What Is Aerosol Art?

Jennifer Voight

Aerosol art, also called graffiti art, is a reference to the spray-painted images that appear in public spaces. By using the term aerosol art, an air of legitimacy sets apart a practice that many consider to be an art form from the unwelcome graffiti images that are a crime in many cities and a nuisance to building owners and residents. Although the practice may have begun as a method of youth to make a statement about society or claim a territory for a gang, many aerosol artists have produced images that many perceive as having great artistic merit and quality. In recent decades, individuals and organizations have sought to improve the reputation of an emerging aerosol art form and give young artists a platform upon which to express their talents in a more socially acceptable context.

A can of spray paint.
A can of spray paint.

Spray paint has long been the medium of choice for youth, often from underprivileged, urban upbringings, to mark buildings and other public spaces. Early graffiti and aerosol art expressed a need to claim territory or, in a quite literal sense, leave one’s mark on the world. The availability, portability, and permanence of spray paint caused its popularity to soar as a method of creating aerosol art, leading many cities to ban its sale to minors. As graffiti is illegal in many cities around the world, speed is also a priority when creating aerosol art. Canned aerosol or spray paint fits that requirement well.

Graffiti is also known as aerosol art.
Graffiti is also known as aerosol art.

One reason for the increasing acceptance of aerosol art in mainstream society is the quality of the images. Many aerosol art images go beyond scribbled markings and words to intricately detailed and colorful compositions that, like other more traditional art forms, contain a powerful message and evoke emotion in the viewer. Some artists have become well known for their recognizable images that spring up around a city overnight. The vicarious excitement of knowing an individual is creating the images in secret while attempting to stay one step ahead of the law only adds to the mystique of these countercultural young artists.

In recent years, many aerosol artists have obtained legendary status. Some have legitimized their art by creating spray-painted art work on canvases that may be sold to collectors. Some urban organizations have created aerosol parks with permanent walls available for youth to create images without defacing nearby structures. The intent of these parks is to create a safer, legal environment for youth to express themselves while preventing unwanted graffiti in the city.

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