Though he’s now regarded as an iconic artist, Keith Haring was once considered a renegade. His work — depicting dancing figures, hearts, and musical references — has now been featured on everything from Swatch watches to Adidas sneakers, but in the ’80s, New York City officials considered Haring a nuisance and a detriment to New Yorkers’ “quality of life.” After all, Haring’s biggest claim to fame were his subway drawings, sketched using chalk atop the blank advertising paper panels he found lining the walls of train stations. Because his work was illegal, then, city authorities and law enforcement officials quickly denounced it â€” not quite as vehemently as they did the work of graffiti writers, but still rather forcefully.
It’s baffling how short-sighted these officials were (and continue to be, they still persecute graffiti artists with the type of single-minded furor they could channel to rapists and arsonists). After all, had Keith Haring’s work not been placed in these high traffic locations, the public would never have had the opportunity to discover his genius. Haring’s public pieces, then, helped to democratize artistic output, making beautiful art accessible to all. It’s what I continue to love about street art: how it allows all of us to enjoy beautiful forms of expression without having to enter some museum (or pay an admission fee).
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