There’s a certain group of street artists, a group whom I tend to admire, who make art to give a gift to the rest of the world. These artists create spectacles. These artists attempt to make the world a better place by putting their art into it. These artists increase the amount of wonder in our everyday lives. This group includes artists like Swoon, Mark Jenkins and the performers in Improv Everywhere.And then later on:
Maybe the angle of Underbelly as a “street art” project is all wrong. The Underbelly Project is not really a street art project or a mural project. Workhorse and PAC know how to organize mural projects. They know what large street art mural projects look like: lots of artists painting in daylight in very public spaces, usually over the course of a few days, and interacting with curious members of the public. The Underbelly Project is something else. If it’s something else, it should be held to a different (but not necessarily higher or lower) standard.
The Underbelly Project should be compared to the work of the street artists and graffiti writers who paint in abandoned factories. Very few people will ever see those murals in the flesh, but that does not make them any less impressive. Murals in abandoned factories are not gifts to the world in the same way that it is a gift when Swoon commands a flotilla down the Mississippi, but there’s still something valuable about them.
Aren’t artists allowed to enjoy themselves? It is selfish on the part of fans to say that street artists can only paint outdoors in spaces where lots of people will see the work. The Underbelly Project, like murals in abandoned spaces, was a space for artists to experiment and be free. That’s where the project was an astounding success: In a culture where artists are constantly under pressure to perform and sell and promote, The Underbelly Project stripped all that away and brought the artists back to making art for the sake of making art, which is just as much a part of the street art spirit as giving gifts to the public. Street art is about anybody being able to make art and just getting out and doing it for the love of making, rather than for the sake of a paycheck.