<body> Public Ad Campaign: SVA Street Art Discussion
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

SVA Street Art Discussion

My good friend Ava Heller made me aware of a wonderful discussion that took place last night at the School of Visual Arts. The panel included Marc and Sara Schiller of the Wooster Collective, Elbow Toe, Thomas Beale of Honey Space, and Frank Anselmo who teaches "Unconventional: Guerilla Advertising" at SVA. Amy Wilson moderated the talk in which "The panelists will discuss the history of street art, how art and business have blurred on the city streets, and what recent mainstream attention means for the art form: Is it a blessing or a curse?"

I was interested in the fact that art and business blurred on the city streets a long time ago, and how these panelists might define the differences and similarities between the two, if they exist.

Elbow Toe remarked that after ten years of creating ad content he decided to stop pushing product and imbue his life with personal meaning by creating street art. He is a classically trained painter. Marc and Sara Schiller seemed to keep hitting on the idea that "good" street art creates intimate city moments. Shared experiences within the city space where messages or folly were exchanged to the betterment of both parties.

They seemed to be explaining street art as something which is deeply personal for the creator and viewer. The methods and tactics used in street art are all in service of this simple idea of creating an interactive space out of our normal city environment.

My immediate question was what are the problems facing outdoor advertising which uses these same tactics? Does advertising which uses the methods of street art retain a similar potency?

The answer lies in the definition of what that "intimate" moment looks like. Street art tactics often use surprise, serendipity, and amusement to draw in the viewer, creating a space where the unexpected moment becomes a connection between the viewer and what is viewed. That connection defines an interaction in which ideas are exchanged between both parties. Street art, being an offering, asks nothing more of the viewer than to bring what he or she has to bear on the situation. This open ended conversation, started by the artwork, gives in that it provides opportunity without asking for anything in return. Street art advertising, which uses these same tactics of surprise, is different in that the motivation is not an open ended conversation, but the transfer of a singular idea, the recognition of product. The use of street art methods then becomes a wolf in sheep's clothing, drawing you in to relay a message as opposed to invite conversation. The lack of exchange is what renders the moment impotent, not the methods by which it draws you in.

The difference between the two is relatively black and white. Using the same methods, street art manages to invest thought in the public environment while street art advertising attempts to solidify and control thought in the public environment. One gives and one takes. Simple as that.

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