Art in the Ephemeral

by Britt Chester | @awfullybrittish

Art is timeless, or so we’d like to think. Leonardo Da Vinci’s “La Gioconda” still hangs in the Louvre. Alexander Calder’s “Red Lily Pads” mobile still moves within the Guggenheim’s spiraling environ. Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” still tells the harrowing story of the bombing of a Spanish village. And Shepard Fairey’s iconic stencil portrait of President Barack Obama will remain in the National Portrait Gallery.

But art has become ephemeral. When we as a collective culture swipe our phones from time-lapse photography of chalk art to time-lapse photography of a guy making portraits out of pancake batter, it’s clear that art in the present time is reflecting our culture’s complete lack of attention span.

And why shouldn’t it? Social media has turned art into less of a commodity and more of a virus that feeds on clicks and “likes” and “shares,” it’s as if artists are creating less for the expression and more for the attention.

The Triad has seen an enormous surge in public art installations commissioned by the city, or local businesses, and even in public art spaces funded entirely by non-profits. Walls that would ordinarily be occupied by graffiti tags and grotesquely profane scripts are now covered by local artist’s beautiful imagery.

But when did “street art,” a term that politicians and city officials use to justify paying graffiti artists to paint on public space, become accepted?

The most common culprit for bringing street art to the mainstream is Banksy, a UK-based artist whose images popped up on walls in the form of wheat pastes and stencils – a practice some believe has completely ruined the culture of graffiti. A film, “Exit Through The Gift Shop,” also shed some light on the culture, providing kids and aspiring artists a blueprint as to how to put their images on walls without having to really possess any talent.

Street art is commonplace now. Murals are covering walls that were once owned by graffiti tags. Artists are catering to the dollar by billing themselves are muralists, which is good for the bank account, but terrible for the culture.

It does beautify, though. And some murals even gain the respect of local graffiti writers to the point where they will not tag over it. That’s an odd change in mind state for artists, though, because the whole idea behind street art was to remain ephemeral – to constantly change and challenge other artists to better themselves and their work through tagging and spot claiming.

Much like any sub-culture on the rise, be it skateboarding, breakdancing, emceeing, and especially graff-writing, the downward spiral begins when those that once discriminated against the select group begin to put money into it in hopes of turning a profit, or just attempting to better their own image by accepting and embracing “the cool.”

Murals and “street art” pieces are popping up all over Winston-Salem and Greensboro. Trade Street in downtown Winston has art all over the place – murals on walls, painted mannequins, and largescale pieces. Greensboro is doing the same thing, most recently bringing in a handful of artists from both cities to fill the walls of a tunnel project supported by the No Blank Walls initiative that has recently gained momentum. A mural reminiscent of Dr. T. J. Eckelberg stares blankly at downtown Greensboro from the Daily Bread Flour Mill as if waiting for the city to embrace the real culture or art and growth, instead of finding ways to line the wallets of those that already have enough.

It’s never a bad thing when more art comes into public view, but at some point there will be another shift to another medium, and with the way technology is going, it’s probably going to have something to do with visual projectors and moving images. Don’t hold your breath just yet; it hasn’t been subsidized by a corporate backer. !


Murals and graffiti can be seen all over the cities, just look for it. Share with Yes! Weekly on Instagram by tagging @Yesweekly336 and we might hook you up with gift certificates to local restaurants or tickets to a concert.