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.
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)