“A sense of measure in art is everything.” Anatole France
A mural is an original artistic phenomenon that has come down to us since ancient times, and its origin is associated with rock paintings in ancient caves. Such drawings are traditionally executed directly on the surface of the wall or on the plaster and usually operate with large areas. Works of art of this genre look monumental and majestic, hence the name of its kind — monumental-decorative.
Significantly, the wall monumental painting was a long time associated with the decoration of domes of sacred buildings, which for a long time consolidated its religious character, until it was reborn in other manifestations much later, as in the interior decoration of the palaces, where finally other themes were used. Later, when the universality of the murals was fully realized, the scope of their apply considerably expanded, which allowed them to be used in propaganda in Soviet times.
The parallel branch of the mural development goes from folk art. What is special, here the walls were painted not only from the inside but also from the outside. The walls were decorated with a simple geometric pattern, sometimes plants or animals, without using thoughtful scenes and images of people.
Another interesting version of the origin of wall-paintings in its modern form is Mexico in the 20th Century. This hypothesis is even more clear because our historical background at some point is similar to Mexico: the revolutionary and reformist changes in society came out as the flowering of the muralism culture. At the same time, a splash in the mass distribution of murals in our country fell on the Revolution of Dignity, one of the most significant events of the 21st century in Ukrainian history.
However, not always the art accompanied turbulent periods of human history, in the period of stagnation and consolidation of positions they also devoted a special place. In the second half of the 20th century Soviet monumental and decorative arts became extremely popular, and it is a close relative of modern “muralism”. However, in this case, the drawings for the entire wall did not aim at raising the culture in society, decorating the urban environment, and so on.
Of course, the Soviet monumental art and mosaic panels, which have survived till nowadays, are thought to have been devised to the smallest details, are well-made and indeed have great decorative quality, although this was not the primary goal they pursued. Being a part of the artistic trend of so-called socialist realism, they can be regarded as an element of political propaganda.
It does not in any way diminish the masterpieces of the genre, but questions the interpretation of such artists as a way of politically unbiased creative expression.
To this kind of function, the murals are resorted to now: even if they are not directly transmitted through the image of political or social plot subjects, they indirectly influence them all the same. A good example is the lively discussion of new murals in the local press: “Thanks to the new mayor the city became much more beautiful – so many new murals appeared, even in our distant neighbourhood, this proves that the city’s municipality is really concerned about the environment in which our children grow, even tourists often come to see our murals!” Who else, if not for tourists and city guests, need this art in such an unconvenient situation where locals have unsatisfied needs related to the vital issues such as comfortable life in city’s space, and it is not always about aesthetic needs. The client of the murals is often the city government or local self-government, it turns out that such positive changes in the city (even if it’s a wow effect) are directly associated with the city authorities, making it an imaginary “bonus in karma”. For the average citizen of the city, a very simple logical connection, based on the hierarchy of needs, is triggered: if art develops at such a speed, basic needs are likely to be already satisfied, aren’t they? This is a tool of manipulation of public consciousness, absolutely sure of it.
In spite of their colossal size, the murals are rather a tiny grain in our own eyes, which we refuse to see, than a deck in the eye of a stranger, which we usually see from far away. Murals, monuments and other amenities are extremely convenient to cover global problems. So, in such circumstances, are murals still considered a piece of art? Both yes and no.
In order to avoid inaccuracies in the interpretation of concepts, you should once and for all make a distinction between the murals and independent street art. If to speak at all, street art uncovers problems which exist in society, murals –disguise them, although recently the tendency of murals to appeal to acute social issues has spread.
Street art is exclusively non-commercial art, the main characteristic feature of which is to be an act of free creative expression and also its semi-legitimate nature. Not surprisingly, with such self-expression, the representatives of the municipality and the owners of the “canvases” are actively struggling to create such a “masterpiece” (usually these canvases are the facades of buildings, fences), considering the street art of pure vandalism. On this background appears the dilemma: if not vandalism is considered to be street art, then what?
The category of street art can include graffiti, which does not always have the aesthetic appearance and objective artistic value, but in the best way reflects the mood in society because street art works are not subject to censorship. In addition, independent street art is more sensitive to the context of the environment in which it appears, playing with the nature of the environment, with specific details. Hamlet, the Ukrainian street-artist is a real master of the context. By his work, he gave new life to the forgotten areas of Kharkiv geography and famous city ruins, and at the same time, he did not destroy their quiet peace of mind by visual noise, integrating into the urban space very tactfully and delicately.
Murals are often a sample of commercial art, therefore, it can’t be broadcasted only as a state-regulated order for fine art, built exclusively on the government’s own ideas about the nature of art. This theory explains in detail in its study of Mistosite. As an example in one of the chapters, they present an image of Peter Naboichenko (Second World War Soviet soldier) on a multistory house in Kharkiv. We would like to add that the picture was created in 2013, that is, before the adoption of the Law on Decommunization and until now, no actions were applied to it. Taking into account the context of the environment (this is hardly the only “Stalinka” of this part of the city, everything else is represented by pre-revolutionary houses, city manors), we have here a conflict of urban symbolic spaces. Of course, glorifying our defenders is a good thing to do, but is it worth to do it with such a pathos?
In addition to municipalities in commercial monumental art, other important players in the urban scene can act as customers, such as the management of large enterprises that have an influence in the city or world known global brands for advertising purposes.
However, sometimes, all street art is generally called street art without distinguishing the shades of meaning between the components “murals” and “independent street-art”. So we’ve already reviewed non-commercial street art through the prism of vandalism, but how to be with commercial one? That is to say, with murals from world-famous artists which government agencies have ordered? Slippery question, and if we talk about general laws – yes.
The peculiarity of street art lies in the interaction with the environment and in addition to the criterion of “aesthetic” comes the “appropriateness”. Thus, an objectively artistically and meaningfully valuable as a separate exhibition pattern, a picture may prove to be inappropriate in a particular place and get a negative reaction. A similar situation occurred with the murals at the Osokorki metro station in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.
The situation was even more complicated since this mural was a collaboration of many artists who were working in different styles and their works, thematically and colourfully very different, were combined in a chaotic manner – so that they have created in a minimalist interior of the station inappropriate visual and informational noise. It was ironic that the state-owned enterprise “Center for the Protection of the Information Space of Ukraine” has ordered this noise. The work came across a wave of criticism from all sides and nobody got dry out of the water.
Consequently, even the work of world-renowned artists may be completely inappropriate and considered an act of vandalism while being placed into an environment that distorts perception of these art pieces and thereby significantly loses its own aesthetics too.