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DiY Banksy - Is Street Art Becoming Too Easy?

  • Street Art Theory
August 7, 2014
Ana Bambic Kostov specializes in contemporary art writing, editing, content creation and management. Connect via LinkedIn

It’s virtually impossible to talk about the impact of stencil without mentioning the omnipresent Banksy. He may not be the one to invent the technique, but he’s definitely the figure responsible for the planetary craze spinning around his seductively clever work, while parallely shooting the pattern method to fame. Stencil is adopted by many because it’s a quick technique (enabling a swift illicit movement) with highly versatile expressive potential, today recognized as a separate streak in the world of graffiti. Although it may be seen as easy, can we really say stencil is shallow as well? To answer questions like these, it helps to return to the very beginnings of modern art, and the laymen criticism directed towards [mostly] abstraction, often saying things like “my kid could’ve done a better job”.

Street Art Theory
Banksy – Eternity

Stencil Art – No Child’s Play

Well, the truth is, your kid couldn’t. No kid could ever do as good of a job as an intelligent, skillful, experienced and talented artist, because art is much more than just a visual manifestation. It encompasses an undefined time of pondering, ripening, exercise, and sketching, while execution comes at the end. If the final outcome is a seemingly simple – this does not make art any less worthy. The same goes for street art, including stencils. Banksy is not so widely appraised and loved because of his exceptional artistic skill, he’s a thinker, a provocateur, an avant-garde Anonymous who pushes the right buttons in every Joe’s or Jane’s mind. He’s the people’s artist, the retrospective worthy legend, and this is where his valor lies. So, what do we do when the same stencils he uses appear online, available for download, some even priced at $4? How damaging can downloading stencils be to real artists?

Street Art Theory
Downloading Stencils

DiY Art

Firstly, it’s important to mention stencils have been around for centuries, so they’re hardly a new thing. Artists have been producing them and using them widely, to frame their own wall work, or to cover the not so prominent wall parts, while common folk have also been employing stencil patterns in their living rooms and wherever they saw fit. It’s an easy and cheap way to make the house a little brighter.

Stencils weren’t considered real art, until they did. But this major change in the life of a modest stencil does not imply that every stencil is art, on the contrary. Only an original image, founded on substantial theory can ever be art, while others are just pretty spray-ons, just for teenagers’ bedrooms or your own backyard. Becoming a street artist cannot be done by plagiarizing someone else’s work, butit’s achieved through inspiration by own surroundings, socio-political situation, and by being driven by the innate need to resist the oppression.

Street Art Theory
Ron English Appropriates

The Postmodern Conundrum

To be clear, appropriation of imagery is fair game in our PoMo era, but appropriation is never mere copying. Images that are taken over are always rendered through artists’ own visions (remember Ron English and his Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald), which opens a new perception door towards them, making them new and original. Finally, to answer the nominal question – is street art becoming too easy? – I say no. Well, it’s easy to make with all the stencils, of course, but reaching the true artistic expression will always, as it has always been, remain unachievable to those with little or no imagination.

Street Art Theory
Banksy – KateMoss – Warhol appropriation done ‘correctly’
Street Art Theory
Mousemask Murphy by Ron English
Street Art Theory
Nick Walker is exceptionally skilled in stencil technique
Street Art Theory
C215 works with stencils too