Art: An analysis of Banksy

Art: An analysis of Banksy


Without a doubt, the most popular graffiti artist in the world is Banksy, real identity unknown. His art can be traced back to the early 1990′s, but it wasn’t until the turn of the decade when he really started to establish himself as a popular artist. Aside from his tagging which can be found across the world; album covers, art exhibitions, and most recently a film, serve as catalysts for his fame.

His work strikes a chord with many, particularly youth, for the blunt usage of messages within an art-form that was often regarded as existent only within the margins of society. Banksy isn’t seen as just an artist, but also as a philosopher and political spokesman against capitalism, war, theism, totalitarianism and fascism. By stirring the youth with broad and direct statements, as well as through his constant subversion of authority, Banksy has managed to develop a large following.

The seductive nature of Banksy’s work within the hip-hop community is easy to understand, and can be attributed to two significant factors: 1) the fact that graffiti never had a universal flag-bearer and 2) the ease of his artwork. Graffiti comprises a quarter of the so-called hip-hop culture, but similar to b-boying, it is largely marginalized by emceeing and djing. This isn’t to say it doesn’t earn respect, but few would argue that its stature among the masses is equal to the hip-hop elements centered around music. Although there have been numerous graffiti artists who gained some notoriety prior to Banksy, but none have had a similar universal following.

As a draftsmen Banksy is nothing less than solid. His work tends to be bold and sweeping, his style so distinct that it is difficult to mistake his work for anyone else. Through his incorporation of elements of surrealism, such as a dog shooting a record player, Banksy allows his vision to remain fresh. This quirky side to his artwork is doubtlessly what makes him so attractive to people around the globe. He also makes heavy use of irony, cleverness, wit and archness. Banksy’s street art is often centered around a single key idea. Instead of existing as art in itself, his work is often founded on external concepts. His view of the world is utterly simplistic, and in that very agreeable to many, especially youth. Banksy is particularly skillful in taking broad, complex abstractions and reducing them into something palatable. Instead of using ideas as a pretext for his art, his art is a pretext for his ideas. Banksy’s foray into social criticism speaks most strongly regarding this, where his art became a container for his statements.

The ease of Banksy’s work has much to do with his popularity. His work often lends itself to reduction, frequently his work is little more than a simple idea covered by an active imagination. A quick glance at Banksy’s gallery is revelatory of this, his work can be decoded effortlessly. A man throwing a bouquet is symbolic of peace, a depiction of graffiti removal is a tongue-and-cheek reference to the treatment of his own work. Much of Banksy’s catalog consists of work that is supposed to click; he completely avoids the murkiness and mysteries of life. There is very little engagement of reality; instead, Banksy’s views and interpretations are downright infantile and insipid. With Banksy art is a simply a matter of knowing; of understanding the reference, the clear message or the clever joke. Great art transcends such amateur aims.

The best of artists are draining, they require an active audience. Banksy offers an alternative, he offers escapism. People love to be flattered, and Banksy’s work caters to this shallow desire. By making art that often has a solution of sorts, people become impressed with their own intellectual capacity, and by extension they are roused by Banksy’s work. The ideas found within his work are easy and reductionist, completely isolated from life itself. A lay-person can extract the–juvenile, in the case of Banksy–notions with ease. Banksy uses a reward system to great effect, he creates art that requires a little decoding, and essentially remunerates his audience when the work is unlocked. It’s difficult to shrug off the touch of condescension embodied in this attitude. In this aspect, his work hues closer to playing a game of connect-the-dots than it does true art. Banksy doesn’t deal with the complexities of life, instead he creates games to take us out of reality. His work is doubtlessly accessible, but it’s also trivial.

