We pass these signs and objects every day, going to and from the City. We are so accustomed to navigating by habit that we barely give them a glance. But at night, when the crowds have gone home, they take on new meaning and power.
I was unaware of this until I took the train home one night after an evening class in the City. At night, everything on the LSW (Lakeshore West line) changes. The landscape that I knew so well during the day had become mysterious, pulsing with energy and intrigue. The harsh lights, the hissing train, the clanging bell — everything stood out in stark relief against the night. As I wandered through Union Station and up onto the platforms, I saw art everywhere. Every object, no matter how obscure and passed over during the day, had become important and meaningful. It was as if I was being allowed to see them for the first time.
I took some photos at Union Station, and then settled in for the long ride home. But I couldn’t stop thinking, so moved was I by the revelations I had experienced. I had commuted on this line for more than 20 years, but only now could I begin to see the stark beauty of it.
At my home station, I disembarked from the train and wandered along the platform, letting the few stragglers go on ahead of me. I took some pictures as I walked along. The last man on the platform glanced at me, then hurried off. I took picture after picture, lost in the majesty of it. It was extraordinary. The scene here was just as powerful as at Union, only different — quieter, farther away, darker. Some of the platform signs were decades-old, but that made them all the more beautiful. They had aged in a way a great painting does — over time, we see the extent of its authenticity and originality. These were my great paintings. This was my art gallery. For one night I was allowed to see the masterworks.
In the daily world of Commuter Brutalism, this playful image stands out: the GO logo turned into a bicycle. It is perched at the top of every bicycle shelter at GO train stations throughout the GTA. The first time I saw it, I was struck by its originality and irreverence. I don’t know who created it but the artist had flair and a sense of humour, two things seriously lacking in the bleak commuting landscape. I wish I knew who the artist was — and make no mistake, the person is an artist, no matter what his or her job title is. My hat goes off to GO Transit as well. Whoever signed off on this had courage.
But is it art? From Google: Art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” By that definition, this is not art. It was not created to be appreciated primarily for its beauty or emotional power. It was created to tell cyclists that this is where they can park their bikes, and it is owned and operated by GO Transit.
I accept that, as I’m sure its creator did. But to me, it is art. In an artless landscape, it is beautiful and emotionally powerful. That it’s purpose is to guide cyclists to the proper place to store their bikes makes absolutely no difference to me. In fact, I rather like it that way. Art is best with a dose of pragmatism.
What do you think? Is it art or not? Take the poll: