Updated: Feb 8, 2021
Many people who know nothing about graffiti have probably heard the name Banksy. If you haven’t, then this blog might come as a shock to you. This blog isn’t intended to praise Banksy, or promote what he does, but rather just peal back the curtain to what is happening in a small corner of the graffiti world.
Banksy, who is still unknown outside of his/her street name, is one of the biggest names in the graffiti world and arguably the art world (I’ll refer to Banksy as a he in this blog as there’s more evidence it’s a male than a female). The entire art world knows of Banksy, but the rest of the world who doesn’t follow traditional artists still likely knows, or has heard of Banksy. He’s made a name for himself by being political or using his media attention towards global awareness for the greater good. This is much different than the typical graffiti person who normally writes their own name in a few different fonts and has nothing to say other than their own made up name. He also doesn’t just tag, he also creates art then drops it off for people to see.
Not all political pieces are going to get the attention that Banksy does, but he’s the only person that people want their buildings to be graffitied by. Having your building hit by him will actually increase the value of your building. He’s so popular that people will fight each other to see who can steal the portion of the graffitied building. Most building owners hit with a Banksy piece will have that part of the building removed and either sell it or have it kept in a safe place for huge money or social status. Art galleries will purchase his street art for thousands of dollars. Everyone wants a Banksy piece, but nobody is suppose to have it. And nobody is suppose to make money off of it. It seems that his philosophy is that street art is for the people. Recently one of his pieces was sold at an auction and when it was hammers SOLD, it automatically dropped through a paper shredder built into the frame. Even though his annual income is believed to be around $20m a year, it’s obviously a message that his art is for the people, not the rich.
So is the reason he’s loved around the world, despite the root of his art is often a form of vandalism, because he’s saying something to make the world a gentler place? Is it because every piece has a thought provoking light behind it that everyone, deep inside themselves, knows his message is a good one? Or does he hit the streets with an artists brush rather than a taggers can of rust-covering spray paint? It’s very unclear, but these elements come together and form some type of mystery that people want to believe in. Anonymous has a name. Someone who can tell the world what they’re doing wrong with a quick drawing nobody saw coming. A modern day comic book character. Batman gets credit for catching a bad-guy, but leaves a path of devastation. As long as good is at the forefront, nothing else matters. I’m sure it would be different if Banksy was writing hate on walls, but he and Batman aren’t. Good is at the core of their path.
This is a scary and interesting piece of the puzzle. What do people like or dislike about graffiti? Where is the line now that some graffiti is glorified and some despised? Does hate or pointlessness make graffiti a crime? Would Banksy get community service if he was caught or would he get a movie deal? Does this promote people who graffiti to make better graffiti and start a revolution within the graffiti world? Is he a hero or a villain? It’s a very thin line as to why he’s the exception to the rule, but he is. He’s one of the most interesting and famous artists in todays society, yet he’s doing something that countries spend billions of dollars on annually trying to eliminate.
There are a few movies about him and he has more followers than many politicians, movie stars, or athletes. He currently has 6.3 millions followers on Instagram and yet follows nobody. There seems to be a thirst for his message. But maybe it’s because he has a message. I’m sure he wouldn’t have the notoriety if he kept tagging “BANKSY” on every wall, over and over again.
Chances are pretty good that you’ll never get hit with graffiti that Banksy did. You will probably never even see his work outside of a computer screen. But next time you see graffiti that has something to say, remember that it was probably inspired by him. Sending a message to society doesn’t have to be damaging to someone’s property, which is a main difference between street art and graffiti. Maybe he is the solution to eradicating graffiti from cities. A piece of art placed on a sidewalk for people to ponder as they walk to their jobs might have a lot more impact than coloured-in block letters of a tagging crews name does. Besides permission, maybe thought provocation is the difference between graffiti and art? Maybe he’s the leader of the people who hate society and everything it has spawned. It seems impossible for someone without a real name, face, address, or age to be the leader of a population, but it’s happened.
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