Art History Lab

From Vandalism to Beauty: The Evolution of Street Artists and Graffiti Art

The Evolution of Street Artists and Graffiti Art

When people hear the word “graffiti,” they might immediately conjure up images of hooligans with spray cans and no respect for the law. However, street art as a medium has evolved significantly over the years, from being a symbol of rebellion to a form of art that is acknowledged and admired worldwide.

In this article, we will explore the evolution of street artists and graffiti art and its impact on the urban landscape, community, and tourism.

Change in Perceptions and Recognition of Urban Artists

Street art, particularly graffiti, was initially seen as a form of vandalism. But as the world became more urbanized, and cities began to embrace this art form, perceptions started to shift drastically.

Perception changed as people began to realize the significance of street art as a reflection of the community’s voice and culture.

Moreover, street artists acted as catalysts in the transformation of urban landscapes, filled with monotonous concrete structures, into vibrant and visually appealing spaces.

Murals, which were once rare in public spaces, now enliven walls across cities, covering every nook and corner with vivid and dynamic art. People began to appreciate the aesthetic value of street art, and it started receiving support from local authorities and organizations.

In turn, this bolstered the popularity of street artists and propagated graffiti art beyond just the underground scene; now, it could be witnessed across the world in renowned galleries, museums, and exhibitions.

Influence on the Urban Landscape, Community, and Tourism

Street art’s influence in transforming urban landscapes cannot be overlooked.

An important aspect of this transformation is creating mural space which has become an integral component of urban design. In addition, the improved visual appeal of the city through dynamic art helped foster a sense of belonging amongst urban communities.

Urban artists have elevated graffiti art beyond mere vandalism, making it a collaborative art form used to depict the essence and narratives of communities. Street art also empowers the community by allowing their voices to be heard through the art form, while providing the artists with the much-needed space to display their art and ideas.

Undoubtedly, street art has also become a significant attraction for tourism across the world. Major metropolitan cities such as New York and London have embraced street art and graffiti as a unique aspect of their culture, drawing in tourists from across the world.

More and more people are travelling to cities primarily for street art tours, where they can absorb each artwork’s story and its significance to the community.

Famous Street Artists

While graffiti culture has grown as a whole, certain street artists have become world-renowned thanks to their individual contributions to the movement. Two such artists are

Cornbread and

Keith Haring, both of whom have left a lasting impact on the street art culture.


Cornbread is widely regarded as the originator of graffiti, hailing from Philadelphia. David Guinn,

Cornbread’s real name, started vandalism as an adolescent in the early 1960s and continued well into his adult years.

Cornbread created his style with spray cans, which is now the average medium for street artists. The artist is widely recognized for his paintings of his name in Philadelphia, from billboards to walls, where residents were exposed to his graffiti art daily.

Cornbread’s creative endeavor, though perceived as vandalism at the time, led to the birth of the graffiti subculture, which eventually branched out to other states in the US and beyond.

Keith Haring

Keith Haring was an artist who came to prominence in the 1980s after graduating from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He was known for his unique style of pop iconography, which portrayed social issues through his art.

Haring’s work often featured the Radiant Baby’, which went on to become a global icon. He used symbols instead of words to portray his ideas, often focused on political and social issues, making his work more accessible to the masses.

Haring’s art remains incredibly popular, with his murals and sculptures found in museums worldwide.


In conclusion, street art, and graffiti specifically, has undergone a significant transformation in recent years. From an illegal and often misunderstood form of expression to an accepted and widely celebrated form of art, it has created a tremendous impact on communities worldwide.

Further, street art has transformed the most monotonous and mundane urban landscapes into vibrant hubs of contemporary art. Artists such as

Cornbread and

Keith Haring stand as testament to the evolution of street art and its significance as an art form.

With graffiti art, communities have been given an artistic outlet, enabling their stories to be told and giving birth to social and political movements that seek to make the world a better place. Going forward, graffiti art appears to have an even more essential role to play in shaping the urban landscape and communities worldwide.

