Where Does the Value Come From?
Recently, anonymous artist Banksy set two records. First, he set a personal sales record when his piece Girl with Balloon sold for £1,042,000. Second, he became the first person ever to create art live during an auction. The moment Girl with Balloon sold, it partially self-destructed via a shredder built in to the frame, becoming a new piece titled Love is in the Bin. Understandably, questions are being raised following this unusual stunt, and many are debating its significance within the art world and beyond. While Banksy’s identity remains anonymous, most assume the artist to be male, and much of the discourse surrounding Banksy and his most recent stunt has also been dominated by cis men. To learn more, I decided to interview a variety of female-identifying artists about the issue in order to address the lack of female viewpoints being heard in mainstream discussions.
TX: What do you make of the Banksy incident?
YOON SUNG, student at Tufts College of Liberal Arts and the SMFA, Class of 2023
- YS: Banksy has this whole image around how he’s anti-status quo, anti-capitalist. But at the same time, he’s selling his pieces as fine art—him shredding his piece, that’s so quintessentially part of his brand that it just feeds back in. It probably makes his piece more valuable because now it’s not just the thing itself, it’s part of this whole event and he has to be aware of that. On the other hand, there’s no way for him to get around that because … we live in a capitalist society. That contradiction exists in pretty much everything we do.
PRIYA E. SKELLY, student at Tufts College of Liberal Arts and the SMFA, Class of 2022
- PS: It takes away attention that could be better spent [on]… POC or women or gender non-conforming or trans [artists]. Their work should be given attention and they should be respected for it but they just aren’t. So it annoys me to see this guy getting so much attention and making so much money and having all this clout and privilege from doing the same trick over and over.
CHANTAL ZAKARI, Professor of the Practice for Graphic Arts at the SMFA
- CZ: Even though Banksy’s performance at Sotheby’s could be seen as a way to further increase the value of his piece, it’s still a pretty strong statement, because of the spectacular element to it. It is similar to Damien Hirst’s piece, For The Love Of God, which is a human skull covered in diamonds. It’s garish and over the top, but it is made to manipulate and comment on the value of the piece in the art market.
SOFIE HODARA, Lecturer on Graphic Arts at the SMFA
- SH: I thought the piece was really, really successful. I’ve been teaching for five years at four different colleges. There’s been news such as when Trump was elected that every class addressed, but … when I asked “did anyone hear any news or did anyone go to an art show,” this was the first time that every class had the same response. He spoke to something in a lot of people and I think part of that is that it’s very accessible.
TX: When viewing or experiencing art, does the creator behind the piece matter?
- PS: I think it’s really important. I don’t think anybody is in a vacuum; we’re all influencing each other and we’re situated in history. I always love reading wall text. It might not be the first thing I do, but it’s interesting to see what they choose to say about the artist and how they choose to present the piece, cause there’s so much information that they could [choose from].
- CZ: It does, and it doesn’t. Roland Barthes writes in The Death of the Author that the intention of the piece is important during the creation process of the art work. But once the work is created, the meaning is re-created through the viewer’s interpretation. According to Barthes, the viewer is as much “the author” as the creator is. On the other hand, we also cannot dismiss the creator’s personal experience and understanding of their cultural influences. Some believe that your entire art career is based on one essential idea. All your work is a struggle to understand that one single idea and to explore it from different angles. However, Nicolas Bourriaud claims that art is not about a private experience, but rather, art is included in the entire social context. So a piece of art cannot be seen independent of its spatial environment, or of political events of its time.
TX: Nowadays, I feel like art is valued less for its inherent aesthetic qualities and more for its branding and creator. What do you make of this idea that there’s a growing commodification of art and its artists?
- PS: I think that the art world is totally constructed, which I don’t think is a radical view, but the reason why we think something is valuable is because we say it is, not because it inherently is. But I think that [they’re] onto something, which is that art sometimes becomes valuable because it is technically proficient or it thinks about the world in a new way, but it can easily turn into ‘…this artist is now famous because they went outside the box’ and now they’re one of the primary influencers of the art world. That can be a huge reason for why things are priced as they are, but on the whole, it’s just what people decide is important. I don’t think there should be gatekeepers to box in the idea of what is good art and what is bad art by virtue of pricing things different ways. Why do they get to decide? How are they deciding? It can be and it is very classist, racist, sexist, just by nature of who the gatekeepers are.
- SH: My gut tells me that the branding, so to speak, of the artist has always existed. If somebody rises to fame, the fame perpetuates itself. That’s really what Banksy was trying to say, that you collectors, you rich people … only value the stuff that’s already been valued. You only valued it because of my brand, you will value this more if it’s shredded, you don’t care about the material object. Maybe this is a leap, but could there be something in the dematerialization of, just in culture, of what we value? I mean, the transition from having a photo album with your family history versus digitizing everything. We don’t value the material things in the way that we used to.
TX: Do you have any other thoughts floating around on Banksy or the art world in general?
- YS: Everything is a pretentious, recursive circus and none of us know what we’re doing, so let’s just all have a good time.