Banksy Comments on Modern Consumerism

Kyle Seasly

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Illustration by Luke Hampton

Do you ever judge things by price? Sometimes when feeling spendy I might buy the $4 pasta sauce instead of the $2 Ragu. I assume that the $4 sauce is better because the grocery store is charging me more for it, but I really don’t know. I let the price gauge the quality, which is a mistake, and a large one at that. And the street artist Bansky just proved that big time.

Banksy is probably one of the most (if not the most) famous street artists in the world. Recently he tried to sell his highly coveted pieces on the streets of New York for $60 a piece. One of the pieces he was selling on the street sold for $249,000 at an auction recently.

Banksy himself wasn’t selling the pieces; his identity remains highly guarded. What became immediately interesting was the fact that he only received a small number of customers –– and profited only $420. The pieces themselves could be worth somewhere in the $10,000 range if verified legitimate by Bansky’s representative.

Another interesting point is how selling art can become an equal part of  an art as well. Had Banksy put his name on the pieces or sold them for exuberant prices, they certainly would have attracted more attention. They would have stirred up more attention and someone may have recognized them as Bansky prints, rather than some old man selling random prints.

Banksy’s own comment on his art selling experiment was “I know street art can feel increasingly like the marketing wing of an art career, so I wanted to make some art without the price tag attached. There’s no gallery show or book or film. It’s pointless. Which hopefully means something.”

I would agree that the experiment succeeded in illustrating how certain variables can manipulate one’s perception of how valuable an item is, but it also illustrated how important name recognition can be. We see this every day –– if a collared shirt has a guy playing polo or an alligator on it, then its price and our perception of its wearer instantly changes. It demonstrates that many people (myself included) need to take a step back and evaluate things objectively rather than judging things (or people) automatically based on the connotation of a certain product or brand. Had those in New York done that, they might have realized, “Wow, this is really cool spray art, it looks like something Banksy might have done,” or “Wow, this spray art is very over-priced. It looks like something Banksy might have done –– he’s famous but he kind of sucks anyway.”