The street artist Banksy, like others before him, makes us look for beauty in the most unexpected places.
There are few bargains to be had in New York. So when a famous artist sells thousands of dollars of artwork for $60 a canvas, it’s a big deal.
Since the first of the month, the streets of New York have borne witness to unusual sightings: a jungle- and waterfall-filled fantasyland in the back of a delivery truck; a crowd of desperate-looking stuffed animals, poking their faces through the slats of a vehicle passing through the old Meatpacking District; neatly stenciled graffiti popping up on the sides of buildings, depicting everything from silhouettes of Victorian ladies to a beaver chomping down a “No Parking” sign.
The force behind these strange urban artworks is the reclusive, mysterious Banksy, a world-renowned street artist who has, so far, resisted any attempts to unmask him. His signed canvases have fetched more than $100,000 at auction, and buildings defaced by his spray have seen their value skyrocket. He’s currently in the middle of a month-long tour through New York, leaving his mark on the city wherever he can.
Last weekend, at the edge of Central Park, an elderly man set up a stand selling “spray art.” Not an unusual sight—taking advantage of the glut of tourists, many artists set up tables near the park to sell their photographs, paintings and jewelry (and bootleg DVDs).
Just one thing... the spray art paintings were original, signed Banksy creations. Being sold for $60!
Here’s what happened:
Banksy’s experiment reminded me of one conducted in a similar vein by famed violinist Joshua Bell. Two days after playing a packed concert hall in Boston (where the cheapest tickets went for $100 a seat), Bell brought his violin to a Washington, D.C. subway station during rush hour and gave a virtuoso performance. Practically nobody noticed, save for several children, who were quickly pulled away by their too-busy parents.
Nearly everyone walked by Banksy’s artwork without a second glance. They passed by Joshua Bell without even tossing a penny into the master musician’s violin case. As Bell told the Washington Post, “I'm surprised at the number of people who don't pay attention at all, as if I'm invisible. Because, you know what? I'm makin' a lot of noise!”
How often do we ignore things of value, things of beauty around us? We hurry by, on our way to our next appointment, in such a rush that we don’t stop to see the gems that have been put in our path. We miss out on the big deals—discounted museum pieces, free concerts or, well, creations that the greatest artist of all wants us to see.
I’m glad Banksy’s here in the city, and not just because I plan to hijack his paradise delivery truck and fund my kids’ college tuition. Every so often, we all need a reminder to open our eyes and ears. There’s a lot of beauty that we pass by everyday—no matter how much noise it makes.