "The youth of Afghanistan," as Shannon Galpin, president of Mountain2Mountain, a nonprofit that creates education and opportunity for women and girls in Afghanistan, noted, "are finding their voice."

Now so-called street art and street artists have entered the mainstream as museums in some of America's largest cities are showcasing the work from artists like Quan, and JR -- who won a $1 million TED prize for putting what has been described as "a human face to the most impoverished areas of the world" -- to Banksy, a more subversive graffiti artist whose works have been found on streets, walls and bridges of cities throughout the world. Such artists have been speaking out to the delight of millions.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego (MCASD) had an exhibition called "Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape," which hosted twenty artists from ten countries who were linked together by how their work addresses urban issues.

And the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) hosted an exhibition called "Art in the Streets" that traced "the development of graffiti and street art from the 1970s to the global movement it has become today." The exhibition featured "paintings, mixed media sculptures, and interactive installations by 50 of the most dynamic artists in America.

In San Diego, the artists' work was featured in locations throughout the city's downtown. On buildings, vehicles, and the surface of public streets throughout the San Diego, the art lived and breathed.

In public consciousness, MOCA and MCASD raised the bar on exhibition and in the process, made it clear that the relationship between art, the artist and our communities tells the story of us. Mick Ebeling's story of Quan's reentry into public consciousness also tells us what it means to be alive... and to listen to the messages of the artist, the artist inside us all.

Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today's most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or email to learn about future weekend's ideas to contribute as a writer.