Art v.s. Graffiti

Last November, Montreal lost three young men. They were hit by a train, in the Turcot Yards; they were committing a crime. Graffiti on private property. It was a non-violent crime, a nuisance more than anything else and these young lives were snuffed out. The vitriol following their deaths, from both sides of the fence, was…well, disgusting. On the anti-tagging side, people came out of their dank and dark holes to proclaim that these young men, these kids who had not even the chance to start their lives, deserved what happened to them. And we are the superior species? Rhetorical question, don’t bother to answer.

But, on the other hand, there were those that defended what the young men were doing, as freedom of expression, artistic freedom and were calling for CN to be sued because the train lights weren’t bright enough. Also pretty asinine. If you live in Montreal, you are taught, from elementary school to stay away from the train tracks because the odds that you will hear the train coming are slim to none. You only hear it, when it is too late.

The Turcot Yards, while deserted now, is a throughway for trains; vehicles unable to stop on a dime at any speed. There is much talk about whether or not the train engineer saw the boys or not. Let’s take a look at this…it was in the early morning hours, in an unlit area. A train yard where someone on the tracks would not be expected; particularly, at that time of night. Were the young men wearing light clothing or anything reflective? I will hazard a guess and say, “No.” Jack Locke and as he has a public blog, I will use his name, argues that the whistle should have been sounded. Why? In the middle of the night, on private property, in a train yard that specifically prohibits trespassing, should or would the engineer sound the whistle? People do live near the yards and having trains sound whistles in the yard, every time one comes through, would disturb their peace. Turcot Yards is not open to trespassing. There was no reason for the engineer to sound the whistle.

This was an accident. Period. A terrible tragic accident. Nobody is at fault. Not the engineer, not Dylan, not Mitch or Ricardo; it was an accident.

As young men will do, they took a chance. To the horror of all thinking and feeling people, this was a terrible tragedy. A senseless snuffing out of 3, pretty well, brand new lives.

Were they involved with artistic expression? No, I’m afraid not. They were involved in a crime and they were aware of the fact, on some level but youth does what youth does. They shouldn’t have died for the error in judgment. Personally? I made some choices in my youth that cause chills down my spine now. Looking back? There were a lot of incidents which could well have ended my life. I was lucky.

Now with all that said? There has to be a determination between what is Street Art and what is ugly graffiti. Tags are not art, not the tags we are subject to, on a daily basis, in my neighbourhood.

Fences, private fences on suburban property, paid for and make no mistake, a fence is an expensive proposition, defaced by ugly, nonsensical tags. Tags created by young people with nothing better to do than cause distress to others.

Nobody should be condoning Tagging (Thanks to a very articulate young man, I learned that it is important not to confuse graffiti with tagging.) Tagging is vandalism, graffiti – the graffiti that we see downtown is art.

I often walk by Lindsay Place High School and the tagging that appears there is not art. Not by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. I use the bus shelter, in front of the school and aside from a ghost that appeared once (actually pretty cute and amusing) – it isn’t art. It is an assault on the eyes. An visual assault on everyone forced to look at it. Visual pollution.

<–This is not art either. Dylan’s work or not, that is someone’s property and that fence? Well, it is too expensive for me to have installed on my property. This is criminal. It is a blight on the vision. Freedom of expression does not include expressing yourself at someone else’s expense. This mess cannot be painted over or cleaned to anyone’s satisfaction. This section would need to be replaced, only to be defaced again. Tagging isn’t art as a general rule. It is senseless and lacks any type of imagination or justification in its application.

It is also going to cost someone money to have removed. Obviously, these kids know what they are doing is against the law otherwise they would simply ask the owners for permission. Adults who justify this type of behaviour as childish indiscretions need to get a grip, stop under-estimating a teenager or young adult’s capacity for making decisions. Kids/young adults aren’t stupid. We allow them to drive at 16; this implies that knowing right from wrong is within their level of maturity. Taggers could always ask their parents for permission to tag their own houses, their own fences, their own property but they do not. Therefore, it is obvious that this is known to be a wrong choice by the individual and should be subject to consequences.

Now, graffiti as art. There is such a thing. There are walls all over Montreal that are stunning in their beauty.

<–In my opinion, this is art. It is an example of true talent. It adds to the city, it adds to our reputation of understanding the arts, in all its forms. Indiscriminate tagging is not an art form. It is simply the sign of young people with no direction. It is not a victimless crime. When caught, the victims should have the right to exact payment for the reparation of their property, to the penny, from the family of the tagger. Repercussions for tagging must be in line with the crime. First and foremost, financial reparation must be made, whether to a city, a crown corporation, business or homeowner. We have to assume that most taggers are not “bad kids”, misdirected, unable to make responsible decisions but that’s what being a teenager is all about, learning to make the right choices. So facing their victims might not be a bad thing, community service would certainly help. Cleaning up the tagging from their peers may take the fun out of the activity.

Monday night, there was a rash of vandalism in my area. Tagging, mailboxes knocked over and several cars were broken into and damaged. A small group of pains in the butt kids whose parents need to put on their parental panties. Monday night, late Monday night – a school night and these kids were out. If these little dopes were caught, then restitution by the parents may well have woken them up to their failure to monitor their kids. Imagine if the man whose vehicle had been vandalized had caught one of these kids? I don’t think sitting down and talking to them would have been on his agenda.

A couple of young adults were arrested last week for trying to tag a bridge. A bridge over very cold, very fast moving water. This could have been another tragedy. Who would be held to senseless blame then? The province, the country for not making the bridge safer, in case someone chose to climb it?

We should all mourn for Dylan, Mitchell and Ricardo. We should for the loss of their lives and their future. We should mourn that they made a bad choice. I mourn that more adults don’t take this seriously and find solutions to the problem, instead of pointing fingers or justifying the behaviours.

For some fairly good and some fairly bizarre opinions on the matter; here is a link, read the comments. Think about them without knee jerking: http://www.westislandgazette.com/news/22397

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