Should art be timeless?
“The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.”
This weekend, renowned street artist Banksy had his (her? their?) ‘Girl With the Red Balloon’ sold at auction for over $1.4M. The piece promptly began shredding itself much to the shock of those in attendance and the amusement of those all over the internet. This Instagram post from Banksy’s account is the image that circulated the web immortalizing the moment. Banksy followed that up with this video showing the artist installing a shredder in the frame years prior, just in case it was ever put up for auction.
This whole thing begs the question of why do artists do the things that they do.
Anyone who follows Banksy knows this is just the type of stunt the secretive artist would pull. But is Banksy doing it as a statement? Is it a protest to the privileged upper class that art is not reserved only for those who can afford it? Is it a message that art should be meant for a particular moment and time? Or did Banksy do it simply because he could, because it would rile people up and get them talking?
For years, Banksy has successfully kept their true identity a secret. Some believe Banksy is not even one artist, but a collective of artists working together. Because of the fact that no one knows who he (I say he for simplicity’s sake) is, I find it hard to believe that he did this for any reason other than he wanted to see what the reaction would be. In all likelihood, the piece’s value only goes up because of the attempted destruction. Even the Instagram caption of “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge” is telling of Banksy’s lack of serious intention. He attributed this quote to Picasso but it really is a paraphrasing of Mikhail Bakunin, an anarchist theorist. So why didn’t he give proper credit? Why give credit at all? Because over a long enough time, the details don’t really matter. Was it Picasso or Bakunin? Does it make the statement any less true because he gave credit to the wrong person?
So often we want to label someone as an artistic genius only once they have earned it. We want to believe that it is extremely difficult to come up with poignant and moving works. For some though, art can be seen as easy. There’s the example of Leonard Cohen taking years to write Hallelujah and Bob Dylan penning some of his best songs in 15 minutes. An artist makes art. There is no requisite experience inherent in that.
I don’t know Banksy’s creative process. I don’t know how much he struggles over his work and how much value he puts in to it. But an artist must be prepared to start over again from the beginning. An artist must always know that your best work is in what you will create, not in what you have created. Art is an expression of yourself and your experience. It is not for someone else. Our audiences can draw meaning from it, but that is not why we create. Once we have created an expression of a particular piece of ourselves as artists, we should always be prepared to rip it apart and create again.