Most of us know “street art” by another name: graffiti. But Google is changing our perception of graffiti by adding images of this so-called street art to the Google Cultural Institute Art Project.
The Art Project is part of a worldwide movement to preserve historic and modern art pieces online and allow the average Google user to enjoy art from his laptop or mobile device.
Google’s project is a division of the Google Cultural Institute, an online museum displaying historic landmarks, archeological feats, and art from around the world. Art enthusiasts can find artwork ranging from a variety of artists and time periods – you can zoom in on Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” until you see the brushstrokes, you can view Michelangelo’s “Genie of Victory” and then read the history of the sculpture. Now you can view hundreds of buildings from around the world plastered with graffiti – or as Google calls it – street art.
But is graffiti art or vandalism?
Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art Director Philippe Vergne seems to think some graffiti should be classified as art.
“Street art often comes with a bad reputation where people don’t know how to discriminate art from vandalism,” Vergne told the New York Times.
In L.A., former police chief and commissioner William J. Bratton believes graffiti is vandalism, and should be cleansed from city streets.
“It sounds like every nitwit around is down there trying to take advantage of these admirers of graffiti,” Bratton told the New York Times.
It’s awkward to arrest an artist for what the average police officer would consider vandalism – where do you draw the line? If van Gogh had painted his “Starry Night” on the back of Union Station today, would he be thrown in jail?
In November 2013, Jerry and David Wolkoff whitewashed their 5Pointz warehouse clean of hundreds of artists’ graffiti. The Wolkoffs’ drew harsh criticism from the art community, even though the Wolkoffs owned the building and had every right to eradicate the graffiti.
According to the New York Post, “The pro-graffiti forces became livid when they awoke [last Tuesday] to find that the Wolkoffs – under cover of darkness – had whitewashed the buildings in preparation for demolition. How ironic: Usually, it’s the graffiti artists who are the ones sneaking in to paint properties in the middle of the night.”
Now Google is siding with graffiti artists by switching up the terms and classifying graffiti as street art, worthy to be displayed in the Google Cultural Institute.
Graffiti, once the mascot for crime in urban areas, is no longer taboo but celebrated.