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Posts tagged ‘art’

Graffiti: Opportunities For Young Artists To Become Successful

In the last few years, there has been lots of news about graffiti artists showing in galleries and museums because currently there is a new visibility, respect, and cool factor to the art form. For example, a recent article from the Huffington Post tells all about a project in the Bronx of New York City in which “a block-long limestone mansion originally built as a welfare hotel for the retiring rich invites streetwise graffiti artists and others to gild its decayed rooms”. In 1915 a NY millionaire named Andrew Freedman died and left his money to build a mansion for the former wealthy to live in when they become poor so they could still have a wealthy lifestyle. The space is about twice the size of the white house, and since becoming a landmark in ’84 has been decaying and falling apart, which is ironic because the once lavish home of the disadvantaged wealthy has become the crumbling venue of street artists to display their work.

sneak peek at a room from the "This Side of Paradise" show

“At the same time in the late 70s and early 80s when this home’s original purpose was failing you had the rise of Bronx graffiti,” says Keith Schweitzer, the curator of the show.

"Wildstyle" Graffiti, 1983

Part of the idea behind this show is to “revitalize the community” and the show is called This Side of Paradise. “With a few heavyweight street art and graffiti names bringing these rooms to life, it’s interesting to see their role as one of contributing in a positive way here where the emergence of a global ‘Wildstyle’ graffiti first blossomed while entire neighborhoods burned.”

The project makes a funny kind of reversal of classes and time: “the role of the artist rising from the ashes of the burned-out neighborhoods then and an art show in the decay of this home now”.

Although this article makes no mention of minorities or youth, it does talk about class lines and how graffiti art, an art of the lower classes, can transcend that line. I would like to reference another article from PBS News which reviews a new book about the history of American graffiti. This article says that contemporary American graffiti really had its start in the early 70’s when kids started tagging city walls. It has always been a movement grounded in youth culture, especially teenage. “Young people were the key players in shaping the contemporary graffiti movement” says Neelon, one of the authors of the book. He goes on to say that graffiti is “by definition a defiant and public exhibition” and “there’s an earned respect and craft to graffiti work done outside in the streets”. This can be a problem for moving this kind of work from the outside to a gallery because often it will not translate well into a different setting. However, Neelon says that “artists who master the craft of painting on the street can create perhaps even greater work in studio settings, where they have more time, resources and don’t have to worry about the weather or the police. What they might lose is the volume of people who see their work on a regular basis”. Because of the current popularity of street art, many museums and organizations are trying to develop niches for bringing the art into a new space. I think the abandoned house graffiti project is a really great idea of a way to bring graffiti art into the high art world because it remains authentic, does not get lost in translation, allows the artists to have time and resources, allows them to spread to other mediums, and is run by a museum so it attracts a high art crowd but is in an abandoned building so also attracts the public.

A piece by Basquiat, titled "Baptism", 1982

Robin Kelley mentions that young graffiti artists in the 70s were also sometimes able to sell their work to local merchants and community organizations, “and a handful enjoyed fleeting success in the Soho art scene” (418). He goes on to talk about graffiti organizations serving to expose young artists to galleries and dealers, but “those who tried to branch out beyond graffiti were often discouraged, and gallery and museum directors who invited them to show their work tended to treat them in an incredibly disrespectful manner” (418). I would argue with this in the present because galleries today are really trying to be respectful of street art, one example being the project in the first article which shows graffiti artists branching out to other mediums and exhibiting their work through an organization while keeping it in a public space. Kelley also says that “ ‘high art’ critics viewed graffiti as the embodiment of an aggressive masculine street culture” and I think that was perhaps half true in the 70’s with artists such as Basquiat (who was really only marginally graffiti artist) but is not true today… in my opinion current graffiti art (at least what has become popular to the public) has a softer quality than what Kelley refers to, it is more design-based than aggressive (419). Kelley goes on to say “the overnight success of these major artists, especially Basquiat, gave hope to some writers that the visual arts might ofer a lucrative alternative to low-wage labor and an opportunity to live off their own creativity” (419). He later says however that graffiti loses its appeal and value when removed from its site of origin and rarely generates much money for the creator, and loses its authenticity when it is not created illegally, and he says that basketball is different because it doesn’t lose authenticity when players go pro (420). I think graffiti artists today are trying to keep that authenticity by remaining anonymous, or doing paid work out in public areas rather than in galleries. When they do show in galleries, I think they can bring the voice of their experiences to a different group of people. Also I would say that currently there is more of a chance to get money and fame from street art than there is to become a pro basketball player.

Graffiti as an art form has an amazing ability to give a voice to the anonymous/unheard, and at the same time transcend the lines of race and class and has the power to send its creators from the poor neighborhoods of the inner city to the success of the museum/gallery/downtown scene. The Robin Kelley article was written in 1997, talks about the brief popularity of graffiti art in the 70’s, but with the new popularity and visibility of street art today, I believe it has more of a power to catapult artists to the world of success and fame.



