At last year‘s AAPAE conference I presented a paper on the Professional Ethics of Aerosol Art. At the last minute, I altered my reading, drawing partially from the text I had prepared, but improvising some additional points as a response to my audience. This was due in part to the general professional composition of the audience itself. The AAPAE conference last year was hosted by the Department of Policing Studies at Charles Sturt University, and while I was aware of this, I was not aware that near to half of the attendants were themselves academic staff of the Policing Department. What this meant was that much of the staff present had been police officers prior to their post as teachers in the department. Once, by lunchtime I had become aware of this, I reassessed my situation. Reflecting on the content of my presentation and paper, I decided details left out ought to have been included for such an audience.
The content of my paper was originally focused on professional ethics assuming a professional aerosol artists‘ context or at least a general understanding of the existence of these professional artists practicing and flourishing in their work. I felt this was not the case. Originally, I intended to talk on concrete aesthetic aspects, which inform the professional artists‘ practice in light of other areas in the professional fine and commercial art world. However, and while this area is valid and in need of consideration, I decided to improvise my talk and provide an account of what may appeal more greatly to the audience at hand. Therefore, I talked on the socio-political and economic qualities of professional aerosol art. This means I took on a specifically cultural vantage, and focused on the social work and criminological side of the professional aerosol artists calling. I would like to take this chance to inform folks of some of the other details I had hoped to analyze.
Aerosol art is a practice aligned with graffiti, and graffiti is of course a “practice” aligned with a controversial relation between crime and art. Personally, I only practice “graffiti” as a professional artist who uses aerosol as a medium (alongside acrylic and brush), but I do not judge harshly, and while I wanted to speak on calligraphic overtures and public art, I ended up talking on crime prevention, “breaking the cycle” of criminal culture, and on the history of graffiti as a general topic of interest. However, what I think ought to be understood in light of the general debate surrounding so-called “graffiti” are the requirements of a series of primary heuristics in order to be able to constructively approach the “graffiti” situation. These heuristics are the concrete differences between vandalism, graffiti-vandalism, graffiti itself (etymologically “writing”), graffiti-art, aerosol art (which is the general term for legal, commissioned or volunteer community work based public or art education works), street art, and urban art. Many do not make these distinctions, indeed, it seems as though one may require an “insiders edge” in order to recognize them so vividly. However there are so many problems that are caused and claimed as “non-problems” when the heuristics are abandoned. “Non-problems” in this case are hasty judgements and condemnations, confusion, and claims of malevolence on behalf of “graffitists”. To overcome these, and to summarize the actual situation, graffiti simply is not always vandalism, as vandalism can be broken bus-stop glass. Graffiti can be vandalism when it is made illegally, but only when it is illegal writing on property. Indeed, the concept of property is central to considerations of graffiti-vandalism, and so is the notion of beauty as it is expounded in general aesthetic theory. Street art is the contemporary grey shade in this area. Because some illegal-art (not always writing) has been recognized to be fine art quality work, there has formed a culture of crime and art, which is endorsed by many large corporations, and which finds artists who practice illegal art-making, selling similar renditions of their work and exhibiting in major national galleries. Some graffiti-vandalism is included in the general strata of street art. Graffiti-writers who do not practice illegally are referred to as aerosol artists, but their work is also a legalized form of graffiti-art, without the street art label tacked on (due to its overt legal nature). So graffiti traverses art and crime, although it is classified as vandalism, it is different to straight vandalism (not many drunken louts who smash bus stop glass sell their ―work‖ or exhibit in national galleries). Street artists are in the same boat, and urban art is the umbrella term to embody all the aforementioned. Aerosol artists stick to legal art making, sell works, and exhibit at the same level as street artists as urban artists, and all of the above work in and around public art. However, aerosol artists are also often also found conducting workshops in cultural and community centres commissioned by government initiatives.
What is interesting about this general paradigm is the intersection of acute contexts within an already very misunderstood context itself. While I wanted to address these issues now summarized, the modifications to my paper at the AAPAE conference instead explained the socio-political and economic history of “graffiti art”, seeing as it is this area that is most generally misunderstood. To peer more deeply into it, one must look to the civil rights movement in the United States, one must consider the Declaration of Independence, the media, social movement theory and cultural change, as well as broader paradigms for investigation, such as identity, ethno-nationalism, class, gender, marginality, deviance and blame, to mention but a few of the dynamics which compose the general y gen and z gen perspective on a post-media and normative multicultural world-view. Clearly I could not fit all of this into a twenty minute paper, but I can say in good conscience. I tried my very best.