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Statistical Analysis of U of Chicago Graffiti 157

Posted by kdawson
from the off-the-wall dept.
quaith writes "Quinn Dombrowski, a member of the University of Chicago's central IT staff, has been recording the graffiti left in the Joseph Regenstein Library Since September 2007. To date she has photographed and transcribed over 620 pieces of graffiti; over 410 of them are datable to within a week of their creation. She has now published in Inkling Magazine a statistical analysis of the entire graffiti collection covering such subjects as love, hate, despair, sex, anatomy, and temporal fluctuations of each of these. After November, both love and despair graffiti drop off significantly until spring, while sex graffiti reaches its one and only peak in December before declining for the rest of the school year. The story includes links to all of the original graffiti photos, which the researcher has made freely available to use under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license."
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Statistical Analysis of U of Chicago Graffiti

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  • It's still illegal and often makes local people unhappy.

    I know there's banksy but he's one in a billion.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Sir_Lewk (967686)

      Who stuck a pinecone up your ass? I'm supposed to ignore graffiti because it's illegal? Really?

    • by Chapter80 (926879)

      the researcher has made freely available to use under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license

      I do not take kindly to this researcher releasing my copyrighted chronicles of a man from Nantucket.

    • by ae1294 (1547521)

      It's still illegal and often makes local people unhappy.

      What isn't illegal in the U.S. now days? /sarcasm
      As a local of an area with a lot of creative graffiti artist I can say that a lot of what I see is very interesting and much nicer than looking at the bare concrete...

    • Hey Hitroll...I got my karma back up from terrible to excellent. Want to troll some?
  • Well Documented (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spiffydudex (1458363) on Monday February 08, 2010 @02:43AM (#31058572)

    I must say there is a good amount of documentation. Now I know that I am more likely to come across a happy smile face than a sad face.

    • by Dice (109560)

      Sort of makes you feel better about the human race, doesn't it? :)

      • Depends... Do you attribute it to drugs? ^^

        Or repression?
        After all, most people walk trough life in a walking daze.

    • ..... Now I know that I am more likely to come across a happy smile face than a sad face.

      Only if you live in the University of Chicago Library. =)

      I wonder how much the results would change in other places....

  • License? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lorens (597774) on Monday February 08, 2010 @02:49AM (#31058592) Journal

    Who is this researcher to relicense their works of art? Just because they can't complain!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Finn61 (893421)
      Kilroy?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Hurricane78 (562437)

      Well, what did you expect, from a mindset is not attached to physical reality?
      That it would make any sense at all?

      The wall with the graffiti is a physical object.
      A paper photo in your hand would be a physical object.

      But neither the graffiti itself, nor a photo of it, are physical works.
      They are ideas/information. Other rules apply.

      “Licensing”/“copyright“ is a concept, based on the misconception that ideas/information would be physical objects, and the false need of some people, to co

      • Re:License? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by totally bogus dude (1040246) on Monday February 08, 2010 @04:21AM (#31058880)

        You can use the same logic to say that having laws against murder and rape is equally futile, because you can't physically prevent people from doing whatever they want to do without massively encroaching on their basic rights. In fact, the final conclusion of such logic is that every single law that exists is pointless because it contravenes the laws of nature, and therefore is unenforceable. Of course every law is about stopping people from doing things they're physically capable of doing. That's kind of the whole point. Why would you make legislation mandating the laws of nature / laws of physics be obeyed?

        This kind of "information is different and therefore laws to control it are stupid" thinking is therefore not in itself a compelling argument for why laws should be changed/scrapped and the idea of "intellectual property" should be completely rethought.

        • by ericvids (227598) on Monday February 08, 2010 @06:46AM (#31059328)

          This may be the BEST counterargument ever to "all information should be free". Bravo!

          However, while I genuinely want to mod you up, I do believe that CURRENT laws to control information are stupid. Similar to how laws can sometimes be unfairly and maliciously used to allow known murderers to remain innocent and walk freely, many patents and copyrights are unfairly and maliciously used to prevent people from contributing to the greater good of humanity. Patents in particular are a minefield -- something's clearly wrong with a system that encourages trolls to cripple the true innovators.

