Influence of Street Art on the Art Market 

February 21, 2023

Street art is regarded as one of the largest art movements. It’s achieved huge popularity and is still rapidly growing as an art form. 

Street artworks mainly appear in urban areas and public locations, such as exterior walls of buildings, highway overpasses and bridges, and define the look of many neighborhoods and cities worldwide. 

Reflections on political and social issues are often central to the art movement, which can include sprayed tags, stickers, knitted fibers wrapping telephone poles as well as monumental, painted murals covering entire buildings. 

This kind of influence on the art world has also transpired to the market side, where street art has defined itself as a key portion of the contemporary art market. 

History of Street Art

People have used natural surfaces to draw and paint on since prehistoric times. Handprints and paintings depicting hunting scenes were put on cave walls to evoke the prosperity and unity of small human communities.

What we call street art today is inherently different from the aforementioned wall paintings and dates back to modern times, to the war of infamous gangs of New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. That was when name-based tags and primitive graffiti started popping up on the streets, marking controlled territories by competing gangs.

A similar urban climate contributed to art murals finding their way into the cityscapes of Southern California’s metropolises around the same time.

The well-documented origins of current street art come from Philadelphia and especially New York City. In the 1960s, New York went through hard times and was on the brink of bankruptcy. The vast areas of boarded-up buildings, vacant lots, closed-down factories and construction sites became the canvas for a group of creative kids. First in Spanish Harlem, that led to the development of a whole art form that went from a simple signature all the way to murals that covered entire subway cars.

The New York Golden Age

The mid-1970s saw the evolution of different styles as many seminal street artists at that time would write their nicknames and pseudonyms in a unique manner with an original design, battling the quest to get noticed.

Only a few artists captured the creative process and the early momentum of street artist communities, photographer Martha Cooper being one of the most respected names to do so. She started documenting the New York street art scene and street artists in the 1970s, and also largely contributed to the development of the movement by distributing her book called Subway Art, published in the early 1980s. Cooper’s slim paperback edition quickly became a style guide for train writers and graffiti artists across the United States and Europe.

During the 1980s, street and graffiti art found its way into art galleries and museums at a time when artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat from the New York street art scene were first emerging. Their work elevated street art into the fine art world. Since then, the art form has secured its position in the art world and has become validated as a cultural phenomenon, even though graffiti remains illegal in many cities worldwide.

Themes & Techniques of Street Art

Often humorous and thought-provoking, Street Art covers an extremely wide range of themes and interesting techniques beyond traditional graffiti and spray paint. 


While territorial and rebellious, Street Art conveys a social or political message that provokes discussion and reaction. Street Art is often connected to activism, creating awareness about pressing social and environmental issues.


Street Art is created in various ways with a wide range of techniques. Tagging by aerosol paint is one of the most common and quickest ways to put out work in public, while markers, spray paint, and innovations such as filling fire extinguishers with paint are also widely used.

However, Street Art is not limited to paint and markers, as artists can use absolutely any kind of material and medium available such as stencils, stickers, posters, textiles, LED lights, mosaics or video projection.

Graffiti vs Street Art

Drawing the line between graffiti and Street Art can be difficult. The most obvious distinction is in intent.

While Street Art is often commissioned, making graffiti is typically not sanctioned, and cities often treat the act of spraying graffiti as vandalism. Another distinctive feature of the two is that Street Art contains elements connected to graphic design and is more about imagery.

At the same time, graffiti always has a text-based subject in the act of tagging and lettering. Graffiti art is largely associated with hip hop and punk subcultures and still represents a form of rebellion.

Most Famous Street Artists

Let’s take a look at some of the most famous street artists of the past, and the most influential street artists of the present day.


Despite his international fame, the identity of stencil-artist Banksy is still shrouded in mystery.

An enigma himself, Banksy got noticed for spray-painting trains and walls in his home city of Bristol in the 1990s. Since then, the artist has become a worldwide phenomenon, putting subversive and controversial messages on the streets worldwide.

He also pulled off one of art history’s most original auction stunts. His 2006 painting of Girl with Balloon unexpectedly self-destructed immediately after it was sold for more than a million dollars at a Sotheby’s auction.