Trailblazing Street Artists

Street art has come a long way since its inception. It has evolved from the underground scene, where artists crafted their craft in the dark alleys and subway stations, to being regarded as a legitimate art form that is welcomed in galleries and museums worldwide.

However, graffiti art also remains a part of street art, and many trailblazing artists have paved the way for the next generations to take on the streets with their artwork. In this section, we will shed light on two trailblazing street artists,

Tracy 168 and

Jean-Michel Basquiat, who have made their mark in the graffiti art world.

Tracy 168

Tracy 168, also known as Michael Tracy, was a graffiti artist who rose to prominence in the 1970s.

Tracy 168 was influential in introducing Wildstyle’ graffiti, the complex interlocking letters that are now prevalent among graffiti artists.

Tracy 168 was also among the first artists to create murals and graffiti in areas outside his neighbourhood in New York City, helping to spread graffiti art’s influence throughout the city.

Tracy 168’s style and methodology also drew the attention of other artists in the scene, who would later become influential in increasing graffiti’s popularity.

Tracy 168’s contribution to graffiti culture cannot be understated; his innovative style of complex letters and imagery helped to bring a new level to the graffiti culture standard.

His impact resonated with audiences beyond the graffiti subculture and helped break out of its boundaries.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat was an artist from New York City who made significant contributions to the realm of graffiti art. Basquiat had origins in SAMO, a graffiti art project around New York in the late 1970s.

Basquiat traditionally demonstrated the idea of graffiti as an art form. He created artwork in the street and eventually moved on to a more formal art form, including paintings, drawings, and even Hollywood production.

His artworks, to date, continues to inspire movements of artists across the globe. Basquiat was influenced by a combination of neo-expressionism and street art, leading to his unique style of bold colours and powerful imagery.

He often used powerful slogans and fragmented pop culture references in his art, creating a dialogue around social commentary. Basquiat’s work remains iconic and necessary, even in today’s contemporary art world.

Impactful Street Artists

Street art has the power to inspire, define and express impactful narratives. The graffiti art scene was pivotal in empowering communities and bringing attention to social and political issues through the artist’s paintings.

In this section, we will explore two street artists who made significant contributions to the world of graffiti art:

Dondi White and


Dondi White

Dondi White was a New York City-based artist who began his street art journey by painting subway cars with his signature moniker. He later expanded his art into larger murals, including collaborations with other artists, to create intricate and groundbreaking artwork.

His exceptional skill level made him influential in developing new techniques in aerosol painting.

Dondi White’s work was a reflection of the energy, character and culture of his home city. His artistic style served as an inspiration and benchmark for future street artists to assert their influence in the graffiti art world.

His success served as a catalyst for an entire generation of artists, who continued to make significant contributions to street art culture.


Daze is a street artist who started off as a subway car artist in New York City in the 1970s and later transitioned to a more traditional art form. His name is symbolic of graffiti art, and he continues to contribute to the field with his vibrant style and bold use of colours.

Daze’s impact on street art can undoubtedly be attributed to his contributions as a subway car artist. He used everyday items such as spray cans and paint rollers found in subway stations to create his artwork.

Later, he transitioned into galleries and studios, bringing his well-refined style to the art world.

Daze’s journey from being a subway car artist to achieving success in the studio remains an inspiration to graffiti artists today.


The street art scene has produced many trailblazing and impactful artists who have shaped the culture today. From Wildstyle graffiti art and subway car murals to traditional art forms, these artists continue to inspire artists worldwide.

Their contributions to the art world cannot be overstated; they have taken street art from the underground scene to the mainstream, drastically transforming the world of art. The graffiti art culture is thriving, with artists such as

Tracy 168,

Jean-Michel Basquiat,

Dondi White, and

Daze still inspiring and influencing artists to this day.

