Street Art Watch: we have met the enemy, and it is… pulling out a checkbook?

This is not an easy piece to summarize fully – the bare bones is that it’s about Banksy, an anonymous street artist struggling to reconcile the paradox that good art about people not being able to make it in this world often allows the artist to make it in this world* – but the conclusion is of interest in its own right:

…the language of resistance — of the vanguard on the streets leading the way — is the language of the elite. Banky’s adolescent messages reflect the adolescence of his audience. His audience likes the images they believe he paints of them:  as childlike idealists fighting against villains, but how do they fight? All they do is scramble from museum piece to museum piece, hoping to see it before guards or rival street artists arrive. It is a game for children, like those in Banky’s art, a treasure hunt for the idle rich.

The old game between workers, artists, and institutions is over, and the institutions have won.

Two years ago, these same children played another game:  Occupy Wall Street. In it, they dressed up like radicals and pretended to resist the institutions which employed members of their families. When it was over, they left a mess for workers to clean up, as they once cleaned up Banksy’s art. It was all a bit of fun (except for a handful of rapes and thefts). These same children now scamper about their city to see the artist who helped inspire Occupy and, in his art and his audio tour, still refers to it. But who remembers Occupy? Where did it go? What did it do?

“Better Out Than In” illustrates not just Banksy’s personal failure but also the failure of all those who turned out in Zuccotti Park:  they never meant any of it. It was resistance as recreation, a way to pass the time between classes at Columbia or on their way home from the office. On its own terms, the exhibition is a failure, but as a condemnation of his audience, Banksy could not have done better.

The Federalist is an excellent website, by the way.  You should read it.

Moe Lane

*Bruce Springsteen has this problem as well.