Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Creating and Collaborating Broadens Street Art's Reach

Street artists were invited to create on the 69th floor of a skyscraper.

On February 21, 2017, the New York Times described a radical experiment: the 69th floor of 4 World Trade Center Tower is currently welcoming renowned street artists to express themselves inside—and legally. The next day, February 22, 2017, the entire issue of Figaroscope, a weekly compilation of events in the Paris region, was dedicated to street art in France's capital—that which shows up in subway corridors, on walls, sidewalks, pavements, trucks, almost anywhere in outdoor and often public spaces, with or without permission.

Roni Beth Tower
Source: Roni Beth Tower

Such recognition of the talent and creativity of those who work in the genre marks a shift in its official acceptance. What began with graffiti, expanded with Basquiat in the 1970’s, broadened to new targets inspired by Keith Haring’s images and with the inclusion of new materials in the 1980’s (along with increased official metropolitan resistance), has now seen the rise of new masters in the new century. In Paris, a major exhibition at the Musée Maillol of the work of renowned street artist Ben was a blockbuster; huge murals such as the one incorporating Dali-inspired themes presides over the plaza outside Centre George Pompidou; and Art42, a museum devoted specifically to street art, opened in 2016. In Manhattan, the building at 190 Bowery whose owner encouraged street art was designated a New York City Landmark in 2005; Bansky made his way around the boroughs in 2013; in 2014 JR covered the Promenade floor of the Koch Theater with larger than life dancers, silently inviting interaction.

Clearly these artistic expressions, disruptive of traditional notions as they may be, hold intrigue and appeal to today’s public. They have also fascinated neuropsychologist Yoav Litvin who, after publishing Outdoor Gallery: New York City in 2014, harnessed his training as a psychologist to that as a photographer (blending disparate skill sets as do so many street artists) and embarked upon a project that he documented in 2Create: Art Collaborations in New York City.

Yoav Litvin/Cover by Dan Michman
Source: Yoav Litvin/Cover by Dan Michman

Litvin had captured the vibrancy and compelling nature of the murals, collages, silk-screens, graffiti-centered or imbued compositions and other street art in his first book. He realized that, by preserving images of the pieces in high quality photographs, he could become part of their story, especially since they were often painted over. But, always the psychologist, he could not resist wondering how the artists had claimed the street art path and, even more, how their relationships with other artists evolved. To further explore these questions, he convinced nine pairs of street artists to allow him to document their creation of a collaborative work in 2Create.

In his second book, Litvin explores how the artists can come to create, collaborate, and communicate within inevitably close relationships. His artists were born in places ranging from Montreal to Santiago, from Sweden (of Finnish origins) to Queens. They had almost boringly stable childhoods or chaotic ones and everything in between. They were born across decades into families of 16 different ethnic backgrounds. (Two were brothers; two others claimed similar Italian heritage.) Some knew they were artists nearly from birth; others discovered their passion in college. Nonetheless, they each found their calling once they discovered the excitement and freedom of street art. All cared passionately about the work they made and agreed on its essential components:

  • Creating. No matter whether their style was fluid or detailed, their process organic or planned, all the artists had mastered their materials and had a preferred medium to work in, whether paint, collage, silk screen, or spray cans. They each were thus able to allow the bulk of their energy to go into artistic expression rather than mastering a technique. They all valued expanding their repertoire but also had an internal aesthetic. They also knew that they needed to make art, that doing so was an essential part of who they were. Finally, every one of them shared a commitment to music and movement as well as to graphic art. An alternate source of expression could bring them joy, inspiration or respite when the creative process got stuck.
  • Collaborating. Because art is such a personal expression, creating in teams with comfort and joy was not a given. History has given us many examples of artists who learned from one another and expanded their horizons through their relationships, but true collaborations — perhaps Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely are a notable exception — have been rare. All nine of Litvin’s artist pairs were enthusiastic about and pleased with the process. They all realized that the boundaries of their own perspectives had been broadened. But they also attributed the success of their collaborations to:
    • Respect for each other’s work.
    • Trust for each other’s goodwill and integrity.
    • Willingness to work out differences of opinion ​
  • Communicating. As in most teamwork, the key to potential conflict resolution was in communication. Some pairs did it through discussion, one through nonverbal exploration of possibilities, others through reminding themselves that the integrity of the whole was more important than the way either one of them saw it. And if words failed, their shared love of music and movement could provide an alternate language until they used words or time to again share the same page of perspective.

With the arrival of Litvin’s book last fall and now the assignment of a floor in a World Trade Center Tower to recognized street artists, the medium is set for another jump into respectability.

Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower

Visit me at

More from Roni Beth Tower Ph.D., ABPP
More from Psychology Today