          Back to the topic, I believe what the researcher did, copyrighting her photographs, is all right, regardless of whether she released it under Creative Commons. I don't believe she was copyrighting the actual message on the graffiti anyway, just the expression of it on photograph. (Of course properly the copyright should be attributed to both HER and whoever made the graffiti, but then I would suppose THAT's public domain since the original author didn't stake a claim to it...)

          • by Sparr0 (451780)

            The original author[s] doesn't have to stake a claim to it. He fixed it in a tangible form, and is thus granted copyright over the work according to the various laws of the US and international treaties. The researchers here are violating his copyright by distributing copies of his work (the photos).

            • Yes, authors don't have to claim copyright in order to have it. But for all practical purposes, no person CAN claim copyright on these works. Even taking into account the anonymous works provisions of copyright, it is the burden of the supposed authors to claim that the work is theirs. (And as it stands, it's an uphill battle to prove it.)

              And until then, the researchers are NOT in violation until the (proven) rightful owners claim that they are. Presumed innocence. :)

              • by Sparr0 (451780)

                Not true. Copyright infringement is also a criminal matter. If the state can prove that you did NOT create the work then it doesn't matter who did, you are guilty of infringement.

                • by ericvids (227598)

                  Then you are forgetting that you must PROVE that it is a criminal matter.

                  In this case it is not. There is no commercial gain whatsoever (provable -- the licensing she used is pretty clear on that) and the copyright "owners" do not have a reasonable expectation of commercial distribution of their work. Ergo under US law this is clearly a civil case.

        • Re:License? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by bidule (173941) on Monday February 08, 2010 @11:00AM (#31060522) Homepage

          You can use the same logic to say that having laws against murder and rape is equally futile, because you can't physically prevent people from doing whatever they want to do without massively encroaching on their basic rights.

          No-no-no, no-no-no!

          Laws are not there to forbid you, but to protect me. I have the basic right of living, you cannot kill me. The fish does not have that right, so you can kill and eat it. Then it gets more complex as laws become the mirror of society: you cannot hug all the fishes and must share them, so killing is limited. On the other hand, you can share information because it cannot take part in a tragedy of the common.

          Well, that's the theory. In practice it's something on which you can go ad absurdum.

    • by Trepidity (597)

      For some of the drawings that might be the case, but the vast majority are short snippets of text that probably aren't copyrightable at all. If anything's copyrightable, it might be the photograph, which is what the license is releasing as CC.

    • Re:License? (Score:4, Funny)

      by YourExperiment (1081089) on Monday February 08, 2010 @08:15AM (#31059612)
      It's okay, this is all a part of the wider Google Graffiti settlement.
  • by Gopal.V (532678) on Monday February 08, 2010 @02:56AM (#31058612) Homepage Journal

    They're thinking, they're feeling. And they want you to know. That's why they paint it on walls, cliffs and carve it into the school benches. There's this school of thought that believes that it will go away if nobody reads it. But they've really never done something, stood a few feet away and sighed about getting it off your head. Ignoring it and waiting for it to go away is dumb.

    Keeping tabs on the expression gives you a much more clear indication of what the pulse of the otherwise silent are thinking. This is a fun experiment because nobody wall painting is doing it because they want to be part of a statistic ... unlike a girl with a clipboard asking questions.

    I remember being in a train in melbourne, riding past a few walls full of legal graffiti (union lane?) and wondering what the line between art and vandalism really was.

    • by chill (34294) on Monday February 08, 2010 @03:14AM (#31058664) Journal

      I remember being in a train in melbourne, riding past a few walls full of legal graffiti (union lane?) and wondering what the line between art and vandalism really was.

      You can stop wondering. The line is drawn with the permission of the property owner. Vandalism is a crime unrelated to the artistic merit of the work, it has to do with property ownership rights.

      From an artistic point of view, it is drawn when the intent is to deface or damage instead of create.

      • by Sique (173459)

        From an artistic point of view, it is drawn when the intent is to deface or damage instead of create.

        I would object to that line. There is something called creative destruction. There are artworks whose purpose it is to be destructed. And I know several ruins which were actually built to be ruins.