Wax Rainbows

There are a few combinations in life that create magic.  Things that simply belong together and would not be nearly as grand standing alone.  Peanut butter and jelly, cookies and milk, both qualify.  There is another combination though, that for me, defines my childhood.  It is what occurs when you combine melted wax with color pigmentation – Crayola Crayons.

I remember the sheer joy I felt when opening a new 64-pack of the crayons in the early 70s.    The perfect fit of each one as it stood tall  in the custom-made box with built-in sharpener.  I would spend hours experimenting with the different shades  in my coloring books.  The only downside of coloring was when a crayon broke.  What a shame to no longer have perfect rows of lean soldiers.  The afflicted crayon could never stand straight again and you knew it was only a matter of time before others fell victim to play.

As we read in Chudacoff’s chapter, Children at Play, many toys were targeted specifically for boys or girls.(180)  Not so with crayons.  Both sexes could enjoy coloring.  Parents were happy because crayons were inexpensive, and stimulated the imagination.

Two chemists, Howard Smith and Edwin Binney came up with the non-toxic formula in 1903.  They named their new company “Crayola” which means “oily chalk” in French.  The exact Crayola formula is highly guarded, but you can see how crayons are made in this 1974 Sesame Street video.

uploaded by KitsuneDarkStalker on youtube, 2007

Over the past 109 years, colors have been discontinued, added, and changed.  The history behind the names is quite fascinating.  On the Crayola website, you can find a chronology of the names.  Today there are more than 100 colors and the appeal for crayons continues for both the young and young-at-heart.


Glitter Crayons

When I was about 4 years old, I received a set of glitter crayons from my friend Robbie in a pre-school class gift exchange. This may have changed the course of my life forever. That sounds dramatic, but my parents swear that glitter crayons were my entrance into the world of picture-making. Before, I only did indiscriminate scribble drawings, but after I got glitter crayons, I started making pictures. I had long explanations of what was happening in each drawing, which my mom dutifully inscribed on the back of the drawing. What was it about glitter crayons that attracted me so much? Well, the glitter, obviously. For kids (or at least for me), it heightens crayons from everyday color-making tools to a world of magical sparkling colors.

My first drawing with glitter crayons, December 1994.

With the glitter crayons, which were a novel item in the early nineties, I was inspired to create drawings as often as possible. Because of my newfound interest in art at age four, my mom signed me up for a parent-child art class at a local art museum one summer, and since that class, art has been a passion of mine.

Crayons in general are very important objects of childhood. Crayons are made specifically for children, and after childhood most people rarely use crayons. They are not regarded as a high art medium, although they have been used by a few artists in amazing ways. I think that crayons have impacted most of us more than we know, in how we think about, describe, and differentiate colors. Given to us by our parents as a non-toxic and easily removable medium to keep us busy, crayons are more than just that; they are generally our first experience in using color on our own.

Glitter Crayons, courtesy of

“At Crayola, we are all about kids. Kids inspire us, our work, our products, our offices, and our culture. Our kid-inspired culture defines who we are and how we act, which enables us to be creative and allows us to think like the kids we delight everyday.”

Crayola was founded in 1885 as a company called Binney & Smith. In the first few years of the 20th century, they produced slate pencils and invented a dustless chalk to be used in schools which was extremely successful. In 1903 they came out with the first set of crayons under the name Crayola, an eight pack which sold for 5 cents. The name “crayola” came from “craie”, the French word for “chalk”,  and “ola” from “oleaginous” (oily/greasy).  According to, glitter crayons were first released in 1993 (when I was 2 years old).

The idea of crayons as a childhood item connects directly to the course readings by Peter Stearns and Gary Cross. In the 20th century, when parents were more anxious about the development of the child and methods of parenting, “an array of new consumer products was aimed at children” (Stearns 3). Crayons are wholly an item of this 20th century phenomenon as they emerged on the market at the very beginning of the century and are still very popular today. It is also apparent in the above statement from Crayola’s website that they are completely marketing to kids.  Also, because of a “sense of responsibility for providing fun” (Stearns 5), these new consumer products were widely purchased by parents in the 20th century. Also, “a crucial shift involved consumer items for very young children” and “this new consumer practice both reflected and encouraged further commitments to the use of commercial toys to provide childhood pleasure” (Stearns 7). Crayons are commercially produced items that provide childhood pleasure; most people look back on crayons with some sense of nostalgia. The idea that “home should become an entertainment center of sorts” (Stearns pg8) emerged in this time, and Crayons were a way of keeping children entertained and busy. If one views crayons as a type of toy, one might think of them in terms of Gary Cross’s article in which he states that “playthings through the ages have served common purposes in introducing the young to the tools, experiences, and even emotional lives of their parents. But only in modern times have toys become primarily objects for children, props in a play world separated from adults” (Cross 44).