Thursday, August 18, 2011

Skateboarding as Street Art

"We are accustomed to understand art to be only what we hear and see in theaters, concerts, and exhibitions, together with buildings, statues, poems, novels. . . . But all this is but the smallest part of the art by which we communicate with each other in life. All human life is filled with works of art of every kind" - Leo Tolstoy

So said Leo Tolstoy back in 1897. Since then numerous people have tried to define what art is. Tolstoy believed that art must create a specific emotional link between the artist and the audience. My definition would be a lot broader than Tolstoy's. To me art is about seeing the world differently to how others see it and using that vision to create something new, something original. To me skateboarding is an art form, more specifically it's a form of street art - and here's why.

Firstly skateboarding is not a sport. There are no rules and it's not a competition. Two fundamental criteria for something to be considered a sport. You skate when you want to skate. You skate with whoever you want to skate with. You wear whatever you want to wear. You do whatever tricks you want to do. Most importantly, you skate wherever you want to skate. To a skateboarder, as to a street artist, the world is our canvas. Each new building, each new street, may contain a wall, a sculpture, a ledge, a rubbish bin, that can be utilised in a different way from its intended purpose. It's this deviation of purpose and creation of something new from that deviation, that defines street art.

"Remember crime against property is not real crime. People look at an oil painting and admire the use of brushstrokes to convey meaning. People look at a graffiti painting and admire the use of a drainpipe to gain access." -Banksy


If we examine the main aspects of street art, it becomes clear that skateboarding fits the  general definitions:

1. It takes place in public spaces and on private property, sanctioned or unsanctioned.
There is no space that is off limits. You are constrained only by your imagination (and maybe by a trespass notice)

2. It cannot be confined to one area (e.g.a skate park).
I think this is the one that confuses City Councils the most. They build a new skate park to get skaters off the streets, but can't understand why we don't stay confined to the park. The same goes for graffitti artists, you can set aside an area where it is legal to paint, but the artist will always wander, searching for new areas to create their art.

3. It makes use of public space and private property in ways that were not intended by the developers.
The art is in the creation. To be able to look at everyday objects and find a completely new and original way of using them. Turning a fountain in to a wallride or grinding a fence railing and so on. It's about creating something new, something original, out of an otherwise purely functional urban environment.

4. It's not necessary for the creation to be captured, or 'kept', the art is in the creation.
This last point is most important. The street artist is not concerned with whether their art lasts or not. It's the creation of the art that matters. Just as a mural may be painted over, a skate spot may disappear. The trick pulled on that wall last night may never be able to be repeated. It doesn't matter.

This is not to say that street art cannot be captured. Google Banksy and you'll find photos of many of his art works. Skateboarding is no different. Open Manual magazine and you'll see numerous tricks captured in photo. In fact this creates a whole new element of art, as the photo's themselves are artworks, thus creating art within art. The point however, is that the capturing of the art is not necessary for the art to exist.


"Think outside the box, collapse the box, and take a fucking sharp knife to it" - Banksy

The skateboarder, like the street artist, thinks outside the square. People often talk of skating as a way of life. There's a lot of truth in that statement, as cheesy as it sounds. Most life long skaters are drawn to the fringes because they see something inherently wrong, inherently boring with 'normal' society. You don't dress in a uniform, play in a team, within a boundary, at the same time every week. You go out and create, whenever you get the itch. This is skateboarding and this is art.

"Art is art. Everything else is everything else" - Ad Reinhart

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