        • by chill (34294)

          Mmmmm...a specific exception, and the intent would STILL be of the artist who did the creation.

          If *I* (or anyone) creates a piece of art whose purpose is to be destroyed -- Indian sand painting? -- that is one thing. If some jerk comes along and beats my statue to dust, claiming it was to make people think or the act was his commentary, that isn't art or acceptable.

          • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

            I would agree that the violent destruction of a statue is not acceptable, but I think it is wrong to assert it cannot be art. Attempts to define art in anything but a completely open-ended manner are always doomed to failure. What you consider senseless destruction another man may consider art. Who are you to define what other people are allowed to consider artistic?

      • by mikael_j (106439)

        What if the intent is both to damage and cause those observing the damage to think? As in, not so much smashing something you don't like because you hate it but smash it in a way that you hope will make people think about how said thing affects something else? Artistically your purpose is still very much to destroy or damage something but with the hope that those viewing the destruction will have thoughts "created" in their heads, basically creativity by proxy where the proxy happens to be the destruction a

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:38AM (#31059108)

        There is no line between vandalism and art, because they're not disjunct. They're orthogonal concepts. Vandalism can be art. But even when it is art, vandalism is still a crime. It boils down to two separate questions: What is art? What is vandalism? All four combinations (art and vandalism, art and not vandalism, not art and not vandalism, vandalism and not art) exist.

      • by k2r (255754) on Monday February 08, 2010 @07:03AM (#31059408)

        I don't agree.
        From a judicial POV some act may be vandalism / destructive act to property without the owner agreeing.
        From an artistic POV the same act may still be art.

        Of course "doing art" so someones property without agreement is a problem.
        However, the "lines" are not so easily spotted: What about chalking on the pavement or laser-projections on a publicly owned building?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by imakemusic (1164993)

        Often the line is drawn by the officials whose job it is to remove graffiti. Someone commissioned a graffiti artist to paint a piece on their shop front. The council then removed the piece from his property without his permission or even his knowledge for no real reason other than being over-zealous.

        Or there's the Banksy piece that was done in the centre of town which went to a public vote on whether or not to remove it. The city voted to keep it.

        Remember - not all graffiti is tagging and vandalism.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by miro2 (222748)

        Actually, they are orthogonal categories. Some things are art, some are vandalism, some are neither, and some are both.

    • I remember being in a train in melbourne

      Have you been around long enough to remember MAX+GJE? Any ideas on where it came from?

  • Blah... (Score:4, Funny)

    by creimer (824291) on Monday February 08, 2010 @03:11AM (#31058656) Homepage
    When the library at the local community college had a wooden tables in the study area, there was a rich history of graffiti from 20 years of students studying for exams. When they build a new library with modern non-wood tables, the graffiti no longer existed. The florescent pen graffiti on the condom machines in the restrooms was a poor substitute.
    • Re:Blah... (Score:5, Funny)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday February 08, 2010 @05:16AM (#31059060) Homepage Journal

      When the library at the local community college had a wooden tables in the study area, there was a rich history of graffiti from 20 years of students studying for exams. When they build a new library with modern non-wood tables, the graffiti no longer existed. The florescent pen graffiti on the condom machines in the restrooms was a poor substitute.

      Did any of it say "insert baby for refund"?

      • by creimer (824291)
        No. The fire station across the street has a mail slot with this sign: "Insert baby for safe adoption."
    • When they build a new library with modern non-wood tables, the graffiti no longer existed. The florescent pen graffiti on the condom machines in the restrooms was a poor substitute.

      I agree with that underlaying thought; the sterility of our society makes it not as authentic as it can be. It's like holding a book, with some smudges, signs of usage, people leaving trails and the object being a subject of a living, organic process.

      While I feel it shouldn't be "allowed", it should to a certain degree be tolerat

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 08, 2010 @03:21AM (#31058684)

    We also have some brilliant graffiti in the grout between the tiles in the downstairs bathroom in the Bartlett dining commons. For example,
    "I'm a celebrity, get me grout of here!"
    "Commutator subgrout of prime order"
    "I'm on the groutside looking in"
    "What's this all agrout?"

