Urban Art and Street Art: What’s the Difference?

The terms urban art and street art have, in recent years, been used interchangeably. But, should they be? All urban areas have streets, but we don’t designate all work created in an urban environment “street art.” And where does graffiti fit in this picture?  Let’s delve into some of the differences—whether universal or not—between what can be considered urban art and street art.

The Grandfather–Graffiti

Street art is said to have developed from graffiti, found on buildings, overpasses, and other public spaces. Used as a form of self-expression and specifically including writing and personal identification, graffiti art can be broken down to its most basic parts by the explanation that it is one-part message (note the use of wording) and one-part aggression (in the use of others’ property for expression). Today, most graffiti art ticks a variety of boxes, including the existence of teams of artists (rather than a single artist or entity, like in street art), graffiti is usually frowned upon by the majority, and graffiti is usually created under cover of night (as a forbidden activity).

Street Art

As graffiti took hold, it slowly became recognized as art. Once a method is appreciated for its artistic value, a new circle of enthusiasts begins to form.  Such can be said of street art. Once street art became its own form, new artists emerged and joined the movement to creating works in public spaces. Some believe that street art is “gentrified graffiti”; this opinion varies between communities, as it depends on the personal and community response from the individual works of art exhibited in specific public spaces. However, street artists are not confined to anonymous works created under the dark of night. Their works are often created with context: the message, the location, the details of the work, and even the timing all play into the inspiration for the work itself. It is the context already found in the community (whether it be a neighborhood, a city, a state, or even international) which allows the work to draw attention.  A challenge, however, found in street art leads us to define urban art: permanence.

The Next Ladder Rung: Urban Art ≠ Street Art

We find ourselves at a crossroads here; what truly is the difference between street art and urban art? We have found that street art not only speaks to the community where it is found, but instead of simply “you should”, “can you believe?”, or even “tell them” types of messages which are fleeting in nature, there is an aspect of pure beauty involved in urban art. It IS an art form, worthy of long-term display and appreciation. A few of the traits which help to define urban art are:

Commodity. As individuals and organizations were drawn to public artworks, the question arose: “Can this art be bought and sold?” and “How can we value this art where it is displayed?” In some instances, he art was recreated on a canvas and/or removed from the public space, like several of urban artist Banksy’s pieces. Private collectors, galleries, and even museums have obtained works this way.

Commission. Once urban art became popular and something worthy of displaying or collecting, the appeal of having urban art in a collection grew. No longer were artists simply taking public spaces to create works; they now were being asked to design works for specific places, events, and even brands.

Permanence. Both graffiti and street art have historically been considered temporary exhibitions. Graffiti artists strove to finish their work before law enforcement discovered their activity. Many street artists experienced the same response, even when public approval existed. In some instances, avoiding the police to complete their piece became a game of cat-and-mouse, with arrests, overnights in jail, and fines. Urban art is created with the intention of permanence, a higher appreciation for the artwork, and the desire to exhibit pieces over a long period of time, like traditional styles.

Urban Art defines the movement of Street Art out of the street and into galleries, museums, and private displays. The inspiration behind urban art remains the same thread which graffiti, and the street, art, contained: a message for the people who view the art, a visual reminder of the human existence, whether it be uplifting or sobering, restricting or encouraging. It is the embracement by art enthusiasts which ratifies its title as ART.

Sybaris Collection

Urban art is just one of many genres of art Sybaris Collection encounters around the world. When looking to add urban art to your collection, let our art professionals help you discover custom works which reveal your taste, allow you to share a message, and fill your home or office.  Our professionals can help you find something which expresses your feelings and fits your specific needs.