What makes good Art?
I am often asked by friends what is art, or what makes good art, or my child of 6 could have done that!! My answer is to that is ‘but they didnt!’ I thought I would take Jean-Michel Basquait as a good example of this! This image is of a painting expected to fetch $50 Million US in auction last year, (it actually fetched a staggering $110 million!?) a record for his work and that is something I cannot comprehend, but like any other commodity (which is sad to most artists I know that art is traded like stocks or Bitcoin) I suppose it comes down to supply and demand, especially as there are relatively few finished pictures and he died from a drug overdose at 27. He was living on the streets of New York initially and of mixed race, Haitian and Afro Caribbean, sometimes sleeping rough, but he painted whenever he could on whatever he could find. He came to fame in the 1980’s when he was 20 and the New York art scene took him in, in particular Andy Warhol. He was first known for his street art and graffiti (15 years before Banksy had ever been heard of!) and ‘the establishment’ put him into the “Neo-Expressionist” movement, post punk when the rap and hip hop scenes were taking off. It was only when I knew about his ‘story’ that I began to look a little closer, and I think this is the ‘key’ to what makes good art. I don’t think its the same as saying one has to like good art, in fact there are many highly regarded artists I don’t like, I think it is about who they were, what was going on around them in their lifetime and how they expressed that that makes an artist interesting or ‘great’. And key again is having a unique style or ‘language’ of expression that sets an artist apart from the mainstream, and this I think Basquait had in spades. Personally I love Basquait, his work is raw, intense, political, tackling segregation and poverty, big subjects for a young black artist in the 1980’s. But he didn’t care what anyone thought and that shows in his work, he forged his own unique path, despite having major addiction issues. It couldnt be further from the work I do, but it doesnt stop me really apprecaiting it and admiring it, and seeing how passionate he was about image making? Could he draw really well? Probably not, but if you see a Basquait in the flesh it smacks you in the face!! Its not about technique or draftsmenship, its about expression. So going back to Banksy, is that good art? My personal view is no, because its not original, its done in stencils so can be replicated many times, but mainly because it doesnt express raw emotion or expression, its more satiricle, sometimes funny jokes on society. Is it art? Its clever and appeals to everyone, and his PR team are genius, but I would call it a moment in time in art history rather than good art, as he brought graffiti art into the public domain, but Basquait was doing it for real, a decade and a half before Banksy, he’s the real hero of the grafitti movement. Banksy’s work will stay in the history books because of his wide popularity and extremely clever promotional techniques, whilst retaining his ‘anonimity’, but to me his work is like that of a good newspaper cartoonist, and I find his work largely gimmicky, lacking real content, he’s just making social political commentaries. He hasnt got where is by being nice however, and he has been known to de-face other graffiti artist’s work, in Bristol, which in my book is a real no no. But one could argue that Banksy probably wouldnt call himself an artist or painter in the truest sense. He’s certainly laughing all the way to the bank and I suspect he finds it hilarious that people are taking their walls down and trying to sell them to cash in on what is essentially a clever joke! Even more funny is that some sites are being protected by local councils, who once would paint over them as being irritating and of no value, for now being of artistic and historical interest!!