UseableArt : Information + Design

NYC Subways: Graffiti as Art, Art as Design [advertisement]

Once upon a time, when I was a lad, that magnificent and wild art form known as Graffiti covered virtually every subway car in the city. Then came a mayor or two who “cleaned them up”, either by restoring their generic chrome plating or painting them a horrendous maroon. Since then Graffiti has been raised to the level of fine art by great artisans like Chico, and in spite of the style’s continued use by gangs to mark territory and disrespect one another, examples abound, sanctioned in the very streets of this great city that once sought to wipe it out as a form of artistic expression.


Subway Car Exterior, Circa 1970


Subway Car Interior, Circa 1970

It seems that the New York Transit Authority has once again relented. Although Graffiti art remains relegated to the streets, and appropriately so, as an art form for all to enjoy, the exteriors of Subway cars traversing the city are once again covered from head to toe in equally stylistic, if significantly less visceral works of art. Advertisements to be precise. In the name of profit and ad revenue, it seems that the NYTA has deemed this an acceptable variation on a very old theme.


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To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this change of heart. Art and Design are both dear to my heart. On the surface, replacing one for another seems a bold choice for the NYTA. However the fact that this change was motivated by revenue and not an appreciation or support of one of NYCs indigenous art forms represents a double standard that I find hard to stomach. So even as I rejoice at a train covered in Apple advertisements, and marvel at the creativity of their equally innovative cohorts, there is something about this that rubs me the wrong way. Artistic expression, no matter how wildly creative and unique, is squashed and deemed undesirable, while graphic design (equally expressive mind you, even if it is in the service of the almighty dollar) is welcomed with open arms.

Make up your own minds. And in the interim, enjoy 😉

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This entry was published on September 23, 2010 at 12:47 am and is filed under advertising, graphic design, nyc, subways. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “NYC Subways: Graffiti as Art, Art as Design [advertisement]

  1. Much as I love the first picture (since I took it :), I have to say it's actually Rome in 2006, not NYC in the 1970s. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rome_subway_graffiti.jpg

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