"All pictures painted inside, in the studio, will never be as good as those done outside." - Paul Cezanne
Above is the quote that undercover street artist Banksy was inspired by for his month-long residency on the streets of New York entitled "Better Out Than In." Using the streets of New York as his canvas, Banksy has exposed the people of New York to a new performance piece, stencil art or sculpture every day in the month of October. As works pop up overnight, people have been flooding to neighborhoods they may have never thought of visiting just to A) say they saw a Banksy, B) take an Instagram of it C) take it all in or D) all of the above. While in technical terms is work his pretty uncomplicated, I think that what is important here is the context and dialogue behind the work.
Edgar Degas' The Laundresses depicts lower-class women ironing.
For so long, art has been exclusively for the elite. Even after the impressionists tried to break away from the long-standing tradition of painting non-secular, elite subjects, there was still an understanding that art belonged within a gallery or a salon. Even though the impressionist painters themselves were sometimes middle or lower-class, they were still painting for the elite viewer regardless of the fact that their subjects were often normal people doing normal things. Fast forward two centuries, and we have artists like Banksy who are working to break the mold by challenging the norm within the art world. Banksy has literally brought the arts to the masses by putting them on the street. Banksy has invited every New Yorker to think, explore and even profit off his art and this, I believe, is unprecedented--at least within the New York art scene. If anything, Banksy is simply building off and expanding the principles that the impressionists have become so well-known for.
It's also worth noting the impact the internet and social media has had on this movement. People (including the artist himself) are sharing faster than they ever have before. What once required a submission, edit and publishing period in a newspaper now requires a simple snap and click of a button. This kind of thing has been happening within different realms already, though. Fashion bloggers--much like Banksy--are able to offer quality content almost always for free. As a result, the fashion world has been up in arms question the authenticity and quality of the content itself in the same way that everyone seems to have opinion on Banksy. I guess that we hadn't seen anything like this on such a large scale within the art world--an intersection between social media, the masses and art. Still, whether you actually like the work itself (the physical aspect of it) is up to taste and opinion however, there is no doubt that Banksy's work is changing the landscape of contemporary art (or art as a whole?) After all, without context, Rothko's paintings would be no more interesting than a big red block of Gouda.
Don't agree? Well, neither does Mayor Bloomberg. City officials have been quick to call Banksy's work vandalism. Sure, in essence, his work is vandalism--after all, he is spraying his work on buildings that don't belong to him. But art for the masses requires that it be displayed for the masses--and where better than the streets? New York is small and our apartments are even smaller. The streets belong to us--they're where we go to eat, they're where we go to vent after a fight with our roommates, hell they're even where we go to cry when everything is falling out of place. And I think that when people move to New York, they are well aware of the fact that they're not moving to Southampton--this isn't the land of perfectly manicured lawns and trimmed hedges. You want New York? Then you're going to have to take in the noise, the stinky Chinatown puddles and the crazy people on the trains. New York is chaotic, out-of-order and completely fantastic. That's why people move here. To feel like they're part of something. And if if this whole residency-on-the-street isn't something, then I'm not sure what it is.
But what I do think it is is a movement that invites the every-day person to question his relationship to art. It invites the person who has never been interested in art to question what is art? It plays a prank on the art collector whose looking to buy a $50,000 Banksy piece when unbeknownst to him there is a booth right outside his 3,000 square-foot apartment selling an original piece for $60. It questions the whole idea of art in this age of internet, Instagrams and Twitters. That has to be something, no?!