Let me first start off this post by saying that I think Banksy is a creative genius. There is something special in his work that is worth tipping our hats to. It makes us think and question and turn over ideas in our head that we long ago cast aside like a child bored with the new toy mom bought the previous week.

With that said, I think it is ironic that in many ways he contributes to strengthening the system he rails against.

Take the following piece:

BY

“Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock that someone just threw at your head. … They owe you.”

Translation: “Do what you want because the world owes you.

No. The world doesn’t owe us anything. Advertisers don’t owe you anything. The government doesn’t owe you anything. Rich people don’t owe you anything. Poor people don’t owe you anything, and neither does your neighbor.

In the middle of the vast cold void of space we were granted life, health and intelligence, and we often spend it sitting on a couch shoving potato chips in our face while complaining we don’t live like a Hollywood celebrity. Life alone should motivate someone to look inside themselves, be eternally grateful and then go out into the world to be the best person he could be. But instead, we’re told that someone or some thing “owes” us. It’s a poisonous seed of thought that generally just sprouts fear and envy and jealousy.

One of my best friends sent me the following email that sums it up quite well. (I’ve altered the text slightly, but he’ll understand why):

I think it’s the whole mindset that only govt can solve things … Since there is no personal responsibility, there are no personal human failings in their world because they believe only the system corrupts. Where they confuse me is that they want to add on to the system they hate.

I’d point out that when govt dominates every facet of life, you inevitably get the mess that you have in Detroit, and the people suffering are the poor, tax-paying (if there was a job available) people that they want to protect. The officials in Detroit artificially inflated wages (unions/politicians in city), they taxed heavy to “look out for the poor,” they filtered every city contract through a goverment committee that led to worse corruption — they threw money at everything — and look at Detroit now.

Talking biblically to them is difficult because belief in God forces you to acknowledge you are a sinner, which forces you to look at yourself. It’s much easier to blame the system. The reward is heaven. Jesus dies a horrible death, St. Paul dies a horrible death, 11 of the 12 apostles meet an end at human hands, and yet they didn’t “blame the system” — they kept trying to do what’s right (Jesus didn’t have to “try,” but you get my point). Even Judas took some sort of personal responsibility and threw the silver away and killed himself in shame realizing what he did. You will never get that mindset in their world.

I’ve thought long and hard about guys like them. I think it’s a fear to fail. Doing something about your situation is riskier than blaming God for your problems. The television will always be there, but stepping out on your own is much more difficult. I may fall flat on my face for leaving a comfortable job, learning a new skill set, and establishing a new career, but I hated what the company I worked for morphed into, so instead of blaming the system I decided to do something about it. I’d have it no other way, but I have faith in God and because of that, faith in myself. I actually feel sorry for individuals who won’t see past a system and tap into their own abilities.

Again, Banksy is a creative genius, but for whatever reason he looks around him, doesn’t like what he sees, and instead of looking inward he keeps his eyes focused on the material world. He seems to assume that people do not have free will, and instead of coming up with art that unleashes what is already inside all of us, he expresses himself in ways that, in all likelihood, calcifies the human spirit.

Coupling the idea that we should be able to do whatever we want with the belief that others owe us something is an extremely dangerous thing. While Banksy’s creative talent is worth acknowledging, the effect it has on society is something that deserves much more scrutiny.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

18 comments

    1. Jim, I definitely respect your opinion, but I don’t know how someone can look at Banksy’s work and not acknowledge that the guy has some serious talent. Even if he has an agenda — one I vehemently disagree with on most occasions — I think it’s important for me to be able to step outside my own agenda (we all have one) … so that I can see the artistry he contributes to the world wide palette.

    2. Your suggestion of a good artist to follow as an alternative to one with a “lib-socialist agenda” is an artist with a far right-winged, religious fanatic agenda? both artists are supremely talented and that shouldn’t need to be refuted. You can dislike his style but to say it’s not good art is ridiculous. Also, if you’re not stereotyping, Bankys’ agenda can be viewed from both a liberal or conservative view point or most importantly, void of a party in general. He doesn’t go about persecuting specific people through his art but rather corporations, military protocols, marketers, etc. His work does not urge us to follow a socialist agenda but it implores us to follow our own agenda, create our own change. The quote you supplied “good taste is timeless” says enough about your close mindedness. Good taste is subjective.

    1. My knee jerk reaction? I haven’t really sat back and let it all sink in. Usually I like to turn things over in my head for awhile before I comment. I’m not going to try and convince anyone I’m a professional art critic, but my initial reaction to it is “stiff” and “safe.” Most of the people in his paintings look like they had some sort of spinal cord surgery that didn’t go quite right. It looks as though he likes to play with lighting, although my admittedly novice take would be that there isn’t anything striking about how it’s employed.

