"Should graffiti be judged on the same level as modern art? Of course not, it's way more important that that." Banksy
Banksy is an anonymous street artist who is famous for his political and social artwork. His pieces speak “directly to the masses: humourous and often thought provoking” (Chaundy). Armed with stencils and spray paint Banksy has made a name for himself challenging people to think outside the box or better yet to burn the box completely. Banksy believes that “art should have your pulse racing, your palms clammy with nerves and the excitement of creating something truly original in a dangerous environment.” (Banksy) This personal statement directly speaks to the most recognizable characteristic of Banksys work which is the controversy associated with his tags. The “Broken Window theory”, his ability to call into question our individuality and, what I like to call the politics behind the paint, are some of the reasons why many people fear and feel threatened by this modern artist.
Banksy, who shall remain anonymous, has been tagging trains, streets, signs, walls, bridges and buildings since the young age of 14. After trying to spray elaborate letters onto a freight train, and almost being busted by British officials, Bansky came to the conclusion that to exhibit his outlook he would have to find a faster way to display his message and flee the scene; therefore, most of his popular and public pieces are painted with stencils in record time. Nicknamed “the Artful Dodger” Banksys ability to tag and take off only strengthens the view that graffiti is a crime. Bansky references the “Broken Window” theory to poke fun at societies attempt to explain crime and enforce punishment on these freedom writers. The image depicts a television set being thrown through a window. In this image the TV represents media, and the broken window represents this criminal theory, which states “crime is a result of disorder.” (Moffett) “For example, if one window is broken and goes unfixed, more windows will be broken because perpetrators get the sense that no one cares about the windows. The “Broken Window Theory” maintains that a criminal is not in his ‘own world’ committing crimes, but rather commits them in response to the environment around him (Gladwell, 2002, p. 150). This means that the criminal will be more likely to commit a crime, or engage in vandalism, if it is already seen as acceptable. If there is already graffiti on a wall, then the likelihood of more being added is much higher than for a blank wall. Following this line of thought, it can be seen that if an area is already prone to vandalism, that the area will give the impression that no one cares about crime, and more crimes are bound to occur. In other words, minor problems such as graffiti can lead to much more serious crimes occurring, it is, therefore, essential to remove graffiti immediately. (Moffett) If London police officials want people to rebel against this graffiti you can’t help but ask yourself why? What this philosophy fails to address is the perspective of the painter. Is this graffiti calling attention to bigger issues that we shield ourselves from on a daily basis or is it simply a way for these men and women to leave their mark on society? “Is graffiti the voice of the world around us?” Philosopher Georges Batialle would argue “the mind is only at ease when everyone is shouting at once and no one can hear a thing.” (Bataille) Is it truly rebellion if we are being told what to rebel against? Many people would argue that graffiti is okay if it is environmentally aesthetic, and located in a fitting atmosphere, but where do we draw the line before this artwork becomes social propaganda? Have you ever been driving down the street and out of the corner of your eye you see a bus stop with the slogan “You just proved that bench advertising works?” plastered across it? Do you ever feel taken advantage of as though you had no choice and no control over seeing this advertisement? This type of commercial cunningness calls into question our subconscious participation in media related marketing. All of a sudden personal style, opinion and individuality is threatened by the chance that we could truly be a product of our society. What this slogan represents is our inability to avoid mental manipulation.
Graffiti could be the way to fight back, to let go of that hand that holds you down. Another powerful image features Nipper, the famous iconic dog who, like Bansky, was born in Bristol England. The original RCA advertisement showcased Nipper sitting and listening to the phonograph because the sound quality was so clear he believed he was actually hearing “His Master’s Voice.” This campaign was so clever that it gave birth to one of the most famous record stores to date known as HMV. In this piece by Banksy you now see Nipper with a weapon of war pointed at this same phonograph. The genius behind this piece is that Banksy challenges us to wonder if Nipper was tired of taking orders and in rebellion will now be listening for his own voice.
Finally, it is essential to graffiti artists, individuals in our society and the mass media to look at the politics behind the paint. Banksy strongly states that “any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours…You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock that someone just threw at your head. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.” (Banksy) In Raychaudhuri’s article he addresses the deliberate political statement that Bansky is making by drawing a beach on the Israel-Palestine wall, and how tagging this wall calls into question the legitimacy of the wall itself. (Raychaudhuri pg.54) To understand this painting you have to understand that the Israeli army has been occupying Palestine since 1967. In 2002 they began construction on a wall that would separate the occupied territories from Israel with checkpoints and observation towers. The wall stands 3x the height of the Berlin Wall and will stretch from London to Zurich upon its completion. “By highlighting the powerlessness of the Palestinian people to overcome the wall, Banksy is questioning the authority of both the wall and the state which erected it. Painting from the Palestinian side of the ‘Israeli’ wall, Banksy is also undermining the apparent ownership of the wall.” (Raychaudhuri pg.54)
Raychaudhuri indicates how Banksy not only uses these walls to display his artistic talent and clever connotations but also as tool in his warfare. Graffiti is constantly calling attention to the uncertainty or the necessity of some of these structures. They may be in place to keep people out but they also run the risk of locking people in.
Artists such as Banksy have resorted to using pseudonyms and tagging in disguise to avoid criminal charges for vandalism. Although Banskys work has been featured in exhibitions and movies, and there have been books published housing his street work, paintings and literature, he still refuses to share his identity. His incognito approach minimizes his chance of getting caught in the act and he can continue to create pieces that “lead viewers to reflect on established social practices.” (Chung pg.32) The beauty of his work makes you realize that even if you don’t know what to say, you do have a voice. The strength in an artist like Banksy is that he stands up for people who have a hard time standing up for themselves. In the final image you will see a photograph that was inspired by a Banksy tag. The man in the image was minding his own business sitting on the street in the early morning having a smoke and a coffee when someone threw quarters at his feet. The horrible realization from the do-gooder was that this man was not asking for a hand out but in truth he had nowhere else to sit. A sign was then constructed with a Banksy quote that challenged the small group of people downtown taking photographs to look at the situation from a different perspective. What Raychaudhuri states in his article is that “What the authorities find so dangerous is what, according to Banksy, gives his work a level of honesty that commercial art can never achieve.” (Raychaudhuri pg.53) Banksy himself says, “Graffiti is not the lowest form of art. Despite having to creep about at night and lie to your mum it’s actually the most honest art form available. There is no elitism or hype, it exhibits on some of the best walls a town has to offer, and nobody is put off by the price of admission.” (Banksy) Cath Crowley stated that "real is better. The truth is better. It makes you feel kind of stupid, but it's better.”
This shout out goes to Bansky. Thank you for making me feel stupid....I've loved every minute of it.