Banksy: Activist, Anarchist, or Consumer Art Addict?

Banksy’s art, politics and controversies have made them a household name since their first appearances in the early 2000s. His works, which have appeared both on decrepit London walls and prestigious art galleries, touch upon the absurd and the familiar, the outrageous and the heart-warming. The photo heading this article, which depicts the famous “napalm girl” surrounded by popular American, capitalist figures is a shining example of the message Banksy often gives out. He is both the illusory anarchist and the middle-class hipster’s idol. But more than that, he is worth a whole lot of money. You should spot the contradiction that comes with the words ‘anarchist’ and ‘money’ being used to describe the same person, a contradiction which forms my article today.

My article was also inspired by the recent new surrounding Banksy; his shredding of a $1.4 million painting seconds after it had just been auctioned off. The act, which took those in the room very much by surprised, has had a mixed critical reaction. Some of which, in the likes of critic Jerry Saltz, is overwhelming positive, joining in to what he believes is Banksy’s mocking of the modern consumer art market; whose hive minds will buy just about anything anyone else will. This would certainly fall in line with the direction of many of Banksy’s other works, such as that above, of the “napalm girl”, and below, where he follows in these anti-capitalist, anti-authority themes.

Taken from geograph.org.

But can we attribute such characteristics to a figure that, quite famously, we know absolutely nothing about? Some people are not so convinced, and you can see why when Banksy’s art is very much a part of the art world that he is supposedly criticising. Priscilla Frank, from the Huffington Post, rightly points out that the half-shredded piece could soon double in price, and be worth approximately $2.6 million dollars. One might ask, if he intended to be anti-establishment, why not shred the whole thing entirely? To leave it half-destroyed is to keep it as a priceless artwork, still workable in a frame that can be sold at another high-end auction. Maybe it’s all just a fad, with Banksy cashing in on rebellious sentiment to make all the more money. When you consider that Banksy’s work is often very derivative of the French Blek le Rat, who popularised stencil graffiti, and that perhaps some of his work is really not that deep, then some of those admiring attitudes might change.

But maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that, in this post-capitalist world, artists and companies commodify left-wing sentiment for their own gain. When global businesses express their support for LGBT rights, or against Trump, remember that they do it with a certain profit-motive in mind. They have an audience to garner, and will say whatever they need to keep you on side. Art, as a commodity in itself, is no different; all those edgy Che Guevara t-shirts are lining investor’s pockets somewhere.

Due to Banksy’s amassed wealth, of which we know nothing of where it is spent, and their stunts which only extrapolate that hoard, I struggle to fall for his anti-capitalist ideas. Sure, he claims to be anti-Tory and does vandalise property with his art in the name of anti-establishmentarianism, but how much of that is a ploy, an image curated over the years to take more of our money. I would love to hear your opinion, so if you have one, comment below!

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