Keith Haring

Keith Haring played a significant role in the rise of the 1980s New York street art scene, creating graffiti-inspired paintings and drawings that broke down the barriers between street culture and high art.

Haring found a unique way to participate in the city’s creative boom, using his own visual language and symbols to comment on issues like drug addiction, sexuality, war and power.

He first gained popularity in the early 1980s with his cartoon-like subway drawings, which were temporary works he would create with a piece of chalk using blank advertising posters at subway stops as his canvas.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Born to a Puerto Rican mother and a Haitian immigrant father, Jean-Michel Basquiat, like many of his contemporaries, began his work on the streets of New York City.

At the age of 20, he began working on paper and canvas in a so-called consolidated way, while studying art history on his own. He befriended his idol, Andy Warhol, who did much for his advancement and recognition and collaborated with Basquiat.

Basquiat struggled with the sudden fame and pressure for years in an escalation that resulted in a heroin overdose at the age of 27. After his early death, his reputation has soared and today, through his paintings and graffiti, Jean-Michel Basquiat is considered as one of the first and greatest examples of visual art in the history of African American art.

Shepard Fairey

Shepard Fairey is a contemporary American street artist who founded the well-known brand OBEY, which emerged from the skateboarding scene. Besides stencil works, Fairey creates murals, graphic illustrations, and designs. He is the creator of former US president Barack Obama’s successful 2008 campaign logo and “Hope” poster.


The 44-year-old Brooklyn-based artist, whose real name is Brian Donnelly, got his start as a teenager, when he would commute from New Jersey to New York City to leave his KAWS tag—the somewhat random letters he chose because he liked how they looked together—on downtown walls and public spaces. He later began tagging street advertisements with playful, cartoon-like figures.

Today KAWS is considered one of the pillars of Contemporary Art while staying true to his Street Art roots. KAWS’s work can be reflected as pivotal in the scope of urban art and how it bridges the line of high and low art, garnering mass appeal from both private and auction house sales.

Street Art and the Art Market

Street Art is still a relatively young movement and, as such, presents a constantly evolving scene where new artists and trends are always breaking through. This is a dream from an investment perspective, but while it presents many opportunities to diversify and expand your investment portfolio, it is important to conduct your research carefully.

Here are some reasons for Street Art’s appeal in the art market:

Street Art is Relatable

Back in the early days of graffiti and street art, artists created works with references and symbols only understood by their inner circle. But today, street art is not reserved for an “in” crowd, with artists such as Banksy addressing everyday issues like hope, loss, celebrity, police violence and childhood with humor.

Street Art is Easy to Understand

Art is sometimes seen as elitist because it can be hard to understand. Street Art’s references to pop culture or everyday life are instantly clear, which gives it mass appeal, even to people who don’t usually enjoy “high art.”

Street Art is Reaching More People

Unlike art made to be exhibited in galleries, there is no barrier to entry for street art. Anyone can see it in the streets and easily share it on social media, meaning it can be instantly seen and recognized worldwide.

Street Art is Desirable

When original works by street artists, like paintings or sculptures, sell for high prices at auction, other collectors start to take notice and buy into their entry-level pieces, like prints and multiples — which online platforms make buying and selling easier than ever. More on that later.

Invest in Shares of Authentic Works By Street Artists 

For those that want to invest in a piece of art from one of the most profound street artists such as Banksy and KAWS there is now a way to add their names to your portfolio and fractional collection. 

Thanks to the art investing platform Masterworks, investing in shares of street artists’ works and other top blue-chip artists is now more accessible than ever.

Masterworks is the first platform allowing investors to purchase shares representing an investment in iconic multi-million-dollar artworks.

Masterworks handles the valuation, authentication, due diligence and purchasing for you, with help from our world-class team of art researchers. 

Apply for membership now to start investing in shares of masterpieces from artists like Banksy, KAWS, Basquiat and more.

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Masterworks is a fintech company democratizing the art market. Our investors are able to fractionally invest in $1mn+ works of art by some of the world's most famous and sought-after artists.