Art-interpretive injustice and the missing bit about street art

Earlier drafts of my paper with Evan Malone, “Popular music and art-interpretive injustice“, were not just about popular music. Although referees convinced us to drop it, we originally gestured at further examples of art-interpretive injustice arising in relation to street art.

Maybe this will be the basis for another paper at some point. For now, here’s the bit that we cut:

In this paper, we have argued for a conception of art-interpretive injustice wherein a person is wronged in their capacity as a possible artist or creator. Our examples have all been from popular music, but art-interpretive injustices can arise for other kinds of works and other kinds of artists. Just as a musical genre can be dismissed as mere noise rather than as art or music, street art is often dismissed as mere vandalism rather than as art or work in an artistic medium. Nick Riggle argues for a distinction between mere graffiti and artistic graffiti.1 Failure to recognize the distinction sets up the possibility of art-interpretive injustice, if artistic graffiti is ruled out because of identity prejudice— and it often is. As Maggie Dickonson explains, the war on graffiti in New York City starting in the 1970s involved “[l]inking graffiti… to representations and stereotypes of poor black and Latino communities.”2 Yet the injustice is not resolved merely by thinking of graffiti as art rather than as vandalism. As Mary Beth Willard argues, it is not incidental that works of street art challenge norms about the use of public space. Instead, that challenge is part of the works’ content.3 Andrea Baldini argues, similarly, that subversiveness is an essential value of street art.4 Setting aside some features of the work as in-principle irrelevant to its artistic content or value closes off some possible interpretations. For a work of street art, setting aside its transgressiveness would miss part of its artistic point entirely. As such, considering a work of street art as art while ignoring the transgression would commit a different art-interpretive injustice— not failing to consider it under the right category (as visual art or street art) but failing to allow the full range of possible artistic interpretations or meanings.

  1. Riggle, Nicholas Alden. 2010. “Street Art: The Transfiguration of the Commonplaces.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 68(3): 243 – 257.
  2. p. 35 of Dickinson, Maggie. 2008. “The Making of Space, Race and Place: New York City’s War on Graffiti, 1970-the Present.” Critique of Anthropology, 28(1): 27-45.
  3. Willard, Mary Beth. 2016. “Vandals or Visionaries? The Ethical Criticism of Street Art.” Essays in Philosophy, 17(1): 95-124.
  4. Baldini, Andrea Lorenzo. 2022. “What Is Street Art?” Estetika: The European Journal of Aesthetics, 59(1): 1–21. DOI:

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