Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Saturday Snapshot #26

     Vanity is a two-edged sword.
     One edge is the desire to manifest yourself, to project your ego, which is responsible for most of the art and literature in the world, is the reason people leave their homes and strike out into the world. A laudable thing, to take the thimbleful of you that is bubbling around in your head and contrive to somehow paint the world with it.
      The other edge is the desire to manifest yourself, all over a perfectly nice "L" car. To not care that your tag is just going to be a blocked window for someone inside, or, rather, that the Chicago Transit Authority will have to expensively remove it, taking up a lot of time, and jacking up the cost of transportation for all of us.
      Which is more significant? I wouldn't dare try to say. The self-absorbed person starts to tell a story, and maybe the listener is fascinated, or maybe the listener is bored. Or one is fascinated and another are bored. By the same story. It depends on the skill of the teller, the inclinations for the listener. It changes with time and place. How you feel about graffiti depends on how you feel about society, capitalism, art, color, cities, trains.  I deeply admire Banksy; the above, not so much, though I sympathize with the urge that sent some kid doing it. We want to leave our mark on the indifferent world.
    These were taken at the CTA rail yard at Harlem/Lake terminal, by regular reader Francis Mullen, a rail operations switchman. He suspects they might have been done at the 63rd and Ashland yard and then moved to Harlem/Lake.
     Asked for some thoughts on the photos, he replied:
     "I don’t understand why this medium appeals to them. It’s our policy not to send these cars in service so their exposure is mostly limited to their forums. There is a cost to society, however, in that when we are short cars for service the supervisor is forced to adjust his schedule to spread the gap. So a 15 minute headway becomes 20. A severe shortage will produce noticeable delays. There’s also a cost to the shop janitor that puts aside her normal duties to clean these enormous paintings with some nasty chemicals. It takes hours to finish. I think these guys are thoughtless and arrogant in pursuit of their impish thrills. Buy some canvases already."
     Then, a few minutes later, added,
     "Besides the Kilroy was here aspect, I wonder if the transitory nature of their efforts adds to the thrill."

     I hadn't thought of that. They value them because they are fleeting, the way that Buddhist monks spend hours creating these elaborate sand mandalas, sing a little song, then sweep them away. Could be.



  1. When they catch them, cut off their arms!

  2. Why don't they build a big, beautiful wall around the train yard?

  3. I'm too old to have indulged in graffiti, but I'm also of two minds about it. Many of the graffiti artists' efforts are very well, even artistically, done, attractive if incomprehensible to old farts like me, and obviously difficult to accomplish (occasionally impossible in my eyes). On the other hand, the graffiti is almost always a defacement of either public or private property. I had pretty much the same attitude to Antonin Scalia, whose prose I admired while at the same time scorning his ideas.


  4. The cars are taken out of service because of a policy of the transit authority. If being short cars screws commuters isn't that just as much a part of the bureaucracies policy or even more so than the action of the tagger? The tagger doesn't make the policy.

    I'm a big fan of public art. Whether it's thrust upon us by an organization like they East Rogers Park arts organization, the city, or some criminal.

    My only objection is the corporate art referred to as advertisement that you can't escape it's all over the train cars in the buses to but I understand it's a transactional assault on our senses. And it pays the bulldog.
    I like it that there are murals thatthat the taggers paid. There's a long history of renegade at art dating back thousands of years people carved entire mountain sides in the name of religion or nationalism. I just don't think perfidious a big deal. Sometimes I really like it

    1. Until it's on your garage.

    2. I'm not much of a graffiti fan, but I do think that for the most part it's done by adolescents who have more energy than they do agency in the world around them. As far as the time and expense required to deal with the fruits of their labors, I don't think it's very real to them in their (age-typical) self-centeredness. And of course, some people are just jerks!

    3. if the sun times paid $5,000.00 to advertise on my garage that would be okay though? I don't have a garage nor own any type of real property so its all hypothetical . the transactional nature of advertisement or the display of public art, is what I find distasteful. Most people are jerks in my opinion paying for the jerky things you do doesn't make you much less of a jerk IMO.

  5. I'm with the CTA guy. It's not your property and no one asked you to paint it. Get a canvas.

    Although I do have a Basquiat print on my wall, and Basquiat started with graffiti. Hey, I never said I was consistent.

  6. Definitely not their property, which is one reason why they "tag" the CTA cars. Another is that it's moving art. Unlike a stationery canvas, the trains travel all over the city, in the same way that freight cars travel all over the country and allow a graffiti "artist" in East L.A. to showcase his "artwork" on the East Coast or in the Midwest. Not allowing these transit cars out of the yards and into service is the right move, even though it inconveniences riders and commuters.

    Although I admit to admiring some of the creativity of the "work" itself", I intensely dislike the tagging of transit cars anywhere, because I'm what is sometimes referred to as a "juicehead ", not a boozer, but a lifelong lover of electric traction: heavy rail (electric interurban trains, commuter trains, and rapid transit cars), light rail (streetcars), and old trolley cars (especially the Deco-style PCC type found in San Francisco) and trolley buses (which Chicago had many of until the mid-70s). Growing up in Chicago and living close to or along a number of the CTA's steetcar and rail lines made it a natural to fall in love with these types of vehicles. It makes me almost physically ill to see them abused and defaced.

    Transit graffiti morphed into so-called "art" after originating as 70s gangbanger graffiti in New York and Chicago and elsewhere. Chicago cops lumped tagging and gang signs together for a long time. Officer Robert "Bob" Angone (who has been profiled in print many times, including in EGD) headed an undercover gang unit that was strictly devoted to nabbing and arresting taggers. They even chased the culprits through the subway tunnels on the Howard line. Taggers fried and died on the electrified third rail, while still others were sliced and diced under unforgiving steel wheels.

    At the time (mostly in the Eighties) I took a "by-any-means-necessary" approach to stopping those graffiti "artists", but now, in my old age, that punishment (death) seems a bit harsh. Better to sentence them to nights in jail and days exposed to those "nasty chemicals" as they scrub away their handiwork. And if they suffer side effects or health problems, well, tough toenails. Nobody made them mess up those cars. They did it to themselves.


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