The graffiti artist Banksy reportedly once said, “When you go to an art gallery, you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires.”
Recently, Banksy sold his paintings anonymously on a street corner in New York. Only a handful of paintings were sold, each selling for around $60. If these same paintings had been sold in a gallery as original works by Banksy, each piece would go for at least five figures.
Those who walked by this street corner stall without a second thought are kicking themselves and exclaiming, “Oh no! I could have owned a Banksy worth thousands!”
The most interesting part of this story, however, is the commentary that it makes on society. Humanity no longer a) values art b) recognizes talent. Do people want to own a Banksy because they enjoy his work? Or do they want to own something that has monetary value? And these same people, do they think Banksy is talented, or do they think he is talented because they have been told so?
Think about it, how many people walk down a New York City street during one afternoon? Yet the majority of these people ignored this street vendor. When the news broke later, and they realized it was the work of a modern artist with commercial appeal, then they felt disappointed at missing out. Not missing out on art, though. They missed out on profit.
I’m fairly certain that the average person is too much of a coward to admit to liking anything, whether it be a painting, a piece of music, or a novel, unless someone, or something, has told them to do so. Moreover, most people refuse to accept, or appreciate, anything that does not have monetary value. My sister, who is a brilliant novelist, once said that rarely does society pat an author on the back for writing a story, but everyone congratulates a bestselling author for a job well-done. My sister is a published author, although not a famous one, so the average person will take her remark with a grain of salt. However, if her novel appeared on the bestseller list tomorrow, her quote would be status updates on Facebook with several “likes” and “shares.” There be ye point, people. There it BE in blazing BOLDFACE type.
Artists used to be recognized as the brave souls who said what needed to be said, who brazenly expressed what others hid within. They still do, of course. The real ones. What has changed is that society no longer gives these skills “worth.” Value comes from literal monetary worth.
Without the all-powerful monetary success, society says “not talented,” “not worthy,” and “not an artist.” Profit profit profit. Own a Banksy because it is valuable. What the f*ck does it matter if he’s talented, or a hack, or a genius? Snatch up the painting because it can be sold for mucho bucks. Or own it for the bragging rights! Yes, the bragging rights! Show others that you can afford an expensive piece of art! And, damn that bastard Banksy for pulling a fast one and selling his paintings cheap and screwing everyone of profit and prestige! Surely, this man is insane? He practically gave his work away! Banksy surely forgot that society agreed to sell art to the devil a long time ago.
Not surprising though; humanity sells everything. There’s even a show on the History Channel called “What is the Earth Worth?” As if.
If humanity does not regain its ability to appreciate artistic expression and to recognize talent, then we are left with a world that is as interesting as a plastic, six dollar, Halloween costume. Boo! That scares me. How ‘bout you? No? Then I’ve got an original Banksy, cheap, for sale, slightly used …