Realistic Aesthetic in Street Art

deTour curated by: Unimelb, 2015

My tour outlines the effect that realistic street art plays on the public, the contrast that can be seen between realistic street art and tagging, and how street art represents disruptive realism.

Realist representations are precise and detailed. They try to create a resemblance to a real person, thing or scene. Realist artwork tries to communicate a message, or a reality, beyond the artistic means of representation. It is argued that realist artworks provide more communication than display; there is “a cognitive as well as an imaginative access to a material” (Millner).

Realism was a popular 19th century French art movement and now realism has proven to be a popular contemporary aesthetic strategy in street art. After walking through the city of Melbourne I have observed a multitude of street art and to me the most profound work was realistic paintings and drawings. Realist aesthetics provide pleasure to the viewer. Realist street art creates a “production of knowledge [and] a sense of communicative bonds through shared knowledge and enjoyment” (Millner). Not only is this art better able to communicate messages to the public but it also appeals to a larger audience. People of every age can enjoy artwork that is beautiful but street art has often been questioned in terms of being beautiful because not everybody loves street art. In the broader sense of things I have noticed that in addition to realist street art, realistic street art is also sending a message to the public, whether it was meant to or not.

In contrast to graffiti in the sense of tags and unreadable letters, street art that looks realistic has created a movement that has reduced the negative connotation that people have attributed to street art. Realistic street art doesn’t require decoding “tags” but rather paints a picture that can speak for itself. It is distinguished by its visual form and figurative nature and is able to appeal to a larger audience, particularly the elderly. For example, the elderly may shake their heads when they see messy tags on parking lot walls but when they see giant, detailed portraits on parking lot walls they are able to actually appreciate the talent behind the art because they are looking at something that is both visually appealing and clearly difficult to create. It is hard for some people to look at tagging or graffiti as real art, but when street art portrays a realistic aesthetic that barrier is broken. This aesthetic “is able to connect with the reader’s own experience, [it] encourages the reader to recognize the work and identify with it;” it seeks to provide visual pleasure, which is evident in contemporary street art (Millner).

Furthermore, I believe the term disruptive realism (coined by the American designer Dave Hoffer) further constitutes the growing appraisal of street artists. This term describes “artificial situations that are designed to seem natural, yet which are so unusual as to be rationally inexplicable” (Millner). Many street art inventions relate to this notion as often the materials or surfaces used are things or areas that could never be looked at as artwork. Street artists are able to create masterpieces out of items you would have never considered to be art before. My tour outlines the effect that realistic street art plays on the public, the contrast that can be seen between realistic street art and tagging, and how street art represents disruptive realism.

Locations for deTour

Walking through Caledonian Lane I stumbled upon this piece and believed it was the perfect start for my tour. Often time people overlook street art as real art because they have a preconceived notion that it is vandalism, which gives it a negative…

I found this piece particularly intriguing because of the evident contrast between “graffiti” and “street art.” Here the artist purposely integrates graffiti/tagging and street art (that appears realistic). It is important to note that both…

Hosier Lane represents an iconic laneway filled with street art of various artists. It is a staple in the world of Melbourne street art and graffiti and over the years layers upon layers have been sprayed on the walls. Walking through this laneway…

When walking through Hosier Lane the walls are completely covered with talented street art and graffiti. However you do reach a spot that leads to another building and parking structure that is gated off. This area of Rutledge Lane stands out because…

The final stop on Hosier Lane looks at trashcans that are covered in graffiti and an area of a wall that uses trash to create street art pieces. This represents my final point of disruptive realism. Using trash to create artwork is a technique that…
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