A typical Banksy witticism
Part of what I want this blog to do is highlight certain notable figures of the commercialized contemporary art world to a new audience.
I’d like to help educate all those good people who, up until now, have been uninterested, alienated, or even hostile to the efforts of today’s educated creative classes and their deep-pocketed supporters. From what I see, this potential audience of the disengaged is practically everyone in entire world.
What I want this newly attentive audience to appreciate is how correct they were to reject this garbage all along. This involves exposing the corruption festering away in the greedy and debased hearts of the institutions who have forced these toxins on an unwilling culture.
I also like to talk about inspirational figures and exciting new paths I see developing, but that’s for another post. I do see this as a time of renewal and opportunities. The future will be what we make of it, and I see a gathering of forces that ultimately will change the course of civilization. It’s part of what artists do; on an archetypal level we get the news before others, and help spread the word. Big changes are coming.
But the first step of recovery is to admit we have a problem, and the art world is a serious problem indeed.
Not many people are intrigued by the machinations of contemporary art. It’s understandable, because of the contemporary art world’s unwitting manifestation of not one, but two, Spinal Tap memes:
1. The popularity of contemporary art isn’t waning, it’s appeal is becoming more selective.
2. It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.
Which leads us to Banksy.
He (or she, or they, no one knows for sure) is an Important Artist Innovator of this Era, according to the establishment. What Banksy is infamous for is a series of anonymous graffiti works which feature all the scathing insight that a radicalized high school newspaper editorial cartoonist could muster, and the keen observational humor usually found in the greeting cards offered for sale at Kinko’s.
Take that, fascists!
You see, that’s funny, because they are not holding guns, but bananas instead.
Banksy has all the weight of the elites behind him because he gives expression to the doublethink contradictions they can’t admit to themselves. He fits in with the same unsustainable “Anarchists For Big Government” vibe that made the Occupy movement such a debacle.
The problem is yesterday’s anti-establishment is now the establishment itself. It likes the privileges that come with control of the media, academia, the arts and government. Big business is no fool, it’s toeing the party line now too. But the whole self-concept and self-aggrandizement of this counter-culture hinges on it being “counter,” and that is no longer the case. What’s an edgy rebel to do when your fellow travelers have Gramscied their way into cultural domination? How can you speak truth to power, when you ARE the power?
Since integrity is not a factor, it simply becomes a matter of marketing strategy.
When talking about Banksy with others in art community, a typical comment is “You’ve got to hand it to the guy, he gets lots of hype.” People have been hypnotized into thinking buzz equals significance.
Is that what is important about art, how well somebody advertises themselves? It’s what the art establishment would have you believe, because it plays into their control. To gain their assistance in the promotion of your art, you better conform to their priorities, share their views, and show the proper obsequence. This leads to the stifling of free expression, which in turn has led to the visual arts undergoing a crisis of relevance in our culture.
A summation of Banksy’s merit came in 2013. On the streets of New York City a surrogate street vendor set up a booth that offered genuine Banksy stencil and spray paint canvases for $60 each. These “originals” could have been worth a million through a gallery or auction house, but thousands people passed by the display without any interest at all. In the end there were 3 sales, including two pieces to a patron that demanded a discount off the already low price.
Once the truth came out, of course the works soared in value. The power of Name Brand Recognition kicked in to make these small purchases the equivalent of winning some weird lottery. Two of the canvases recent sold for $214,000.
So who got it right-the hordes of people walking by who saw nothing worth noticing, or the suckers who paid extravagant fees to possess a relic of someone’s networking skills?
Perhaps English media figure Charlie Brooker summed it up best: Banksy gained such art world stature because “…his work looks dazzlingly clever to idiots. And apparently that’ll do.”