Tuesday, September 19, 2006

art that speaks

i've been following an artist who goes by the name Banksy. he has been dubed a "guerrilla artist," "prankster," and "political graffiti artist" among other things. his work is risky and thought provoking as he addresses hot issues and dives into controversy- addressing the (literal) elephant in the room. this is art that says something- i love it.

here's some headlines from the BBC:

Barely Legal: Banksy art show in LA, including a live elephant- read more.
A life-size replica of a Guantanamo Bay detainee has been placed in Disneyland by "guerrilla artist" Banksy- read more.

Fake prehistoric rock art of a caveman with a shopping trolley has been hung on the walls of the British Museum- read more.
A British graffiti artist has managed to evade security and hang his work in four of New York's most prestigious and well-guarded museums- read more.
Hundreds of Paris Hilton albums have been tampered with in the latest stunt by "guerrilla artist" Banksy- read more.


josue.blanco said...

I LOVE Banksy!

pedro said...

Fantastic. What I'm puzzled about is how many of the commentators on the BBC story couldn't understand either the glaring point of the piece or the ironies of location and theme. I suppose this lack of understanding makes the piece even that more poignant.

p.s. I hope you guys are doing well with everything. I'm still geting adjusted to the time crunch of grad school, but I'm loving every moment of it.

elnellis said...

i know, i wondered the same thing pedro. banksy's art addresses huge issues but none of those were discussed in the articles. the "elephant in the room" he was getting at was poverty, i read on another website. people were so scandalized with the fact he painted an elephant that they missed what he was saying.
prophets are never welcome.

it was good to hear from you pedro, i'll call you soon.

Lian said...

I love this guy's work too. It's creativity and poignance is incredible.
The one thing I wanted to raise, however, as kind of a related discussion was the messages/themes of most of his pieces. I'm starting to feel like most of these issues are becoming art/literary cliches. Like it's very safe artistically to do anything that a)Criticizes the war in Iraq or the Bush government (directly or indirectly) b)Decries the West's indifference to the poor or c)Empathizes with anyone accused of or associated with terrorism.
Without questioning or debating the issues themselves, I want to say I am getting really bored with this stock material. It seems like tried and true political propaganda (in some cases, Like Banksy's, brilliantly executed) that offers me very little insight into who I am or who anyone else is.

Also, and this is getting into the issues themselves, I am bewildered by how sympathetic the Left or perhaps just the "Anti-Conservatives" are becoming to the Islamic states, all of which are infinitely more conservative than the Western governments who are villainised as their oppressors. It's like turning to Fascism because you can't stand how conservative Republicanism is.

Sorry to rant on your blog Phil but Banksy inspired me with his creativity and audacity but riled me up about things that niggle me every time I watch the news.

chuck said...

ya chad like i said to phil a bit ago, i really dig the way in which does things, but don't necessarily agree with his propaganda take on all things political. i guess it takes such extreme leanings toward a violent issue to motivate someone to do such ballsy work.

elnellis said...

hey chad, no worries about the rant (isn't that what blogs are for?)
i agree with you and i totally don't. thats a way of saying yeah, sure, banksy is using worn scripts and yeah, sure, it is almost garanteed success in the lefty, artsy anty bushy camp.
i get frustrated for the very reason that people like this shit and don't feel addressed. i think the fact that you (me, we) don't recieve insight into who we are or who anyone else is through these themes is the most tragic part of it all. most people of our generation are drawn to this art in smug selfrighteousness... but there is potential for this stuff to be a mirror so we can see the log in our own eyes. i guess what i'm saying is that just because bono made anti-poverty activism trendy doesn't mean that those of us who are critical of shallow trendiness need to stop caring about the poor. you know what i mean?
yeah, and like chuck said, i absolutely love the sheer balsyness of his stunts. so cool.

jessi knippel said...


thanks for the link and sharing this. it is challenging, beautiful and hard to sit with it as an artist. i agree with you on how refreshing it is to encounter art that is challenging but i also wonder what it then in turn it motivates in other artist. again thank you.

Lian said...

