Rise of the gatekeepers

Similarly, it’s been pointed out to me on numerous occasions that bloggers and photographers have become gatekeepers for the street art community. As I mentioned in chapter 2, there is a degree to which I agree with that assessment, but I think things are a lot better than they used to be and they are getting better still. No blogger or photographer can control what goes up on the street. Any artist, or person for that matter, who can find paint and a wall can put up a piece of street art or graffiti. It’s simple, and there’s nothing any blogger can do to stop that from happening. So in that sense, no, we are not gatekeepers. An important part of street art is the elimination of gatekeepers, and the same methods of getting up that bypassed traditional art-world gatekeepers 10 or 20 or even 40 years ago still work today. And even online we are not very effective gatekeepers. Artists without the attention of respected photographers or bloggers can still amass thousands of followers on their own social media accounts.

If that criticism of bloggers or photographers as gatekeepers is more about having influence over who shows in galleries, how successful those shows are, or who gets invited to the mural festivals, the critics may be more correct. Bloggers and photographers can be gatekeepers in that sense. We don’t block people from having their work seen in the way that traditional gatekeepers could when art had to be hung in a gallery or it wasn’t seen at all, but we do make choices about what work to promote and what work to ignore or criticize, so in that sense we act as gatekeepers. I can’t stop Steve Lazarides from looking around the streets of London for his next star artist, but if his staff reads Vandalog and respects my opinion, I might be able to save them some time and give them some ideas about who I think is interesting. Personally, it’s a position that I both desire and am very uncomfortable about. Have I stopped a good artist from getting a show because I didn’t post enough of their work? I hope not. Luckily, there are enough blogs and photographers and fans all distributing information today that the route to success is not through any one individual. Additionally, Shepard Fairey (who is not generally a fan or avid reader of blogs or forums about street art) gave me some food for thought on this subject:

“Influence is influence, and bloggers have influence. That’s unavoidable. When there’s entrenched power in a system, then that power looks out for itself, and that happens in the art world. Even if somebody says that they are the alternative to that power structure, once they gain some power, a lot of times that mentality kicks in… Once something has a following, there’s always the potential for it to be seen as dictating what’s good and what’s not good, controlling the culture, being a gatekeeper, but I like I said, I think that’s unavoidable. If I were to say to you that my criticism of you is that now you’re just a gatekeeper like the people from the system that started off to be an alternative to, that’s such a self-defeating thing. The whole reason you became a gatekeeper is that you built credibility; you established something. It’s the same when people say to me ‘You’re a sell out. You’re art doesn’t have any credibility because you’ve gotten big and a lot of people know who you are and you sell stuff.’ It’s sorta self-defeating. It’s like saying, ‘don’t evolve to the point where you actually have a platform to do something with and try to do something good with it.’ It’s just self-defeating I think.”

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