Main Body

13. Who Makes Art in Century 21?

Clayton Funk

Street art portrait by El Mac. Photo by Author
A mural by El Mac and Retna, Costa Mesa California. Author’s photograph

In the first chapter of this book, we framed the social and political dynamics of the art an music worlds with three considerations: 1) which forms are most important, 2)who decides this, and 3) who decides who gets access? We could trace these observations in every chapter, in one way or another, but one thing is consistent, that change always happens.

This last chapter is no different. Most of the artists and musicians you have read about so far can be found in one history book or another, but at this point we turn to the recent visual and musical forms, which have pushed the boundaries of art and music in new directions, beyond history books. In the mural above, by artists El Mac and Retna, we see an example of a genre known as Street Art, which draws upon and sometimes breaks away from traditions of Graffiti, billboards, posters and other forms. Like Graffiti, this work is painted on the side of a building as a large scale mural, and the image reflects some myth or tribute to a cultural figure or idea. But unlike graffiti, we know who did this work and we can see that it is primarily a portrait, with decorative calligraphy, though not as a written message.

In music, changes are similar. Musicians not only sing and play instruments, they also take on rolls of performance artists, wherein hairstyles and costumes and other visual theatrics are just as important as the music they sing and play. Later in this chapter you will see a video by the musician Sia, who is known for for the visual aspects of her performances.

Visual Art

Andrea Zittel builds a dwelling and lives in it as a performance, brings together the craft of making a dwelling with performance. Link to this video at:

Art after the year 2000 became even more diverse than in the previous century. What we call art could come from almost any one of a broad array of visual forms and performances. For example artists like Andrea Zittel (see video), who builds a dwelling and lives in it as a performance, brings together the craft of making a dwelling with performance.

Art also appears without galleries and museums. Artists co-opt spaces in the public locations in the city and on the Internet (both physical and virtual locations). All at once, artists can act as interventionists, curators, and activists. Forms can range from the simple placement of any object, the documentation of an event,  a performance, and/or graphic  and 3-dimensional forms. Deciding whether something is “art,” or not, has given away to explaining why almost any visual form could be considered art. The artists below show this variety of work.


Street Art and Culture

mural of moose with bubble gum
The “Moose Bubblegum Bubble” by Jacob Watts

The new Millennium also brought forth new visual forms of unsanctioned art, which grew out of street cultures in major U.S. metropolitan centers. By “unsanctioned art” we usually mean art that is not represented or preserved in a museum or in major galleries. We often read about these forms as Guerilla Art or Urban Art, Neo-Grafitti or Post-Grafitti, which can include Street Art, Stencil Graffiti, Wheatpaste Posters, Stickers, and Street installation or sculpture.

Graffiti and Street Art are similar in many ways, but at times they follow separate paths, even when they co-exist on the same streets. They can be a reaction to the dehumanizing effect of abandoned walls and buildings, but its effects can also transmit signifiers of neighborhood community.

Scholars who study these visual forms distinguish Graffiti as more script based, whereas street art tends to be more image based and draws upon the additional influences of billboards and commercial advertising. Street Art has evolved into its own genre with new materials and artists who have become regarded as professionals. Yet many street artists resist the legitimization of their work, preferring instead be clandestine, or even anonymous and create images that disturb.

Even though galleries and museums of the mainstream art world do not acknowledge it, Street Art has gained a wide audience through social media, which propels its popularity as an art phenomenon that is difficult to ignore. Just as Pop Art emerged in the 1950s, the art world and popular culture have overlapped in Street Art, which now receives more attention and is tolerated and even sanctioned in some cases, creating forms regarded as a relevant visual art.

In a culture where most common visual images seem to be commercialized billboards, signs, and TV advertisements, unsanctioned visual forms represent the “voice” of an artist who has sidestepped, even “hacked” the established art world. Sometimes we don’t know who these artists are, while other artists receive public recognition and even commissions for murals. The two perspectives create a complicated spectrum of overlapping genres.

The following links take you to more information about street artists:


When historians look back on the first 15 or 20 years of this century, they will note that just as with advances recorded music production in the 1960s – Stereo, Quadraphonic, Five Channel systems; in the 1990s innovations were the release of digital media in the 1980s and the streaming and downloading of recordings from iTunes and other sites. Indeed, the technology of recorded music remains as important as the innovations of the musicians themselves. In the 2000s we also will see musicians, who take on the role of a performance artist — like Sia (she performs with her face covered, usually with her hair, as  in the video below) .

Trouble with this video?

The 2000s in Music (as found in Wikipedia)

The closer we get to art and music in our own time, the more artists and musicians there are to sort through. When we discuss artists and musicians from the 1950s, we don’t see as many of them, because we hear about only those with those with the most information about them and, of course, who are the most favored. Historians, however, will always dig up new data about artists and musicians who have been forgotten over time. The following list is one from Wikipedia, which breaks down the music by genre and includes plenty of links to more information about each one. For the sake of being practical, I’ve provided a range of genres to choose from, and the ones we choose for study will serve as examples of change over time in art and music. Access information about these genres at the Biographies menu:

Or use the list below:


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A Quick and Dirty Guide to Art, Music, and Culture Copyright © 2016 by Clayton Funk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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