Skin Deep: The Case for Knoxville’s Street Art

In Knoxville, TN, street art is a common theme. But to the general public, is it art or vandalism? Here’s an insight to consider.


Written by 
Treyvon Meursault

When you Google “Knoxville, TN art,” like with most cities, you won’t find its creative underbelly. You’ll likely see, however, plenty of Instagram posts including the Graffiti Gallery, an effort by the Artist Alley Revamp Project to help clean up our streets. What separates the Graffiti Gallery from what the UT Daily Beacon deems vandalism and r/Knoxville considers an eyesore? Doesn’t permission and approval kill the very spirit of street art?

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Photo Courtesy: Astor Belle

Graffiti – spray paint, stencils, stickers – is as legitimate as canvas displayed in a university gallery. Art is, after all, highly subjective, and, as that may be, street art sometimes exhibits much better form and objective technique than its academic counterparts. Furthermore, most conventionally painted murals, unlike expressive street art, are bland, with superficial messages:

“Eat here!” “Buy this!” “Go Vols!”

This type of art or, rather, this type of marketing doesn’t stimulate much emotion nor provoke any thought beyond eating there, buying that, and college football. The beauty is only “skin-deep,” as they say.

Street art is considered vandalism, which is illegal – period – but would a younger you really mind it all that much? On the other hand, even police officers pose for selfies down Strong Alley. The only difference between Van Gogh and Banksy is opinion. The only difference between an art major and a starving artist is tuition. The only difference between a commissioned mural and a graffiti tag is a price. If it has always been this way, where only those with enough money to buy the time and freedom necessary for self-expression, then that is why we have so much unlawful graffiti anyway. Human beings crave either creation or destruction, which, in a sense, is another form of creation, says Graham Greene. We, as a people, have always questioned whether or not we were created, and, if we were, by whom? Creation is so ingrained in modern thought that we’ve found new ways of creating life, entire cosmos on a microscopic scale. Genetic modification, simulation theory, so much proof exists, but that’s a different argument…

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Photo Courtesy: Astor Belle

The city’s street art was amongst the first things I noticed when moving to Knoxville. How could I not appreciate that psychedelic bear atop Knox Rail Salvage and the zombie who once haunted 305 Randolph St. At the end of the day, paint is covered cheaply and stickers are removed fairly easily. I ask, though, in some cases, why not leave it?

So, Knoxville, are you ready to embrace the beauty hiding beneath your surface?

My name is Treyvon Meursault, and I’m an author and content writer from Louisville, KY. You can find more of my work on Instagram @hiii_lit.
El Burrito Blog

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