Yeah, I know what you mean, Phil. We need desperately to be challenged about so much of this stuff - our indifference to suffering, our glibness, our selfishness. But like you say, I think the art of Banksy's variety for all its glorious ingenuity, is essentially born out of self-righteousness - the pointed finger that distracts from the one doing the pointing. For that reason it is attractive because all it asks of you is to agree, to stand with it and point the finger, to hide behind your smug opinion and be proved right by everyone who takes offence (is it any wonder the victims of Banksy's pranks have been so good-humoured about the whole thing? I doubt they all think it's as funny as I do.)
I suppose it is dangerous art in my opinion for that very reason, it sort of stumps change rather than invoke it. All the art that has most moved me to change - that has effectively shown me a mirror of myself - has been the art that exposes the artist rather than justify, exonerate, veil him.
Let's not give up spurring each other to care for the poor, the suffering, the unjustly treated - they are timeless themes not just trends - but let's not do it by snidely blaming someone else.

PS I think the tiny people project shares the ingenuity and light heartedness of Banksy's spirit but is a social critique that moves me personally.

Jen said...

Oh funny timing, my husband Paul just bought a book of Banksy's art at Urban Outfitters. And then proceeded to graffiti a stencil of a rat onto his office wall.

You're welcome to take a look at the book if you'd like.

Lian said...

Let me add a post post script to my latest comment a day later: In thinking about it, I'm sure that a huge part of what I have to say above is really just me taking out the frustration I feel about not being able to escape my generation - the patterns of thought, the worldview, the subsequent creative output - on poor Banksy. The hypocrisy of my own finger pointing in that comment is pretty obvious I think.

elnellis said...

lian, i love what you said here --> "All the art that has most moved me to change...has been the art that exposes the artist rather than justify, exonerate, veil him."
i think that is true for me too. what do you think it is about our generation's tendancy (and i include myself) to use the popular issues of social justice, ecology, advocacy etc... for success and self-righteousness? sometimes it feels like a move to a "moral high ground" to be able to point a finger, the exact same thing conservative fundamentalists do, both having very different moral "lowgrounds" we don't want to shine the spotlight on.
i believe in the power of are to dissent and protest. but on what level does it become just that and fail to be anything more that a bitch'n'moan effort? sure everyone is all about those issues but we live fragmented lives blind to the connection between my stance on advocacy for the disenfrachised and my choice of where to live, work, shop, etc...
i don't know.
perhaps good things are happening because of this reality in our generation... at least awareness is up and maybe my son's generation will grab the torch and actually do something about it. who knows, what do you think?

elnellis said...

this is an edit for the above comment:
"i believe in the power of ART to dissent and protest..." (not ARE)

pedro said...

Good discussion everyone. Sorry I don't have time to rant and rave anymore myself. All my mental powers are being focused on the task on hand - grad school. I see how blogging gives all of you a creative release, but I sure as hell don't know how you find the time to post.

Aaron said...

pedro... ditto.

maybe: 1) it gets better after the first few weeks of grad school; or 2) we need to start a support group (one that never meets though due to lack of free time.)

chuck said...

wait...crap i've actually been showing up to that support group for months and was baffled why i was the only one in the room. thanks for the fyi aaron, i'll be sure to never go again.

but just to go back to what chad and phil were chatting about, ya it's a tough line. in the case of banksey what i'm wondering is if the size and weight of the public political arena overshadows what the intimate, intensely personal work of just one artist? for me i can no longer see honesty or purity from an artist once it has crossed the line of an age old controversey and ceased to be what i enjoy most about art, namely storytelling.

nathan Barrett said...

wow...he's amazing. he just goes for it. I like the elephant especially. I agree though, in some ways he is just capatilizing on the old issues, but it is bringing a fresh approach which is nice to deal with. The elephant rocks. I am thinking of how he is thinking out of the box and yet not stepping over the line. I wish he would choose to upset us with some other obvious issues like why isn't there much said about burning an effagy(spelling?) of the pope while Mohammed is being pulled from theatre and any script because we are afraid. The answer is obvious but huge imbalances in values and freedoms expressed and very few are taking free speech the other way. Obvious art is good but this guy is still playing it safe. He may be ballsy but if he was really balls to the wall, he would choose issues that everyone is aware of but no one wants to touch. I guess I am being a spoil sport in some ways, oh well...

Lian said...

yeah, I totally agree, Nathan. The Islamic world has consistently become violent and threatening whenever it is accused of being violent and threatening. I'm beginning to suspect that the recent admission of all things Islamic into the canons of political correctness is more out of fear than a desire to be genuinely accepting. Christians are still at the bottom of the PC food chain because we aren't known for terrorist activity.