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Our currency is covered in artwork.


Engravings on a coin or the images on the back of a dollar help us differentiate between denominations, but they serve other purposes as well. They are used to prevent anyone outside of the government that issues the currency from creating duplicates, and the images are supposed to provide cultural touchstones that bond together its users. Any American can recognize a portrait of Abraham Lincoln or George Washington because of this fact, and it isn’t dissimilar to the way leaders of Rome had their faces engraved on coins minted during their tenure.


Given the ubiquitous nature of currency inside a culture, as well as the power it represents, it’s natural for artists to be drawn to it. Some artists actually see currency as a medium.



The Greek artist Stefanos has made headlines recently for his controversial etchings on euros.


His images are supposed to illuminate the hardships that European Union-enforced austerity has brought to the people of Greece. One of his etchings features a black figure hanging by a noose from an archway. Others are more subtle, such as one that depicts a scattering crowd running through a classical-style bridge, possibly from an unseen predator.


Using banknotes as a canvas adds layers of complexity to the art. In Stefanos’s case, the artwork moves back into regular circulation after he has drawn on the bills. This incorporates a street art feel to the project, because viewers will not encounter the work in a typical gallery or museum setting. That fact suits the political message of the project; Stefanos is trying to make a point, and he wants it made loudly, to a large number of people. This approach also blurs distinctions between everyday life and art by its use of money as a medium. The political situation that the project comments on has been fueled by imposed austerity, which is a program that was prescribed in reaction to Greece’s financial problems. Yet the money the artwork is displayed on will be used for everyday interactions between average people. There is a complete interchange between the artwork, the political statement it makes, and the people affected by it.


"The medium allows me to ‘bomb’ public property from the comfort of my home,” said Stefanos, in a statement about his project. He stated that when he looks at EU banknotes, he does not see images that are grounded in reality. Given the chaos engendered by financial collapse in his home country, he wanted to paint a more realistic picture on the currency.












For what it’s worth, defacing currency is illegal in many countries.


The U.S. defines defacing currency as altering it past the point of use. In other words, if you alter a piece of green paper to the point where your local corner store wouldn’t accept or recognize it, you’ve technically broken federal law. And where you reach that point, exactly, is a little complicated. For example, burning a dollar is defacing it. If you turn your dollar into a small pile of ashes, it can’t be used or accepted or recognized. But what if you write your initials on it in sharpie? It’d look weird, but most people would agree that it’s still worth something.


For artists with projects like Stefanos’s, keeping the bills intact and usable is actually necessary for their art to succeed. If his tagged dollars aren’t in distribution, people don’t see them. But for other artists, like Hanna von Goeler, the bills don’t need to circulate.





This ongoing project chronicles my struggle and relationship with money”


— Hanna von Goeler


Where Stefanos’s project is political and specific to one country, Goeler’s project is at once more personal and more universal. Although the pieces in her project are based on American currency, her project examines the design and pattern of money. It also incorporates art history references and everyday objects like food and couches. Goeler also makes political points, though in a more subdued manner. One of her pieces includes a dollar with a painted map of the Middle East on the front.


C.K. Wilde, an artist whose work includes American dollars with pop-culture icons in the portrait slots, states that his interest in currency comes from childhood.



"I travelled to Europe often to visit my relatives. When I returned, I often still had money from the places I travelled. An attempt to buy candy with Deutsche marks in the U.S. brought into sharp relief the inherent contradictions of nationalism and international travel.”


— C.K. Wilde


Currency does often act as a vestige of nationalism.


Even in the Eurozone, where money circulates across national boundaries, it is still specific to the region. For all its supposed uses, our currency anchors us in place and typically offers only a superficial, sterilized glimpse at a nation’s culture or history. You can sense the frustration with this fact when artists choose to use currency as a canvas. It makes sense, though, that we should want something more fulfilling from an object that plays such a dominant role in each of our lives.



To this end, not a small number of artists have set about creating their own, new currency.


Barbara Bernát, an artist working in Budapest, created some beautiful, sophisticated images for a Hungarian Euro. The images feature plants and animals, under which you can see skeletal images under UV light — an aesthetic anti-counterfeiting device.


Along the same lines, the Women On 20s campaign seeks to replace American President Andrew Jackson on the twenty dollar bill with the face of an influential American woman. Both projects reflect a desire for more aesthetic sensibility and cultural accuracy on currency.


Asking why money looks the way it does is perhaps akin to willingly diving face-first down the proverbial rabbit hole. But it is a question worth asking, and while we don’t condone breaking the law, we are always delighted to see artists turn their skeptical eyes toward important questions like this one and come up with creative answers.


















Your Thoughts


  1. If you had the opportunity to design a piece of currency, would you be interested? Or do you feel that the medium would limit your ability to be creative?
  2. What’s the most beautiful piece of currency you’ve ever seen? Where does it come from?
  3. Should currency be artistic? Or should its form match its utilitarian nature?













