Google Maps is finally turning into something fun in addition to just being occasionally useful: a recent launch allows users to employ Google’s satellites to get almost real time images of numerous remarkable pieces of street art worldwide. The world map shows you how many pieces of art you can browse in each country featured, and in many cases it’s about hundreds and hundreds of pieces, including areas which may be hard to access or areas in which street art is truly a transgression (like some countries in the Middle East). Not all countries have been featured yet but more are sure to follow soon. For example, the creativity of German street art is pretty famous, but Germany isn’t on the map yet. (Luckily, if you’re interested, you can browse some street art from that area here in the meantime). To explore street art with Google in many areas of the world which are already featured, you can start here and see where the maps lead you.
Browsing Street Art with Google: As Mainstream As It Gets
What does this addition to the range of Google services mean, though? Street art used to be the ultimate creative form of protest, back in a day where urban rebellion was really expressed through it. In the good old days – not that anyone is actually regretting that oppressive atmosphere – scribbling your art, no matter how genuinely good it was, was equal to an act of vandalism for which the author would be fined or arrested when caught.
The next stage meant that even if it wasn’t really illegal anymore, street art would still be equivalent to a form of protest one way or the other; it was still something that only the non-conformist and young (at least in spirit) would do. This is why many of the subjects illustrated by street art are a form of social critique, starting with the over-promoted Banksy and finishing with the recent Brazilian anti-football graffiti protests. It’s quite clear that street art is still a favorite creative way of sticking it to the man, whenever we, the people have some sort of beef with the system. This sort of positioning is of course problematic in itself, since some of us are a bit tired of this rhetoric and feel that street art tends to be a tad boring when it takes is protesting role too seriously. And nowhere is this tension more visible than in the recent launch in Google Maps services: the fact that you can now explore street art with Google proves this precise point.
On the other hand, if you don’t take into account its defying component at all, this opportunity to browse more street art with Google may be the best thing that happened to global urban creativity in a long time. Exploring various instances of this art will now be easier, as well as inter-inspiration and general visibility. Besides, it could be argued that shaming a certain artistic area for being too mainstream is actually a way of shaming pop culture and only valuing high culture, which is clearly an outdated and pretty discriminatory attitude. Art is art, culture is culture; valuing one type of culture over another or deeming it more legitimate opens the way for the same kind of discrimination that creates hierarchies between social classes or peoples or races. Precisely because there’s no low culture and high culture, perhaps the opportunity to explore street art with Google should be interpreted as most welcome.
How do you feel about this: are you disappointed in how mainstream street art just got, or are you happy with the possibility of exploring street art with Google? Art is still art anyway and any extra opportunity to browse it should be welcomed with open arms?