the irony ….

by Chris Bertram on April 29, 2007

(Those who don’t know about Bristol’s most famous “artist” can google for “Banksy” or check the Wikipedia.)




Freddie 04.29.07 at 6:13 pm

The scare quotes around “artist” are so lame. You don’t have to like his art. But delegitamizing art you don’t like by saying that it isn’t in fact art is an old, weasely tactic.


Pinko Punko 04.29.07 at 6:41 pm

Banksy is pretty good. I expect he can take the school of hard knocks, though.


willie mink 04.29.07 at 7:51 pm

What freddie said. I love Banksy’s work, and the ways he deploys it. If you’re going to knock our era’s Picasso with scare quotes, you really should explain why. (Picasso? Okay, maybe Warhol instead.)


Chris Bertram 04.29.07 at 8:03 pm

Fair point freddie and willie, but as “pinko punko” said, I think he can probably cope with being dissed by me. I find him slightly amusing, but really pretty inconsequential as an artist.

(btw, guerrilla graffiti artists in Bristol have started to add barcodes to his work, reflecting their view that he’s a sellout.)


Alex 04.29.07 at 8:26 pm

It would be cool if they added *readable* barcodes..

Anyway, that sign looks a lot like something from Cardiff Terrifies Me, who’s just started posting again.


novakant 04.29.07 at 8:36 pm

lol, anybody remember the story of Beuys, his’Fettecke’ and the overzealous cleaning lady?


will uspal 04.29.07 at 9:11 pm


Ginger Yellow 04.29.07 at 11:28 pm

I wouldn’t call (most of) Banksy’s work great art, but I really like it. It’s more witty than particularly insightful or meaningful, but then my taste tends to lean that way.


Freddie 04.29.07 at 11:54 pm

I personally like some of his stuff, but I’m not a big fan or anything. I just specifically reject the move to say that someone is not an artist because you don’t like what he or she produces. That’s happened since Mondrian or before.


Christmas 04.30.07 at 12:16 am

(btw, guerrilla graffiti artists in Bristol have started to add barcodes to his work, reflecting their view that he’s a sellout.)

Oh, wank wank.


Christmas 04.30.07 at 12:29 am

And just to elaborate on that last bit: your critique of Banksy, such as it is, has progressed from (1) he’s not a real artist, to (2) he’s “amusing” but “pretty inconsequential” to (3) jealous graffiti artists in Bristol think he’s “sold out,” all within the space of two comments. Not the most intellectually rigorous appraisal.


rea 04.30.07 at 3:22 am

What, Christmas, he can’t be an amusing inconsequential sellout who isn’t a real artst?


bi 04.30.07 at 3:52 am

The real question, as always, is whether the vandals who defaced Banksy’s work are themselves real artists. Perhaps what the “vandals” merely did was to dramatically improve the artistic content of Banksy’s work? :-B


Chris Bertram 04.30.07 at 6:51 am

Christmas: I haven’t made a “critique” of Banksy’s work, I’ve (a) offered an opinion and (b) reported a fact unrelated to that opinion (about the barcode painters). I just thought it was funny that a graffiti artist widely seen as a vandal by those on whose walls he paints is himself being vandalised (or, alternatively, — thanks bi — that new works of art (or “art”) are being created by the modifiers of his originals. As always ymmv.


snuh 04.30.07 at 12:30 pm

my first thought was that the sign was an joke, possibly by banksy.


tps12 04.30.07 at 4:27 pm

I don’t know about “widely seen as a vandal”…I doubt anyone feels vandalized by Banksy anymore. If anything, his lack of seriousness or whatever, his pop appeal, enhances this effect.

And to cosign christmas, whatever you think of the integrity of Banksy’s work, tagging his stuff with bitchy little clichéed barcodes is wack. Nobody’s art that’s done out in the public should be immune to being covered over by other stuff, but then go over him when you have something to actually express in your own work, created to whatever standards of integrity you believe in. This petulant stone-throwing is just embarrassing.


Ivo 04.30.07 at 4:36 pm

Not exactly on topic but I couldn’t resist. In the UK graffiti are widely condemned as “vandalism” and, I stand to be corrected on this, the authors liable to prosecution. There is elaborate justification for this in the mainstream media and/or in the sanctioned public space.