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      That's a lot like our library where we have this gem, written in pencil, using different fonts and sizes, on a concrete pillar:

      Structural concrete
      Structural concrete
      Structural concrete
      I FUCKING LOVE STRUCTURAL CONCRETE!

      I like to think of graffiti as being real-life anonymous troll posts, especially when others cross them out an/or respond to them.

      • by ockegheim (808089)

        What would be interesting is graffiti from the toilet cubicles, with a Slashdot-style way to filter the boring racist and homophobic stuff to -1. And rate stuff like:

        "Nothing is more overrated than bad sex. And nothing is more underrated than a good shit"
        (5: Insightful)

        [On a newly painted door]: "Virgin door- not any more"
        (2: Funny)

    • What's it all agrout, Alfie?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by keytoe (91531)

      That's funny - I thought 'grout puns' were somewhat unique to my local pub men's room. Except our graffiti is all literary references:

      • Grout Expectations
      • The Grouting of the Shrew
      • The Grout Gatsby

      And no, it's not like we're near the university or anything. It's a pretty low-brow suburban pub in a strip mall, so I was surprised to see graffiti veer in a literary direction.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      You forgot, "Don't be a great writer... be a grout writer!" (From Graffiti in the PAC Ten [openlibrary.org]
    • I prefer this little diddy from the early 70s:

      Don't change Dicks in the middle of a screw,
      Vote for Nixon in 72.

  • by uvajed_ekil (914487) on Monday February 08, 2010 @03:24AM (#31058706)
    I doubt any widely-relevant conclusions at all can be drawn from this analysis. It is somewhat interesting, but the hundreds of samples (which is not really that many) are probably created by a mere handful of individuals, most all of whom belong to a particular group - male undergraduate students, 18-24, residing in or near a certain Chicago neighborhood. So certainly there is no way to apply any findings to any larger group. A fun exercise for statistics nerds, perhaps, but of little scientific value.
    • by dissy (172727)

      A fun exercise for statistics nerds, perhaps, but of little scientific value.

      The same can be said about making posts to Slashdot.
      I don't think you really have the right to complain about other peoples hobbies not being scientific when you do the exact same thing, just like all of us do.

      Perhaps if she was claiming this was scientific in some way, your statement could be read as a criticism instead... But all we have is some IT geek having senseless fun, and others complaining it is not scientific. Whatever happened to the Slashdot for nerds?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Quinn calls it a "pseudo-scientific" analysis on her blog and adds "disclaimers for the pedantic." '
      http://www.crescatgraffiti.com/2010/02/02/pseudo-scientific-analysis-of-graffiti-with-disclaimers-for-pedanti/

      • Which makes it a step up in honesty from some psychological tests. Experimental psychology is almost always the empirical study of college students taking their first psychology course.

  • Interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by oljanx (1318801) on Monday February 08, 2010 @03:39AM (#31058756)
    But a sample of 620 pieces over three years isn't large enough for useful analysis. I'd like to see this concept applied to graffiti large cities. I'm sure there are crews responsible for removing the graffiti that could document it in the process.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by jaminJay (1198469)

      I wonder if the FOIA would include all of the photos snapped along the lines before the scrubbers paint a fresh new "canvas" up... There would be literally decades of data, and I believe they already do analysis such that they can identify any person's style such that, if nabbed for one, you're done for all.

      PS: I know this occurs because I was at a freshly tagged station when the poor sod was taking (digital) photos and documenting everything before painting over them in a not-quite-the-same tan. Inter

    • I don't know about other cities but in Bristol, UK there are at least two people whose job it is to find, photograph, document and then remove graffiti.

  • All that work and she hasn't been able to come up with any conclusions or reasons for her observed results. Surely that's the (only) point of spending such a long time collecting that data. However, it only represents one single place in one single country so it's not really representative of anything. Plus she breaks the data down by month, so there are really only two data points for each time period, therefore no possibility of showing a year-on-year (let alone generational) trend.