Our currency is covered in artwork. Engravings on a coin or the images on the back of a dollar help us differentiate between denominations, but they serve other purposes as well. They are used to prevent anyone outside of the government that issues the currency from creating duplicates, and the images are supposed to provide cultural touchstones that bond together its users. Any American can recognize a portrait of Abraham Lincoln or George Washington because of this fact, and it isn’t dissimilar to the way leaders of Rome had their faces engraved on coins minted during their tenure.

Author: eawood
Curator: ellenherbert
Designer: seoul-child

For more articles like this, visit depthRADIUS.
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Add a Comment:
 
:iconcommanderclaw:
CommanderClaw Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2015
Sweet!!! The Hulk was the most coolest!
Reply
:iconcaracless:
Caracless Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2015   Digital Artist
CURRENCY SHOULD BE ARTISTICCCC
Reply
:iconchibichow:
Chibichow Featured By Owner Apr 1, 2015  Student General Artist
That's awesome!
Reply
:iconmlblue:
MLBlue Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Here is a link to some dollar art I made with me as The Penguin, the famous Batman villain:

mlblue.deviantart.com/art/Peng…
Reply
:iconjosfredd:
josfredd Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2015
I've done this before. It is awesome to see more artist use currency as a medium. Sure it's illegal, but the results are amazing. It shows the creativity that one has to express themselves in other ways.
Reply
:iconmakepictures:
makepictures Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2015
Likely not to be a popular comment or sentiment, but there are many currencies in their official versions that are breathtakingly beautiful, construct intricate stories and present brilliant design work.  It is no surprise that the most boring and bland currency, that of the United States, was chosen as the base for remixing by these artists.  Almost any doodle would improve the dollar bill.
Reply
:iconmadizzlee:
madizzlee Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2015   General Artist
I love it when people make art with dollar bills! There's a sushi restaurant I went to in Burbank once that has the walls completely decorated with drawn-on dollar bills, and I thought it was so fun and different. 
Reply
:iconaunjuli:
aunjuli Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2015
I've wanted to experiment with painting on actual currency for some time now, but I guess I haven't really had an idea that stood out to me. I feel like there should certainly be a purpose or an idea to designing it, even if it's to enhance the look of the bill. On the flip side, it's super cool to see currency imagined and re-imagined. I love vectorgeek's LotR currency. <3 The United States piece by mythfits makes me really long for currency that reflects aesthetics. Money is certainly important, but gosh, money looked like that, it would certainly be revered.
Reply
:iconshinra71:
SHINRA71 Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2015  Professional Artist
yo hago lo mismo con los billetes de mi pais venezuela
Reply
:iconcurtisucla:
CurtisUcla Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2015  Student General Artist
Excellent travail, j'adore !
Reply
:iconmrmeep26019:
mrmeep26019 Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2015
i like \( ö )/
Reply
:iconanthousya:
Anthousya Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2015  Hobbyist Photographer
Amazing!
Reply
:iconfellitorockero:
FellitoRockero Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2015
I'd like to.

5000 colones. Costa Rica. 1995.

Artistic.
Reply
:iconevoluzione:
evoluzione Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
I'd love to see a Jackson Pollock or a Georgia O'Keeffe denomination.  
Reply
:iconwephotoboothyou:
WePhotoBoothYou Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2015
AWESOME !
Reply
:iconlaurenkitsune:
LaurenKitsune Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2015  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
My favorite, er, type of defacing is when the artist uses just a pen/pencil (ie, no white out) and adds minimal lines to completely change the faces we're used to seeing. I'm just as astounded as when you see those Cosplayers utilizing makeup to COMPLETELY transform themselves into the actor they're portraying. That said, all the images included here are absolutely breathtaking! I would love to get some currency that had this type of art on it, but I probably wouldn't spend it afterwards!
Reply
:iconmarkmaldonado4:
markmaldonado4 Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2015
Sweet
Reply
:iconrikkigawthorpe:
rikkigawthorpe Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2015  Hobbyist Artist
I like this, love to go to a shop, and get given one of these as change
Reply
:iconhannahelizabethh:
hannahelizabethh Featured By Owner Edited Mar 29, 2015  Student General Artist
Very interesting idea! Some those above are cool. Especially the Spock one :)
Reply
:iconbennykizzle333:
bennykizzle333 Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2015
Cool
Reply
:iconartsyrosey:
ArtsyRosey Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
  1. I would be interested in designing currency. I bet I would be hated by half the country though, no matter what I changed it to!
  2. I love Japan's little coins with holes in the middle; I've heard they used to be strung on necklaces. I also love the colors on Euros.
  3. I think currency should be a bit artistic; I love European money with all the colors. But it should be professional as well, of course. (and it should be unique.)
Reply
:iconkatiebug080592:
katiebug080592 Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015  Student Digital Artist
i know a burger joint where 90 % of the wall art is dollar bill someone drew on.
Reply
:iconfiftyshadezofgold:
fiftyshadezofgold Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015
This is very creative
Reply
:iconhhhiq15101983:
hhhiq15101983 Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015
Hi this is butterfly
Reply
:iconcurlyfries12000:
curlyfries12000 Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015  Student Filmographer
Other people are starving and homeless I meant to place that between above.
Reply
:icondoodlelf:
doodlelf Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
is it really that wrong to use your money as you wish?
Reply
:iconcurlyfries12000:
curlyfries12000 Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015  Student Filmographer
....😡
Reply
:iconirishhighlander:
irishhighlander Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015  Hobbyist
I did once design banknotes for my own fictional currency. I've never uploaded them to dA though. And years ago a School project saw me design a commemorative £100 note featuring the Beatles.

