Banksy — Genius Provocateur

One of Banksy’s Pieces from NY

My wife had a surprise for me Friday night.

Knowing I’m a Johnny-Come-Lately to the arts, she found an HBO documentary Banksy Does New York”  and set a reminder for it. It was a fantastic surprise. The documentary – maybe 90 minutes – titled like I said – had the kicker – “User generated chronicles of celebrated street Banksy’s 31-days in New York,”

The film, like most good documentaries, left me considering more than just the social media aspect of the event, but the importance of art, the misunderstanding of art, and the conflicting view and actions of lovers of art versus lovers of money.

Another Banksy New York Piece

And it made me ambivalent – not the incorrect use of the word so prevalent today – but rather, that feeling of approaching something with equal parts dread and hopefulness. BTW – ambivalence is not a synonym for indifference.

And maybe that was the point. And if it was, Banksy may be more than an artistic genius, but also a genius social commentator. Maybe they’re the same – I don’t know, but undoubtedly the sum was bigger than the parts.

But, I started this to talk about the use of social media – at least that’s why I think I started.

Banksy’s use of social media for the 31 days of his New York event provided information, built suspense, used multiple platforms, and created a following notiofart lovers, gadflies, journalists, and folks who like a good scavenger hunt.

Banksy used Twitter to drop clues the morning after his nighttime graffiti raid – art creation – would appear. People would figure the clue out and via the same platform tweet the location. Getting the word out fast was essential for the five-borough show because there was no telling how long the works would survive (some were taken by property owners in hopes of turning a quick buck; some were painted over by building owners and graffiti foes, and others were protected). All of his artwork was validated when included on his website; which BTW includes a short film.

Some of the show was actually on line. Banksy used a voice recording program – I have no idea which one, or how – to give a guided tour of the works; similar to a pod cast one would get at the National Gallery of Art. One of the 31 days was actually entirely on line.

Banksy’s metrics were astoundingly easy to gauge as the 31-day show gathered momentum. More and more people engaged in the scavenger hunt, Mayor Bloomberg decried the defacement, The Daily News followed the story, the NYPD promised to catch the perp, other street artists tried to tag the work so their tags would be seen worldwide as gawkers took photos and posted them, and profiteers tried to hunt down the next art show in hopes of capitalizing. There was no tracking website hits, rather it was a hit parade enabled by social media.

Social media aside, it is the genius of Banksy that drove the train. Maybe no other artist could have pulled this off; Banksy brings instant credibility and myth. Social media just helped. He finished his New York show by letting the NYPD metaphorically capture him – or at least his name. High on one building he put inflatable letters – in a taggers font (I guess) – spelling out his name. After a lot of falderal the police took the inflatable letters and put them in the back of a van and drove away, thus “capturing” Banksy.

I wonder if he was hopping they would stab the inflatable letters and end up making a piece of performance art with the NYPD unsuspecting pieces of a work about police violence,. Who knows?

One odd note – I had tweet more than 75 tweets about tips to deal with Lymphoma and garnered a couple of followers. Friday night I tweeted about ten Banks posts and picked up three new followers. That means something == I’m just not smart enough to figure out what.


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