    Maybe she should come

  • by tjstork (137384) <todd@bandrowsky.gmail@com> on Monday February 08, 2010 @08:22AM (#31059628) Homepage Journal

    Just wanted to throw out that technically she's violating the copyright of the graffiti owner, and cannot be distributing that work. I think all the graffiti authors should step forward and claim their share of her enormous royalties. If you are a graffiti writer, please click [this is a joke] to claim your giant prize.

    • by adosch (1397357)

      I think all the graffiti authors should step forward and claim their share of her enormous royalties

      ...or claim their guilt in defacing private or state property. I'm sure the college would love to employ free custodial labor with a looming prosectution held over the head of the guilty to scrub bathroom walls and re-paint for them.

      • by dissy (172727)

        ...or claim their guilt in defacing private or state property. I'm sure the college would love to employ free custodial labor with a looming prosectution held over the head of the guilty to scrub bathroom walls and re-paint for them.

        Very true point.

        But think about it a minute. In the USA, if you can not determine how many people downloaded her infringing images, you are guaranteed a minimum of $80000 per potentially infringed work.

        At those rates, I'd probably be willing to admit guilt to defacing public property, pay the thousand dollar fine, and then pay someone an hourly rate to clean everything for me.

        I'm pretty sure I'd still have quite a bit of cash left!

        Of course we all know it doesn't really work that way. Unless the graffiti

    • by guruevi (827432)

      Not necessarily. Somebody can take a picture of the Eiffel Tower or another piece of 'art' (the French would disagree on my definition of art though) and sell that picture for profit and/or have copyright on that picture. However if you paint another wall the same as the graffiti-artist did on the original wall or you make it look like or claim that your picture is the original art then you could run into copyright issues.

  • by adosch (1397357) on Monday February 08, 2010 @08:59AM (#31059742)

    I think regardless of where you find it or what type of person are, graffiti is pretty entertaining and intriguing. I think the most amusing graffiti I've seen that encompasses about every walk of life, rank or status and is among the same topic fairing FTFA above was in a Port-a-john during different points in my life, most notably when I was deployed in Iraq. Considering the type of foot traffic that hit these port-a-john's is much more broader than the foot traffic that hits a university library and the fact that, at least when I was in basic training, it was a push-up affair every time you didn't have a black ballpoint pen on your person, the odds were pretty high for someone to carve their opinion in any artistic form into the wall for everyone else to ponder AND respond to.

    It's almost a comical affair now to realize I used to go out of my way to keep track of all the "Black Ninja Rule Number n" and actually look for them when I was pouring sweat trying to take a crap or try to unbuckle 50lbs worth of gear and stow it beside me with I pissed in those crackjack boxes.

    • Truck stops are famous for bathroom graffiti. I've seen truck stops in the midwest that gave up on trying to keep it erased and provided a dry-erase board and marker. Seriously.
  • Not very original (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Locke2005 (849178) on Monday February 08, 2010 @01:16PM (#31062050)
    Something similar was done almost 30 years ago [openlibrary.org].
  • You really, really, really need to get a life! You've got nothing better to do on a Saturday night than photography graffiti?!? That sad... really sad. Perhaps you should consider changing your name to something more appealing, e.g. "Tiffany Minx". That might make it easier for you to get a date, so you wouldn't need to continue to sublimate your unmet desires by documenting the musings of sexually frustrated males, while simultaneously wondering why none of them are desperate enough to actually ask you out
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by O('_')O_Bush (1162487)
      "while simultaneously wondering why none of them are desperate enough to actually ask you out..."

      That's because she's married you fool.

      http://www.quinndombrowski.com/

      What's really sad is that you took the time to troll this slashdot article without even googling her name.
      • by Locke2005 (849178)
        My apologies... obviously she just needed something to do whilst her husband was Slaving away (pun intended) on his thesis.
  • What a waste (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gx5000 (863863)
    Is this considered trendy ? Of scientific merit ? How much money went into this nonsense ?? We still don't have cures for the worst of our ills but we'll study pot modern cave paintings ?
  • Someone is seriously doing this as research?
    It's like XKCD just happened in real life.
    .
    .
    .
    Wait.
    What?
    http://xkcd.com/ [xkcd.com]

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