I must admit a certain nostalgia for the pre-Euro Irish coins. I have a couple of pennies, that I keep meaning to get made into cufflinks. The new royal portrait on the new UK coins is a good likeness of the British Queen. As to notes, my favourite banknotes from an artistic point of view are the Jamaican, because they are so colourful.
Reply
:iconcurlyfries12000:
curlyfries12000 Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015  Student Filmographer
I think this is a disgrace people in other parts of the world while other's draw on money not impressed.
Reply
:iconeawood:
eawood Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2015
Fair point! I think that's what's really interesting about the project that Stefanos is doing though, because he's trying to make a political statement about the poverty and suffering that is happening in his country due to a lack of money by forcing people to confront it when they get a bill that his artwork is on. On the other hand, challenging the practical applications of artwork is something of a rabbit hole. You could certainly make the case that the time people spend making paintings or writing novels would be better used volunteering to help those in need or raising awareness about important political issues, and yet, if all artists adopted that philosophy, would we have any art? It's a challenging issue to wrestle with.
Reply
:iconcurlyfries12000:
curlyfries12000 Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2015  Student Filmographer
Yeah it is, makes you think deeply..😮
Reply
:iconmythfits:
mythfits Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015
Seems a shame to have missed this one:
United States by mythfits on deviantart
mythfits.deviantart.com/art/Un…
Reply
:iconeawood:
eawood Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2015
when you're right, you're right. Check the gallery. I'm glad you pointed this out to us! 
Reply
:iconmythfits:
mythfits Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2015
Thank you! What a nice surprise!
Reply
:iconpelopia:
Pelopia Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
1 no I would not want to design a currency. It's not the medium that limits me but my skill to make it what it deserves.

2 New Zeeland and Australian coins are beautiful.

3 It can be artistic to some point. We will soon get our new bills here in Sweden, they have a photo feel to them instead of the usual copperplate. I think it makes them feel less valuable.
Reply
:iconmikalover139:
mikalover139 Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015
Hulk rules! I would use cartoon cash!
Reply
:iconcimorene13:
cimorene13 Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
I would use pony money...

I would also design my own currency I guess, and the most beautiful I've seen is the 50 baht bills here, the rainbow version I mean. It's changed a bit over the years.
Reply
:iconpseudopandemonium:
Pseudopandemonium Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Brony? /)
Reply
:iconcimorene13:
cimorene13 Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
(\ Eeyup!
Reply
:iconpseudopandemonium:
Pseudopandemonium Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Whohooo
Reply
:iconaskchefshazameir:
AskChefShazameir Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2015
...How much trouble would I be in to do this kind of stuff at work?
Reply
:iconshmyah:
Shmyah Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2015  Hobbyist Artist
none
Reply
:iconicemountaindragon505:
IceMountainDragon505 Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
zombie hulk???? O_O
Reply
:iconbubul1986:
bubul1986 Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2015
without creativity a person cannot make anything, let alone sell it and earn a living. Art comes first above all other things.
Reply
:iconroisepoise101:
roisepoise101 Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Marvel zombies
Reply
:iconeythriel:
Eythriel Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2015  Hobbyist Photographer
1.not really

2. Irish coins and the New Zealand 10 cent coin

3.Yes! Definitely
Reply
:iconsnicholes0000:
snicholes0000 Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2015  Student Digital Artist
This is a great article!
Personally ive always thought Brazil's pink/purple currency is really cool.
Reply
:iconinfinitenightshades:
InfiniteNightShades Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2015  Hobbyist Photographer
So, That dA symbol next to your name means you are part of the staff, correct? techgnotic 
Reply
:iconseoul-child:
seoul-child Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2015  Professional Interface Designer
yup! :happybounce: 
Reply
:iconinfinitenightshades:
InfiniteNightShades Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2015  Hobbyist Photographer
Ok, so then you might know something about why some people I know are banned from using Premium Content? 
velkss.deviantart.com/journal/…
marlonthegreenwolf.deviantart.…
Reply
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