Impressionism is the 19th century art movement that changed the way we looked at the world and it almost didn’t happen. Renaissance ideals typified art at the time, from perfect brush stokes that were barely perceptible to epic scenes of history, religion, or mythology. The Paris Salon institution served as the primary judge of “good art” at the time, but if it hadn’t been the Impressionists insistence to showcase the art of everyday life, which was relatable and accessible to all social castes, we wouldn’t have had such an important new worldview.
Street art, often associated with graffiti, helps tell the story of a place. In the same way that the Impressionists painted what they saw, thus communicating an entirely different perspective to society, street artists add a layer of depth and realism to cities. Because the canvas is public facades or infrastructure, street art is inherently illegal, no matter how important the message. This often means that, no matter how profound the art, cities have special task forces geared toward the removal of the graffiti.
At the SB150 pop-up park on the Jefferson Street bridge, we created three 12 foot chalkboard cubes. Every inch of available space was filled in on each cube, with many signatures and personal messages written in temporary chalk. While temporary, clearly the accessibility and opportunity to create a message (even if only a name) resonated with the attendees.
The connection between the importance of the everyday worldview of the Impressionists, the very public storytelling that happens with street art, and the accessibility of the chalkboard walls intersects in this idea. South Bend needs more outlets for street art. While graffiti walls can feel forced, exploring a legal canvas, which is both accessible and visible, can help better tell the story of South Bend. I don’t think the Impressionists would have it any other way.