Here in England we have a folk hero, the stuff of legend. A man of mystery, whose true identity is known only to some. A maverick, inspiration for many, loved by millions, hated by other millions. Someone who transcended his (alleged) working class roots to achieve fame, fortune and the accolades of both the professional world and the public. Heâ€™s an artist whose works have featured in record-breaking exhibitions, reproduced worldwide on posters, merchandise from bags to t-shirts, and in best-selling books.Â Heâ€™s one of Britainâ€™s best loved, most controversial artists.
Graffiti artists, that is.
Yep, this is the man we know only as Banksy. The anonymity is an essential curiosity in the career of Banksy, because much of what he did (not so much these days) is of course illegal. Painting murals on walls both private and public, creating art that certainly prompts discussion, not least because (perhaps unusually for graffiti), it seems to have a message greater than â€œlook at me, rebelling against da manâ€. Banksy seems to stand for peace, socialism, cynicism and the sort of social commentary that makes the everyman laugh . Or maybe he does just stand for â€œlook at me, rebelling against da manâ€, it dependson your viewpoint. He has himself said about his style â€œsometimes [it] just means drawing a moustache on a girl’s face on some billboard, sometimes [it] means sweating for days over an intricate drawing.â€
Local authorities in the UK originally took the same view of Banksy works as any other graffiti â€“ they erased them, at the taxpayerâ€™s expense. Then the work started to get famous and therefore valuable, and the authorities in some cases took a different view, even allowing locals to vote on whether it stays. A nice twist of democracy from â€˜da manâ€™. Of course, other authorities continue to treat it as a crime and erase it immediately. And this is where it gets interesting. Banksy artworks in public places sometimes get defaced. Tagged. Graffitied. Like this one: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8338335.stm
When that happens, half of me goes â€œaw, that was a nice, clever, visually interesting piece of public art that someone destroyedâ€, and the other half of me goes â€œwell, tough luck, you canâ€™t say one bit of graffiti is more important than another. If he was allowed to deface the wall in the first place, some kid is allowed to deface it twiceâ€. If we learned to find Bankyâ€™s murals visually and socially acceptable, why canâ€™t the tags be? I guess the tags come with baggage â€“ tags of their own. Poverty, gang culture, violence, drugs. To the nice middle classes itâ€™s all part of the same destruction of values, lack of respect, fear of youth that the tabloids exploit so well. Banksy is a safe rebel, perhaps. Nonetheless, a wall is a wall, spray paint is spray paint, and the law is the law. So Iâ€™m asking you today if thereâ€™s a difference between what Banksy does and what Joe Tagger does:
Do you think some graffiti should be preserved as ‘art’ – if so, by what criteria?
The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.