Amsterdam: For the Love of Street Art, Instagram Style

Afternoon boat ride on the gracht, Amsterdam canals #skyporn
A traditional view of Amsterdam on a crisp, autumn day.

Amsterdam. Romantic canals, medieval trading houses, coffee shops leaking smoke and offering contact highs. A red-light district with voluptuous — or maybe voluminous — women seated in oddly-lit windows, looking bored and listless and occasionally interested. Bicycles. Tulips. Van Gogh. Art museums.

But street art?

Amsterdam Street Art, a Newfound Appreciation

As we took yet another wrong turn in Amsterdam on a recent visit (we get lost ALL the time and now refer to this as an art), we discovered that among all those Amsterdam icons were pockets of striking graffiti and sociopolitical street art.

One street in particular was flush with brick wall sprays, cut-outs, icons, streaks, and electric hues — much of which was packed with symbolism and message. A few years ago I wouldn’t really have taken note, or perhaps I would have thought “vandalism” instead of urban artistic expression. Now our eyes are attuned to it, we search for it, we take note, we make notes.

Why the change of heart? Perhaps it’s the impermanence of street art that appeals to me now — it’s here today, but it could well be gone tomorrow. It’s a moment captured in time — a slice of the zeitgeist or manifest fragment of a young disgruntled artist’s mind, and it reads like a visual history book cataloguing the hot button social and political issues of the time.

Particularly as cultural evolution takes its course, world cultures are homogenized and aesthetic converges, street art, in all its modernity seems to cuts through that wave with its localization of artistic style. Local culture is reflected in the issues spoken to, the subjects chosen, the colors used, and how images are woven together. No matter how similar street art the world over may appear to us, no two styles of street art are quite the same. And this is cool.

Stepping back from my own navel, I just enjoy gazing at walls of street art these days. They are collage-y, and to me they appear to me a life-sized creativity or inspiration canvas. I think possibility; I often leave them with more questions than when I first took notice. And sometimes there’s just curiosity in their wake, the local context having been lost on me. Regardless, I’m always inspired — inspired to try, to think, to create, to execute — and to do it all just a little bit differently. That is the beauty of the collision of inspiration and personal expression.

Take a stroll down Spuistraat Street in Amsterdam with me. What we’ll find next time, nobody knows.

Instagramming Amsterdam’s Street Art

Note: All photos below were originally posted to our Instagram account with an iPhone 4s. Artistic credit goes to my talented husband, Dan.

Favorite doorway #11, Amsterdam #graffiti #streetart
Amidst those faces, there’s a doorway in there somewhere.

Bicycle and Lady Liberty, Amsterdam aesthetic
Lady Liberty, a peace sign and a bicycle. Related?
Amsterdam Deluxe, a face only a mother could love #nofilter #streetart
Whose angel is he? A face perhaps only a mother could love.
"This is not art...it's only me" music and brick #streetart, Amsterdam
“This is not art…it’s only me.”
Amsterdam #streetart, Ronald McDonald as the devil, maybe on fire for the #fiscalcliff
“We eat the poor to feed the West.”

Street art — a modern art form, vandalism, or a bit of both? What do you think?

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Comments

  1. says

    It does depend on the quality of art I think as to whether it is classed as street art or vandalism. I do agree with you about the getting lost in Amsterdam, every time I go I get lost, many places look the same and I am easily confused ha!

  2. says

    It’s interesting, I was in Amsterdam a few years ago and don’t remember seeing any street art. But like you, I’ve been more attuned to it lately. I think vandalism is meant to deface something special or beautiful, or is done by gangs to promote violence and destruction. Street art, on the other hand, is trying to add creativity and meaning where there is none. As long as the artists choose their canvases wisely and don’t ruin any heritage buildings, I’m all for this kind of expression.

  3. says

    I still don’t know what I would love the most about Amsterdam: delicious coffe or romantic canals. Beautiful photos guys, my favourite one is Lady Liberty with a bike. Street art is awesome!

  4. says

    @Koren: Thanks for your kind words about the photos. It was fun to discover this other side of Amsterdam with its street art.

    @Julian: I agree with you that the artistic quality matters, but remember that this is also in the eye of the beholder. But for me, I don’t think of tagging (like signature scribbles) as a form of street art – it is more ego and vandalism.

    @cosmoHallitan: We had visited Amsterdam about eight years ago and didn’t see any street art then either. Not sure if we were in the wrong areas or we just weren’t looking for it. Next time you return, check out Spuistraat Street and let us know what you find.

