Tag Archives: art

But is it Art?

I went to see the exhibition Banksy against Bristol Museum at the weekend and left in a thoughtful mood. Banksy’s claim to fame is as a graffiti artist: he is, by definition, street. However the exhibition showed a real Art School sensibility. For a start, the boy has clearly been taught not just how to draw, but how to design installations, how to sculpt, and how to design and maybe create fabrications. He’s a competent maker of artistic objects. So I would bet foldies that he started his career as a grafitti artist while at Art School in Bristol and that it was the graffiti which brought success. Justifiably so. It’s superb.

Several things were interesting. The Art School / Art Gallery style stuff is trite and unoriginal.

None of it said anything that hadn’t already been said by Duchamps, Magritte or Dali. Downstairs there was a painting by Banksy of MPs in the House of Commons as chimps and orang-utangs, and upstairs in the permanent collection is an early 19thC cartoon of the Prime Minister as a donkey. Hardly original stuff, is it? Don’t get me wrong, it’s all superbly executed and a lot of it is witty or fun. But multi-faceted and nuanced it is not. It is one dimensional and ultimately rather unsatisfactory. As Kipling said: ‘it’s clever, but is it art?’. The one exception was the image of a Muslim woman, in hijab and naqib, frying an egg and wearing one of those pinnies with a curvy body in a bikini. I have been mulling that one over for a while. But that aside, I wasn’t blown away by his gallery work.

I was and remain impressed by his graffiti.

It’s dangerous, edgy and – quite literally – apposite. So why do I think his graffiti is all of these good things and that his gallery pieces are derivative, politically naive and (whisper who dares) rather dull? I can think of only two explanations.

Firstly, that it’s a matter of framing. Margaret Mead said ‘dirt is merely matter out of place’. So a political point made in a gallery is emasculated in some way but the same political point made on the street is ballsy and subversive. And there may be some truth to that: Banksy is praised for making his political points in a gallery, but risks being tried and fined for doing it on walls

And the second is the good old Nietzscherism: that which does not kill you makes you strong. Artists are strengthened by competent critique. Banksy served his critical apprenticeship on the streets of Bristol, London and Jerusalem; or on their walls anyway. He learned what worked and what didn’t, what was admired and what would be ignored, what would be reproduced and what would be walked past. But he arrived in the galleries of LA, New York and now Bristol as an acclaimed artist, so his gallery work did not have to survive criticism to be shown.

So what relevance does this have for a BA? Well, that context matters: what works in one situation will not therefore work in another. And secondly that ideas improve with challenge.

Anyway – watch the videos and read the review linked at the top. His stuff’s good: it’s just that the street stuff is better.

One final thought: maybe the truly subversive thing about Banksy, his ultimate installation in these days of cheap celebrity, is that he prefers us to recognise his work rather than his face.



I’ve mentioned already that I work near an art gallery. I noticed a piece of opportunistic recycling as I walked into town today.

Reinstall 02

Apparently the artist

“creates new relationships, experimenting with unexpected combinations of materials creating objects and environments, which encourage us to see the everyday world with fresh eyes”

and she

“fashions monumental objects from scrapyard materials and throws them away after use”

Though I do wonder if a graffitied garage door is quite what she intended. It pleased me though.

Across the Universe

PolarisJulie’s comment about the Turner Prize on my previous post reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to write up for a while.

Wouldn’t it be better if the Turner Prize was just announced the way that the Nobel Prize is? None of this “and the nominees are…” crap.

If they did, then the prize this year should go to NASA. Yep, the eningeering dudes who run the Space Station and put men on the moon.

Yeah, I know that they’re Scientists and Americans, but they came up with the most amazing piece of art last month. They beamed the Beatles’ song “Across the Universe” at the Pole Star, Polaris, the most useful and influential of the stars visible from here.

I don’t know what the guys at NASA call it, but in my book it may be cheesy, it’s also brilliant conceptual art. They’ve blurred the boundaries between science and art and done something inspiring and witty, and clever and pointless, a piece of apposite cosmic graffiti, and we should give those geeks a prize.

Aphra Warhol

I should get out more:

Aphra Warhol

There must be a website somewhere that does this sort of thing automatically, but I did it the in the free photo software that came with my PC, and feckin’ ages it took me too. I don’t really like it that much either, though I did find it more interesting and much harder than I expected.

“I don’t know much about art….”

When I went around the sculpture in the garden exhibition, I went round with a colleague, his wife and the one I go round sculpture exhibitions with. Interestingly, they all claimed to have parents who were artists, but their approach to the exhibition was very different.

My approach to this sort of stuff is a rather breathy enthusiasm – “Oh, wow, doesn’t it look like a spaceship?” or “Oh, look, blown glass bubbles in a tree, how coo-oo-ool is that?” My valley-girl inarticulateness in the light of the candy battle of Helm’s Deep is a case in point. I get terribly excited about this sort of stuff and go off at a dozen or so tangents, like a pack of hounds in a fun-fair.

A much less satisfactory picture from the Razr.  In theory this shows some leaded light panels hung from the branch of a tree, but you can see how badly its pixellated.  This picture was the main reason I went with the Sonly Ericssons instead.

The one I go round exhibitions with engages at a more knowledgeable and academic level. This is a kid who was taken to the Tate before he could walk and who refers to holiday snaps as “images”. He talks intelligently about what he is seeing – perhaps he’ll comment on the references the artist is making to the work of other artists, perhaps he’ll think about the artist’s intentions. Not only does he ‘get’ art, he gets the context too.

But the other two were much more passive. “Oh, yes, it’s a garment made out of glass hanging on a steel coat-hanger in a tree – it’s very pretty”. MMmmmm. “Kingfishers above the water. That’s nice.” I was left gasping like a trout on a riverbank at their lack of engagement. Nothing touched them. They saw it, but only seemed to see what was in front of their eyes. I am not sure whether or not they were deliberately holding back. The exhibition was my idea, not theirs.

But how can anyone walk through a woodland glade where someone has planted hundreds of fabric flowers and have a reaction which is limited to “oh, look, hundreds of fabric flowers in a woodland glade”?

I may not know much about art, but it seems that I know even less about people.

Summer Sculpture

Summer Sculpture

This is a photo I took a couple of summers ago on a Motorola Razr. I have cropped it, but it is otherwise unaltered. You can however see that the camera on the Razr is not a patch on the cameras on either of the Sony Ericssons. It handled bright light badly, didn’t really know what it was focussing on, and tended to pixellate under pressure.

I remain very fond of this photo. I think the sculpture looks like a space-craft which is landing or taking off, and whenever I look at it I have the feeling that there is a buzzing noise nearby, just beyond the level of hearing. It was complete chance that the lens of the camera was greasy in just the right direction, but the grease gives a sense of movement and some sense of the stifling heat of the day.

Picassing around again


Messing around on Mr Picasso Head is concerningly addictive.