Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Art in Urban Spaces: Can It Really Be Censored?

I was driving to Texas for Thanksgiving and I saw a billboard that struck me. It said, “Billboards are the art gallery of the public.” I thought that it was interesting that someone took the time to make a billboard that displayed this message to the general public. I began to wonder about this billboard after I pulled my phone out and quickly wrote down the message. I first wondered how many people a day passed by it? Of these people, how many actually read what it had to say and thought about the message? It didn’t advertise anything like a restaurant or casino. It was simply just a message. This message stuck with me through much of the break. You see, I am not very familiar with much art in the world. I regret this but it is not my main interest to discover more and more art. I am interested, however, in urban space and the way this space is used. Professor Grady helped me to combine this interest with the artistic world. There I found urban art or street art. The point of the billboard story, however, ignited my thoughts about other public, urban art. I began to wonder how a place like the one Socrates describes in The Republic would go about censoring art that is done out in the public. I thought it would be interesting to look at the oldest philosophy we studied and one of the newest forms of art available today.
Street art can be defined as, any art developed in public spaces and can range from graffiti to a poster on the side of a pole. There are limitless possibilities of what can be defined as street art. This type of art is usually not something that the government approves. Graffiti, for example, is illegal in many places and therefore must be created very secretly. Most of the graffiti seen around Memphis is the result of vagrants and not artists but some of the works seen in other places are done by an artist. The artist, therefore risks getting arrested each time he/she attempts to create a new work of art. The world literally becomes the artist’s canvas in street art. This is very important because the streets are open to the public.

There is one artist, in particular, that I will be concentrating on in this presentation whom I was very unfamiliar with until recently. Banksy is a well-known, British graffiti artist who uses the public as his canvas and gallery. Born in 1974, Banksy developed into an artist who used his canvas to convey his message to the world. He uses any public space in cities to display his masterpieces. He goes unseen, however. And has never been seen by the public eye which makes his existence as an artist very peculiar. Banksy can basically create whatever he wants, wherever he wants, as long as he does not get caught.

As you all remember from the beginning of the semester, Socrates spends a good deal of time discussing censorship of artwork in The Republic. He believes that in order for children to develop properly they should be exposed to the right forms of imitation. He speaks primarily of written imitation but I wonder what Socrates would say about visual artwork. First, do the same censorship rules apply? I think they do because children imitate what they see and what they hear. As a visual learner myself, I understand the importance of visual learning. Consider if I were to see a painting of a murderer who was not convicted of the crime and released, I may, hypothetically, think that I would be able to get away with a crime as severe as murder. If this painting was censored and I was not allowed to see it then I would never develop this thought. This is one of the reasons Socrates believes in censorship.

The book Wall and Piece opens with a statement from Banksy. In this statement he says a number of shocking statements including, “some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place.” (Wall and Piece, 8) I think this is important especially when looking at the opinion of someone like Socrates who wants to have a censorship on the arts. Banksy is a completely uncensored artist. He can literally put on the wall whichever he pleases. How do you censor an artist that you can never see? I kind of think of it as censoring a ghost, which would be impossible to do and therefore would be difficult to deal with in this kind of society as demonstrated in The Republic. There are some examples I would like to look at as potential bad influences on young eyes as identified by Socrates. I think I really like Banksy simply because he breaks the rules. He could never be censored, which is extraordinary.

There is also a portrait of a guard using the restroom on a wall. ThisThe girl hugging the bomb is a good example also known as Brighton 2003
of mimesis. Next to her image in the book, Wall and Piece, is the text, “it takes a lot of guts to stand up anonymously in a western democracy and call for things no-one else believes in – like peace and justice and freedom.”This is very important in his work. I think this image can be considered an image that could be bad for young, developing eyes to see. Clearly, the young girl is embracing the bomb. I know that this is very satirical but how is it supposed to be received by young eyes would be unacceptable in The Republic. If imitation is the best teacher of children then this image could be very detrimental to the development of the kids. It could be viewed as acceptable public behavior to behave like or imitate the guard.This painting makes public indecency okay because an official is engaging in it. I would love to know what Socrates would think of an image like this. I think that Banksy does not intend for his images to be taken so literally but I think it would still be interesting.

Then there are the rats, which is what I am calling Banksy’s many depictions of rats. The caption next to the first rat that appears in the book reads, “they exist without permission. They are hated, hunted, and persecuted. They live in quiet desperation amongst the filth. And yet they are capable of bringing entire civilizations to their knees. If you are dirty, insignificant and unlived then rats are the ultimate role model.” I know this quote is not very relevant in the idea of mimesis as inspirational to developing youth but I do think that Banksy is right about the rat as the perfect role model for the dirty and insignificant. By seeing rats appearing in these positions children could potentially believe that this kind of life style is desirable when most people believe it is not.

I think Banksy is very interesting because his style challenges art, as I am familiar with it. I would be very interested to know how a philosopher like Socrates would receive someone who is completely uncensored like Banksy. Would he regard his work as important or just obsess over trying to censor him? I thought this was very interesting and am still deciding how I think Socrates would react. Is urban space the perfect place for an artist like Banksy to work? I really can’t see him being well received in any other setting.

Works Cited:

Philosophies of Art and Beauty. Ed. Albert Hofstadter and Richard Kuhns. University ofChicago Press: Chicago, 1964.

All background information on Banksy found on Wikipedia.

Banksy, . Wall and Pieces. 10. London: Century, 2005. Print. (I wasn’t really sure how to cite this because most of the pages did not have numbers on them)

1 comment:

  1. Lacy,

    First, I really enjoyed your post, as I am also interested in public, urban spaces and the ways in which one uses them. Additionally, Banksy's graffiti art is an interesting consideration regarding censoring someone that you cannot ever legitimately verify. I have two things--the first is that I think you are right to point out the "ghost like quality" and I wonder how that might be relatable to "The Death of the Author", in that is the graffiti art a story in and of itself, or does it necessitate this ubiquitous and mysterious author? Is Banksy's aura so intimately connected with his art that they cannot be separated? With his ghost like qualities, he seems to give light to the equally mysterious connection between the private and public and the ways that they emerge and ebb and flow into one another.

    Secondly, and this is just a clarification question--I am not sure how "visual art" is different with regards to mimesis?

    Peace and great job-