In the art world and beyond, the name Banksy holds an indiscernible allure. The mystery artist who has flaunted unwritten rules of the artistic establishment and the actual laws of various countries is a polarizing figure. Some view Banksy as a criminal, others a genius. Although, at this point, his exploits and projects are likely the efforts of a collective rather than one single person. Perhaps Banksy, like the Dread Pirate Roberts has been many men (and women) over the years taking up the mantle of rebel, irreverent artist with a message. This past week, Banksy is making headlines once again. If you haven’t watched the shredded painting video yet, you need to watch it. Go watch it now. I’ll wait.
This stunt, like Banksy himself, can be one of many different things. A brilliant commentary on the monetary value of art. A delicious prank on the wealthy. Or simply a new opportunity to garner attention. Of course, the real beauty of any artistic endeavor is that it doesn’t have to conform to only one purpose or message. It can be all of the things mentioned above and more.
However, the true satisfaction comes from watching the burn. Seeing the flames lick creation into destruction, leaving nothing but ashes in its wake.
To me, it smacks of arson. Stay with me here. The arsonist is not content to set a fire and walk away. There’s more to it. The planning and build-up create the initial excitement. The spark, if you will. Then the execution heightens the sense of accomplishment and elation. Setting the fire. However, the true satisfaction comes from watching the burn. Seeing the flames lick creation into destruction, leaving nothing but ashes in its wake.
In this metaphor it’s not the painting that’s being destroyed, it’s our expectation as an audience. And in this theater of the absurd, the story doesn’t end there. Reportedly, the collector who purchased the (now) destroyed painting received an offer almost immediately, more than doubling his investment. The circus of attention generated by the painting’s annihilation only buoyed its value further. An entirely ridiculous proposition. Banksy, no doubt, anticipated this development and it only serves to highlight the intent of this painting turned performance art piece.
Our reactions to the painting’s destruction, subsequent sale, and skyrocketing value are as much a part of the performance as the painting itself. Therefore, the question must be asked, if a painting is shredded in the forest and no one is there to see it, is it still art?
I’ll leave you with that ludicrous question. Let me know if you come up with an answer.
All images in this post are from Banksy's website