Prominent Female Street Artists

Street art culture remains a male-dominated space. However, female street artists have become increasingly visible in recent years, leaving their marks in every corner of our cities.

Their contributions have transformed the street art landscape, providing a new perspective and bringing attention to underrepresented voices. In this section, we will explore two women in street art who have made an impact globally,

Lady Pink and


Lady Pink

Lady Pink is one of the most renowned female graffiti artists in the world. She began painting on trains and walls in New York City in the late 1970s, during the peak of the graffiti art scene in the city.

Her style is known for its vibrant colours and infusion of female imagery, typical of her feminist messaging.

Lady Pink’s art had an influential impact on the graffiti world. Her artwork’s unique nature blended with activism, providing a voice for women in street art, making her a cultural icon.

Her work remains influential today, not only within the graffiti art culture, but also reaching audiences beyond the street art culture.


Invader, also known by his pseudonym, is a mosaic artist from France.

Invader started his street art journey in the late 1990s by using eight-bit squares, which he used to create images that mimicked the sprites from video games such as Space


He then went on to create mosaics in cities across the globe, cementing his place in the contemporary street art world.

Invader’s street art invasion has been global, with his original approach to street art and the innovation in his artwork representing a unique form now referred to according to many as invading.’ His contribution to street art culture provides a fresh take on a space that continues to evolve, retaining its relevance and bridging its relationship to aesthetics and activism.

Notable Street Artists and Activists

Street art has always provided a platform for activism and meaningful expression. In this section, we will focus on two street artists who have brought attention to social and political issues through their artwork:

Shepard Fairey and


Shepard Fairey

Shepard Fairey, also known by his pseudonym, Obey Giant, is an American street artist and activist. Fairey started gaining prominence in the early 2000s with his Obey Giant’ campaign, which featured the image of Andre the Giant with the word Obey’ featured beneath it.

His art revolves around commentary on social and political issues, challenging and raising questions on our ways of living. Fairey’s work has gone far beyond the street art scene; he has become a significant figure known for his contributions to the political realm.

His posters and graphics featured prominently during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. He is also known for founding Studio Number One, a branding agency that promotes social change.


Banksy is a pseudonymous England-based street artist, political activist, and film director.

Banksy started his street art artistry in Bristol in the late 1980s, which later moved on to larger platforms around the world.

His work frequently features satirical social and political commentary, criticizing the world’s urban landscape.

Banksy’s identity remains anonymous to this day, known for his elusive nature and cryptic anonymity, adding to his mystique as an artist.

Banksy’s work is recognizable for its significant cultural impact, using distinct imagery to provide poignant criticism on social, political, and cultural issues.


Street art has always acted as an evolving platform for activism, self-expression, beauty, and messaging. Diversity among artists is critical to the evolution and impact of this art form.

The progression of street art culture is a crucial component to the evolution of a shared philosophy and perspective. From

Lady Pink and

Invader to

Shepard Fairey and

Banksy, these trailblazing artists have contributed significantly to street art’s relevance in the art world.

As street art continues to evolve and capture a more prominent role, it provides an opportunity for new artists with new messages and new perspectives to take the lead. In conclusion, the evolution of street artists and graffiti art has transformed the perception of this once-underground art form into a recognized and celebrated medium.

From the change in perceptions to the influence on urban landscapes, communities, and tourism, street artists have left an indelible mark on society. The trailblazing artists, such as

Tracy 168,

Keith Haring,

Dondi White, and

Daze, have paved the way for future generations.

Additionally, prominent female street artists like

Lady Pink and

Invader have brought a fresh perspective and empowered the voices of women in the street art culture. Notable artists and activists like

Shepard Fairey and

Banksy have used street art to confront social and political issues, leaving a lasting impact.

The importance of street art lies in its ability to bridge art and activism, challenging the status quo and creating dialogue. As street art continues to evolve, it serves as a powerful platform for artists to express themselves and create positive change in our communities.

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