The Public Interest

“Writers” and Rogues

Roger Starr

Spring 1983

Getting up is a book about the graffiti in the New York subway system. Among those who practice the art of painting subway cars, primarily with cans of spray paint, the phrase “getting up” has a special meaning. It signifies the success of the graffitist (in their language, the “writer”) in covering cars with his work. The author of Getting Up is an Assistant Professor of Communications at Baruch College, and he has certainly mastered the art of getting the underground graffitists to communicate their feelings and purposes to him. In short, Professor Casfleman’s book tells us perhaps a little more than we really want to know about the graffiti writers, how they operate, and how they feel about themselves, and somewhat less than we want to know about their product.  The most interesting question about graffiti is whether it can be considered art. When the management of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (the public agency that manages the subway and bus system of the New York region) removes graflati from its subway cars, is it restoring public property? Or is it merely committing vandalism against works of creative imagination, comparable, though on a much smaller scale, to whitewashing the wall on which Leonardo da Vinci painted his Last Supper?

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