Some people say that graffiti dates back to cave men writing on walls in prehistoric times. Indeed, man's desire to create art with the surroundings seems inherent. And while this desire has never diminished, the ability to express one's self has grown far beyond simple scrawling on walls, so much so that currently, the street art genre is the largest art movement in the history of the world. It is an active genre that it is still developing, and at this stage in time the modern street art movement has witnessed three distinct generations of artists -- the pioneers, the soldiers and the fame bangers.
The pioneers weren't the first ones on the streets, they were the first to utilize the streets in a way that has formed the modern movement. Forefathers of street art, artists like Blek le Rat, Banksy, and Shepard Fairey differentiated from the letter based, aerosol tenements of graffiti. Instead of relying solely on spray paint, the early street artists utilized many different mediums like stencils, wheat paste, and installations. The pioneers' methods can be accredited with intensifying the interaction between street art and the public by engaging people in entirely new ways with site specific pieces. The message was different than graffiti, where instead of just writing a name, which some might say is noble vandalism in its own right and rooted in humans' primal desire to mark one's habitat, street art served to, at its best, interact with the environment and the public through the art on a whole new level. The mediums employed by the street art pioneers have become the foundation of modern street art.
The second generation of street artists was made up of soldiers. For these artists, being on the streets was a battle. Soldiers learned from the pioneers and combined the new street art mediums with ideals rooted in graffiti. The plan of attack was to build power through repetition of images. It was about one artist going out alone, getting up as much as possible, and it was serious business. Most soldiers developed their own unique aesthetic, and even if there was a new piece by a particular artist, it would be clear whose work it was due to the distinct and individual style. Like graffiti, the soldiers' art thrived in back alley ways and derelict spots. The goal was to interact with the city, and it did not matter how many people saw it. Very anti-advertising, the second generation was characterized by billboard takeovers and advertisement interruptions. Soldiers were expected to put in years of work on the streets before ever being invited into a gallery. The second generation is when street art was punk, and some of the punk soldiers who got up during this time in Los Angeles include Skullphone, Smog City, Euthanasia, Shark Toof, Cat Cult, and Seizer.
Street art continued to rise in popularity, so much so that the third generation of street artists seemed to be drawn more to the popularity and marketing potential street art had to offer, rather than the streets themselves. Many were inspired by the street art documentary film, Exit Through the Gift Shop and took to the streets after witnessing how the protagonist, Mr. Brainwash, a cameraman first and a horrible editor at that, how he then transformed into a street artist, and subsequently became one of the most vaunted artists in the world. The road to glory seemed so easy. It seemed like the streets and a few iconic pop art images were the only ingredients it took in the recipe to become famous. A groundswell of fresh artists became motivated by the this appeal. The third generation of street artists is the Fame Bangers. Simply put, fame bangers want the fame.
Fame Bangers get up in high profile spots, and want pictures of themselves doing it. Pieces are always on the electrical boxes on the main streets, and never in the alley ways. Fame bangers don't have the same appreciation for the urban landscape, and don't understand the rules of the streets as the previous generations of street artists. That is, they don't understand how and why things go where they do, when they get up. These are the artists who place pieces the middle of a mural or on the front window of a business. And then they email a pic to the blogs to post. Anonymity is a game for the third generation of street artists, but it is not paramount and a handful even use their actual names for their street art. Quantity trumped quality, and during the era of third generation of street art, the streets were thick with more people getting up than ever before. Unlike the pioneers and soldiers, fame bangers travel in groups, mobbing with amped up energy, thus earning the 'bangers' part of their title. Like MBW, fame bangers rely heavily on iconic pop art concepts much more often than creating their own imagery. They also don't fight aggressively against advertising. Fame bangers don't even hate it. This was a generation raised with branding, and some even like advertising and identify with it, viewing their art as an extension of that mind set. The goal for most fame bangers is to make it into a gallery, and the artists that could scamper into galleries left the streets behind. The third generation of street artists seems to be slowing to a sputtering end after the wave of fame bangers came through, and yet no fame bangers have became famous.
Critics might now bemoan that the art is not as pure as it once was, but the third generation of street art did succeed in bringing the genre mainstream success. There has been a swing in the pendulum, and for the first time, the general public has embraced street art as something beyond mere vandalism. More pieces get protected, mainstream newspapers have begun to campaign against harsh punishments for street artists who have been arrested, and in a move to encourage more public art, the city of Los Angeles became motivated to revamp its mural regulations. It seems like society as a whole has begun to appreciate street art as the art that it is, and realize that a city looks better because of it. Humans will always have the urge to put art in their environment, and these early generations of artists are still composing the formative stages of the biggest art movement in the history of the world. The streets feel more open than ever. Perhaps the current climate and the 'welcoming' nature of the streets have set the stage for the upcoming fourth generation of street artists...