In stark contrast, in Switzerland, Italy and Flemish part of Belgium, especially in the later two, there are a lot of graffiti, often on very polemic political issues, containing nudity, etc. To a degree I was surprised to notice that they are neither damaged not officially removed. Apparently such spontaneous/ unsanctioned expression is not just tolerated but, I suppose, in a sense encouraged.


Yan 04.30.07 at 4:51 pm

“I find him slightly amusing, but really pretty inconsequential as an artist.”

I found myself agreeing with this sentiment–at least the last bit (I think his humor has teeth, so “slightly amusing” is not quite right)–until I realized how many different ways “inconsequential as an artist” could be read. In my own mind, his lack of artistic consequence would be the fact that his work is ultimately reducible to illustrated jokes (albeit it pointed, political jokes) and that the aesthetic concern of the work is simply the effective communication of the joke.

On the one hand, a view of art that assumes out of hand that humor cannot be consequential art is overly narrow. At the same time, it’s plausible that some art genres are more consequential than others, and “high” art has traditionally been synonymous with “serious” art.

My own instinct is to treat as most “consequential” in art those artists and works that have the most _artistic_ consequence–so any work that subordinates the aesthetic element to content or concept must be less consequential.

But I think that instinct’s wrong or historically limited. Artistic innovation has reached the limits of its own possibility–or at least meaningful possibility. Which suggests that the only way for art to remain consequential, relevant, important is by having non-artistic consequence. If that’s so, then it’s perfectly possible that a political humorist can produce artwork that is, in the era after the end of art or at least of the end or decline of the importance of “artistic” or “aesthetic” value, very consequential.


Ginger Yellow 04.30.07 at 6:48 pm

I pretty much agree with what yan says, though I’d quibble with the artistic innovation point. I’d also say that some of Banksy’s work, notably the West Bank wall stuff, aims (and hits its target) a bit higher than the rest.


Chris Bertram 04.30.07 at 7:14 pm

You people are making really heavy weather of a slightly amusing newspaper hoarding.


Richard 04.30.07 at 11:10 pm

I’d much rather be an “artist” than an artist. Artists are your cocktail-swilling, petulant, pouting, academic darlings with the punk shoes. When Damien Hirst lost the scare quotes was when he stopped being interesting.

As a general rule, if you want to make something boring and rob it of consequence, call it art.


Alex 05.01.07 at 11:47 pm

I find it half amusing, half offensive that a man whose reputation as a rebellious graffiti artist sticking it to The Man has now had his work sanctioned as fine art by that same Man based on the fact that he’s rich and powerful. I don’t see any difference between Banksy’s right to spray on someone else’s property and another person’s right to spray on top of that.

That is to say, I do see the difference, but only insofar as Banksy’s work is recognised as fine art (or a rebellion against art and the establishment depending on which avenue of approval you want to take). There is nothing to stand in the way of the claim that the defacement is also a work of fine art. “It’s ugly” doesn’t count. Lots of brilliant art is ugly. The only distinction is that one was made by a rich, famous, respected person and the other was made by (we can only assume) someone who isn’t rich, famous or respected. Should they attain these qualities, their destruction of that work may come to be seen in a different light, until then, their lack of wealth and fame will earn them the status of a vandal, which Banksy seems to have managed to clear himself of through means that aren’t really supposed to put you above the law but evidently do.

My own feelings on Banksy’s work are as follows: It’s coffee table anarko-junk that every coffee table anarchist looks up to. He makes use of cheap recurring themes (cartoon characters, the police, drugs, weapons) and jumbles them into something that looks like an anti-establishment statement. Banksy left Bristol, branding its inhabitants “thick as pigshit” and headed for Hoxton at around the same time local authorities started revering his work. When your angle is that of a supposed people’s preacher who’s constantly fighting a war against censorship, it’s kind of hard to keep going when those authorities are constantly making efforts to preserve your works.

Banksy is an artist. He is the king of the YBAs and he’s fallen into that trap all by himself.

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