It’s a shame how much attention Banksy has garnered considering the quality of his work, but not out of step with todays culture. At a time where schlock has completely invaded the arts it’s no surprise that the likes of Banksy have gained such a massive, global following. Childishly, Banksy presents people with puzzles that must be solved in order to get a glimpse into his own puerile thoughts. In many ways, Banksy stands in direct opposition to what great art is. He doesn’t offer a new way to live, instead he provides than a path through which one can escape reality. Through his flattery of his audience, Banksy continues to impress people around the world. Formally, his style is as reductive as the work it creates; that is to say he mixes trite ideas, often sociopolitical, with a visual flare, all while barely skirting the edges of reality. Banksy’s art isn’t an expression of life, it doesn’t deal with the truth. And therein lies his fatal flaw that holds him back from ever becoming a great artist.

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  • http://citizenx.bandcamp.com/ HALFTIME

    nice one

    enjoyed the read

  • Lydia S

    i loved this, am i able to use a few lines for my art GCSE?

  • http://www.thefindmag.com WestGoogle

    Yeah, of course, it's all yours. Out of curiosity — how will it be incorporated?

  • Nicky

    This article is garbage.

  • Anonymous

    To Nicky. This article is not garbage! it was great article I loved it.

  • http://www.twitter.com/thefindmag Danny

    Thanks for dropping your thoughts! Good to see people have their own opinion about it, whether it’s positive or negative! Nicky, why do you think it’s garbage?

  • Joe McLean

    Probably because it highlights the fact that many people’s one link to art culture is contrived and basic. Good article, could be useful for my dissertation on graffiti losing its bite due to the sudden exposure to culture, as opposed to it previously being a counter culture idea.

  • http://www.reverbnation.com/theracecar RacecaR

    Danny,
    Many thanks for all the great information and links you and The Find have provided. I have to say that without you and your wonderful site, I don`t know what I`d be doing while over here. I extend my wishes of continued success and I hope to share some of the fruits of my labor with you very soon (at the very least before the end of the year)! Just some words of encouragement to continue providing insightful and informative links to your readers and admirers. Also please, all of you, have a great summer and keep in touch!
    Respect,
    RacecaR (12:51)

  • fucktard

    everyone commenting needs to get over themselves

  • TARDFUCK

    holy shit thankyou fucktard

  • Will

    “In many ways, Banksy stands in direct opposition to what great art is.” Maybe that’s because the modern definition of ‘great art’ is a very naive perspective. Art is what the target audience defines as art. Banksy has done well to capture the hearts of the modern ‘youth’ as you call us. Just because he doesn’t float the boat of many pompus old timers. Banksy is redefining modern art. Good on him, keep going my friend !

  • Cynthia.

    “Banksy’s art isn’t an expression of life, it doesn’t deal with the truth”

    I can say the same exact thing about you as a journalist.

  • V

    This Article is a complete waste of time as he clearly does not understand why banksy does these things…

  • Sophie

    I was really enjoying this article at the start and than it turns awful by the end. Banksy sure does deal with the truth, he points out what and brings light to major issues in society which most turn a blind eye to. Some might say that that is all he does, just paints about it, but he sure as hell is doing a better job than most of us at getting a point across to the public or ‘sticking it to the man’. If Banksys artwork wasn’t dealing with the truth why would he hide his identity? The only way any of us can speak the truth is by using a mask. At least Banksy doesn’t lie about it, he admits it. And if you had looked at what Banksy says about himself you would be able to see that he doesn’t even think of himself as an artist so your really missing the point.

    • Gerda Taro

      That was a pretty severe amount of industrial bullshit. Not everybody needs a mask. People who aren’t cowards and are truly willing to posit their dangerous and unsettling ideas don’t need a mask.

      Banksy’s popularity is overwhelmingly the result of, apart from the whole reverse psychology Barbara Streisand effect deal of, “Oh, hey! I’m anonymous, guess nobody should know me! Now, none of you should at all be compelled to learn more about me, my background, or any information pertinent to making a meaningful analysis of my artwork! Toodledoo!” him being “counter-culture”. The idea of, “Look, I do things without permission, I set out my work in public spaces often composed of political naivete and a sense of excess righteousness!” is just so painfully childish.

  • Jeff

    Postmodernism :)