Walking around Somerville over the years, I occasionally encountered the words NOT ART painted in block letters on buildings, signs or objects around the city, and I began seeing them in neighboring Cambridge as well. I asked around to see if anyone knew the identity of the artist or artists, but no one seemed to have any information on who he, she, or they were.

Then, in July of 2014, Somerville Neighborhood News, a local news show produced by the city’s community cable station, ran a short video featuring an artist claiming to be responsible for the NOT ART art. (You can read about and view the video interview here, at approx. 22’51” in)


Throughout the videotaped interview, the artist wears a mask made from what appears to be a cardboard produce box (perhaps maintaining his anonymity to avoid being charged for unauthorized graffiti). He explained that the purpose of his work was to encourage viewers to see the beauty in the ordinary objects on which NOT ART was painted.

Given that many of the ones I photographed are in or around construction sites, IMHO the artist may also have been commenting on the disturbing pace of development and gentrification in Somerville and Cambridge. Or maybe he was simply choosing to paint on surfaces no one was likely to get upset about because they were temporary.

The video included a number of NOT ART images I had not seen before, while those I photographed and am including here do not appear in the news story, so whoever made them was quite prolific. I hardly ever encounter them these days, so maybe the mystery artist has moved on, artistically or geographically.


In the one below, the artist has refrained from using the word NOT. Does this mean this one is ART?

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 Somerville Ave

I encountered the two below in the Fells Reservation, located in the neighboring city of Malden.  Are these by the same artist, or are there copycats out there? In fact, I’m still not entirely convinced that the masked artist is the only one responsible for all the NOT ARTS…the mask might also have been a way of adding another layer of mystery and uncertainty to the project…...

  This one is from the Fells Reservation in Malden

Below: this Somerville BEAUTY has the same block letter aesthetic as NOT ART. Is it just a different way of conveying the idea of finding beauty in ordinary surfaces? Or a different artist?


And finally, there’s this one, which I encountered quite unexpectedly, on Cape Cod, in the Falmouth/Mashpee area. Someone added to NOT the letters ICE, which dovetails with the stated intentions of masked Somerville artist who says he wants people to NOTICE his work, although the smaller size letters suggest the ICE was added later (or poor planning).