Why is Urban Art Inherently Postmodern?

August 21, 2014

To say that urban art is inherently postmodern represents a way to ask some of the most important contemporary questions. Indubitably, urban art is a cultural phenomenon par excellence and does not represent a “product” of postmodernity. Rather, it may be a key to “mapping” how the shift of an epoch has transpired in the face of art history. Surely, contemporary art has a crucial role in the understanding, overcoming, or maybe intensifying, the seemingly perpetual cultural crisis of the postmodern era…

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Mehmet Ali Uysal - Giant wooden clip

The Reality of Today

Let us turn to some of the characteristics of postmodern era that have directly influenced the movement and subculture of urban art. Certainly, it was the role of availability of new techniques that have become a regular ”toolbox” for artists, both those with educational background in art and self-taught artists. Simultaneously, technological achievements and the process of ongoing technological progress have influenced the creative aspect of artists’ work, but also the possibilities of perception by the public. This is one of the key characteristics of the postmodern reality – time and space have been compressed within a whole new global reality of the digitized world. Time and space have become social and cultural constructs, rendering a new paradigm of communication. It is the nature of new media and technology which are not only the ways of achieving creative and artistic goals, but also a source of inspiration – artists today create in constant interaction with the impact of these notions on our reality. Finally, the global transformation of art market, as well as the new space that was now available for street and urban artists, influenced directly the ways of the creative process and the essential approach to art itself. The incentive to become an artist is, for some, in direct relation to the possibility of accessing the space of cultural industries and hyperproduction of the popular culture. These are the stances which not only have an impact on a contemporary artist, but constitute some of the aspects of his or her identity…

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Jeff Koons - Balloon Dog via flickr.com

The Identity of An Urban Artist

If one was to contemplate the ways in which the postmodern era influences an individual, one would almost certainly reach the conclusion of the absence of a ”fixed” identity, the conclusion that identity can be defined only through multiple images of self, which all of us experience in one way or the other. Then, one could only imagine how this realization influences someone who has taken up the role of an urban artist. It is the role of a drifter, a notion Baudelaire had described so poetically. It is a person who is infatuated by the urban life and the sense of freedom that the urban cultural space emanates. These drifters move from city to city, trying to capture the spirit of the culture and, more importantly, through the search for inspiration, trying to capture their own identities. It is a mission of finding one game after another, all the time encountering other players of the everlasting postmodern play. Urban artist is a true reflection of a contemporary notion of identity.

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Marcus Jansen - Surreal, 2006

Creation of Postmodern Meaning

If we are to understand the creative process of urban artwork, there are at least two different aspects: one is in relation to meaning being inscribed in the art piece through the social commentary and ideology of the artist; the other is determined by the value which becomes visible on the market. Indubitably, one influences the other, but how is one to realize what represents a work of art? Is it only reflected on the face of the art market, or is there another plane of reference? When we discussed the characteristics of postmodernity which are in close relation to urban art, we had left out perhaps the most important stance. The importance of ascribing meaning and value to an urban art piece is not only situated in the activity of the art market. There is another integral part of the cultural space of postmodernity. It is reflected in the activities and inspiring possibilities of artistic collaboration, independent galleries, art communities as well as the nature of new cultural institutions, both virtual and actual. This could be the space for understanding a work of art and differentiating it from the hype-created symbolic product with a temporary market value. Therefore, this is the question: is urban art going to be overwhelmed by the senseless reproduction of symbols, or in fact a meaningful tool for understanding the situation of our (post)postmodern reality?

All images used for illustrative purposes only