Due in large part to the phenomenal success of Banksy, the city of Bristol has become synonymous with a certain kind of public art; the kind that, as Jon Kay of the BBC puts it in his report, uses the ‘street as it’s canvas’. Graffiti, the report contends, has been elevated to an ‘art-form’ in Bristol, adorning public space disproportionately and, as one might expect, dividing opinion among the city’s residents, with adjectives such as ‘degrading’ and ‘beautiful’ commonly applied to the same piece. In a recent move to democratise the process of deciding which pieces of graffiti are ‘art’, and therefore preserved, and which are mere ‘vandalism’ to be removed, the local council held an online vote to decide whether a Banksy work (pictured above) should be maintained. An overwhelming majority of 93% decided that the graffiti constituted ‘street art’ and should not be removed. A rather more mixed reception to such art is apparent in the short report by the BBC.
Tim Hall, in a recent paper in Geography Compass, argues that geographers must consider the ‘multiple relationships between art and the city… [and]… the various ways in which public art is woven into the lives of cities and their citizens’. Artful Cities is an attempt to understand the ‘various roles that public art has played in the city’, focusing on the ways in which art and audience are entangled in diverse registers of meaning. What is clear from both the BBC’s report on Bristol’s street art and Hall’s paper on public art is that more work needs to be done on understanding the diverse ways in which people engage with art in their streets.