There is nothing quite like fame to influence how we interpret art... apart from perhaps knowing how much it cost. The problem with the former is that reputation often has little to do with the actual quality of what is perpetrated in the name of art. Often indistinct and always inescapable, our obsession with artists personal history and reputations distort, and sometimes positively obstruct, the way we see.
Our at once both clingy and contentious relationship with Banksy is a perfect case in point. He’s been floating high on his vast profile, inflated by huge belches of hot air from the media and middle class, for a decade or so.
The problem is that his profile is several time more interesting than his art. At the core his art actually has very little substance. When you’ve identified the, frankly not very well concealed, tropes it can - a bit like a Terry Pratchett novel - get a tad boring. Think about your favourite Banksy piece and count off these factors: It’s dependent on simple visual gags, a peripheral understanding of some basic art concepts and a rather churlish teenaged set of politics.
On the street Banksy catches the mainstream audience eye because the works sit in a context of street painting that is still essentially highly exclusive, expressly holding meaning for a tiny marginal group of people, and, unlike Banksys, has little regard for traditional aesthetics. To 99% of the population graffiti is the kingdom of the blind, Banksy just happens to be the one eyed man.
That doesn’t mean he’s up to sitting at the proverbial grown up table. In the gallery or the print fare he is like a clever teenager who’s been allowed to stay up past his bedtime. His gallery works are almost comforting in the way they both manage to be ever so clever and yet cleave to the well established Banksy form. They only hold our attention because of his reputation, because we are all the artistic equivalent of rubber neckers at a grusome car crash. We look to Banksy because we want that tart taste of controversy and novelty. However, when he hold so closely to form, surely whatever controversy his exhibitions might hold quickly disperses? What is exciting about art that always manages to perfectly meet our expectations?
If you look at his original print works, and the prices they fetch in the auctions and print fares, it becomes pretty clear that he is simply replicating one aspect of Warhol’s career without one ounce of Warhol’s brilliance. More so than Warhol, Banksy proves variations on a theme can only be applied for so long before becoming insufferably stale.
So although Banksy is still consistently popping up in the news - images appearing over night on walls all over the world, purchased at some ridiculous price by whatever celebrity we are supposed to idolise now, jealously being vandalised or white washed over by thick thumbed councils - isn’t it time we got over him? Come on! lets all makes a critical resolution for the New Year and try from now on to extract the artist’s reputation from the art and actually look at what is in front of us?
You liked this! It was published in The Blog Paper No. 3
Image by Walt Jabsco used under a Creative Commons Licence - check it out on Flickr