    I like how you define and look at vandalism vs. street art. I especially like “add creativity and meaning where there is none.” It’s tragic to see historic or protected buildings with tagging or other paint thrown on it.

    @Mitch: Glad we sparked the travel bug for Amsterdam all over again!

    @Fred: Yeah, that last shot does make you feel uncomfortable. That means it was successful :)

    @Red: Thanks! Each place we turned we kept finding more and more images and messages. It was tough to curate down to a few photos. Glad you enjoyed it!

  5. says

    @Peg: Yeah, I also took a lot of photos with our regular DSLR camera, but haven’t gotten around to processing them. Kind of liked Dan’s Instagram photos better as they captured the moment well. Thanks for sharing your images – lots of fun and more inspiration!

    @Paul: Instagram filters sometimes do funky things with clouds a la HDR, but glad you liked the rest of the shot.

  6. Christian Rene Friborg says

    I wonder why a lot of people do not consider street art… well, art. Just look at those! The messiness and clutter of it all adds to the effect of it.

  7. says

    @Christian: What is considered “art” has been a discussion for centuries. But I do feel that more and more people and cities are recognizing street art for its creative expression as art. I also love the messiness and clutter.

  8. says

    I couldn’t stop laughing at the MacDonalds jibe – brilliant. I’ve seen a lot of street art on my travels and think there is a fine line between vandalism and art. What you captured in Amsterdam and the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery are fine examples of how it should be done.

  9. says

    @Addison: The MacDonalds one is fabulous, isn’t it? That’s one of the fun things about street art – there are less inhibitions so you can provoke. I’m noticing that there are more and more street art associations showing up in urban areas. Perhaps these groups will help define the line and support street art in the way it should be done so that there is no destruction or vandalism.

    @Monica: Like you, we didn’t notice on our last visit either. Sometimes it takes getting lost to find things :)

  10. says

    When writers write about visiting art galleries they mention the artists, why so little mention when it comes to Street Art?
    Ah well we can always do our own research. The Bustart piece has at least got me interested enough to ‘Like’ his Facebook page.

  11. says

    @Mark: Enjoy! That will be a fun time of year to go. Might be after the height of the tulips, but still some sunshine and lots of color.

    @John: I imagine that over time writers will start writing about street artists as well as “traditional” ones. I know that in Berlin there are special tours dedicated to street art, so this will likely spread to other places as well.

  12. says

    How cool! I’ve always associated Berlin and London with street art, but never Amsterdam. I need to get myself down to the Spuistraat when I head up to Amsterdam for the day this week!

  13. says

    @Beulah: Glad you are enjoying our blog! At the moment we’re not doing guest posts for other websites, but thanks for the offer.

    @Caitlyn: Like you, I had always thought of Berlin and London as big street art areas. That’s what made the street art we found in Amsterdam such a pleasant surprise. Hope you found Spuistraat on your recent Amsterdam visit!

    @JoAnna: Agree! I was just looking through some street art from Oaxaca, Mexico and it’s so different. Really love the local feel and expression that comes out with street art.

  14. says

    I miss Amsterdam SO much. I’ve only been there twice before but there are some cities that just remain in your heart. Plus, the street art emerging there is looking great, fantastic news to me as a art lover.

  15. says

    @Dale: Amsterdam is a special place. We’d also like to return for more time next visit. I read that a new street art association was set up in Amsterdam these last years that is trying to improve the quality and understanding of street art there. Like you, hoping it continues to grow and evolve.

  16. says

    Dear Audrey and Daniel,

    “I was here but now I’m gone
    I left my name to carry on
    Those who liked me
    Liked me well
    Those who didn’t can go to hell’”

    ― E.M. Crane, Skin

    Thank you for the inspiring post and the beautiful pictures. I hope you are doing well.

  17. says

    Fantastic! the street of Amsterdam are so unexplored! Most spend their time bachelor partying or in cafes stoned. Amsterdam is an amazing city that people just dont explore enough. Great post!

  18. says

    @Creative Nomad: We did see our share of bachelor and hen parties in and around the downtown area. Quite a shame as the city has so much more to offer. But, that means that the rest of the areas are more quiet for us :)

    @Sonia: We can definitely vouch for Berlin’s great street art scene. We also really liked the street art and murals in Valparaiso in Chile – great color and artistic quality. Glad to see the quality & creativity improving in many places.

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