      I feel as though work like ‘Is Liberalism a Disease’ is rather uninspired. Plopping Satan down in the middle of everyone … it’s not really breaking the mold. I suppose if Rachel Maddow took a few classes on painting she’s create ‘Is Conservatism a Disease’ and do the very same thing (although, who knows … maybe she’s an atheist).

      Here’s his litmus test for whether or not his work is successful: “If it makes them think and feel, then it is successful.”

      He’s setting the bar awfully low. Because we exist, we think. Because we exist, we feel. The world is a McNaughton painting, and he is successful, I guess.

      I think if he tweaked the criteria for what is considered a successful painting, he’d have better artwork.

      With that said, I think the image he created for ‘The Forgotten Man’ was so successful because it was one that was in the minds of millions of Americans. Kudos to him for stepping up to the plate, putting that image to canvas, and then getting it out there. Bravo! If he’s able to do such a thing a few more times after President Obama leaves office, it will say something about how close he is to the pulse of freedom loving Americans everywhere. Perhaps he’s found his niche audience, but I’d like to see him expand his horizons a bit more; ‘Is Liberalism a Disease’ will make that tough. Then again, my own biases are showing.

      I’m a pretty hard core conservative, but Banksy speaks to me. McNaughton? Not so much. That tells me that Banksy, regardless of his politics, has found a way to hit some nerves deep, deep down inside me. I tip my hat to McNaughton for using his talents to praise the Lord, but his actual skill does not seem to affect me any deeper than a cursory level.

      That is, again, my knee-jerk response. Ask me again a week or a month from now, and I’d probably have something more substantive for you.

      Looks like we might have to agree to disagree on this one, brotha.

  1. Comparing McNaughton to Banksy is akin to comparing Norman Rockwell to some a pseudonymous England-based graffiti artist.

    I’ll go with New Englander Rockwell, thank-you-very-much.

    “Good taste is timeless” — Richard Prior

    1. Really? You’re putting McNaughton in the same league as Rockwell? Have you ever looked at my twitter feed? I know you don’t want anything to do with Twitter, but if you did you’d see that I’m familiar with Rockwell. McNaughton is no Rockwell.

      And yes, I altered the image. Rockwell-blasphemy. There’s my Banksy streak on full display.

      Just don’t tell me McNaughton’s lighting rivals Edward Hopper (Perhaps my favorite artist?). If you go there I’ll have to get a drink of water.

    2. He has gotten under Bloomberg’s skin. That could be … a good thing. It looks like Bloomberg has annoyed law enforcement.

      The Daily News’ source tells a different story, explaining to the tabloid that the Vandal Squad only investigates if “someone complained about it,” and “I haven’t heard of anyone complaining.” Except, of course, for the mayor of the city. But who listens to him?

    3. http://vermontverse.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/banksie-evil-genius-or-agent-provacateur/

      Banksy: Genius? Or agent provocateur?

      So Banksy is now a hero in NYC for taking a piece of junk, adding a swastika and a Nazi to it, and donating it to an AIDS charity.

      Nice of him to make a contribution isn’t it ?

      Or is it?

      It’s particularly loathsome in the heavily Jewish community of Gramercy Park , New York. Or anywhere else for that matter.

      I cannot imagine any person, Jew or Gentile of normal intellect and compassion, not being offended by a picture of a Nazi wearing full uniform with swastika being glamorized for any purpose, philanthropic or otherwise.

      Suppose Banksy put Jesus into the picture — or Mohammed wearing a bomb turban — or Buddha? Maybe the leering Cleveland Indian with a tipi in the background?

      How would that go over?

      As it is right now Banksy could not even sell this piece-de-junque on Ebay as their rules prohibit display of the swastika.

      http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/offensive.html

      “Uniforms, uniform components, weapons, or other items that bear the Nazi swastika or SS runes are prohibited.”

      Ah but it’s free speech, artistic license, etc. etc. ad infinitum, ad naseum.

      Nah — it’s another finger in the face of art– and offensive to many Jews and others.

      Banksy’s latest publicity stunt is ugly, in exceedingly poor taste, and it’s unexcusable.

      Good art, it is not. Even if it’s praised to the heavens by the elite NY art community and the erudite Village Voice, which even has some concerns about its content.

      Banksy get your loser ass back across the Pond where you belong before things get even uglier.

  2. one of my favorite visual artists is Jess, especially his collage work.

    here’s some more context from his wiki:

    Jess was born Burgess Franklin Collins in Long Beach, California. He was drafted into the military and worked on the production of plutonium for the Manhattan Project. After his discharge in 1946, Jess worked at the Hanford Atomic Energy Project in Richland, Washington, and painted in his spare time, but his dismay at the threat of atomic weapons led him to abandon his scientific career and focus on his art.

    1. re-appropriating images, especially ads, can be compelling, and Jess was an early master at it; a beautiful subversion of the image’s original intent.

    1. Excellent. I’d be interested in hearing your interpretation of this piece and why it speaks to you not just as an art critic per se, but simply as Lizard19.

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