Is Banksy’s work Art or Graffiti?

So what can we say about Banksy?

The man behind the art is a mystery in itself. No one knows who he is or when he will strike. Spontaneity to the extreme, I have always been fascinated by Banksy’s work. Is he a genius or a just a gutsy vandal looking for media attention? Banksy’s most recent exhibition is the mural on the side of Bridge Farm Primary in Bristol, England. This seeming show of appreciation comes shortly after the school named a schoolhouse after him.

Students at the Bridge Farm Primary School in Bristol, gather round a new Banksy mural

Students gather from Bristol, England in front of the mural. The mural is 14ft high and is signed by Banksy.

I love this mural. It is so simple and fitting. Banksy is known for his social commentary underlying his work and the hidden meaning behind this one remains a mystery. We have a girl pushing a flaming tire with a stick which is a reflection of 19th century England entertainment for children where they would roll a wooden hoop with a skimmer. The entirety of the drawing is done in a childlike scribble with a single house and one flower. This could be a reflection of the education system in England or the blank canvas of a child’s mind when first learning about the world. The girl in the drawing also has a neutral expression on her face which might be an influence of the boredom of everyday activities or how days can get so conventional.

What I find is an interesting touch to this mural is the addition of the flame. Fire can symbolize: warmth, consumption, death, and resurrection. In this case, the flame can symbolize a stage in life depending on the context of the girl in the drawing. If we go back to the idea of a blank canvas, then it can be assumed that it is an indication of the primitive stages of life. Man created fire and man can cease fire. Overall, the mural is left for further investigation before making any other assumptions since the media cannot make a unanimous decision of the symbolism behind it.

When looking at all of Banksy’s works as a whole, I have to wonder whether his work would be considered as art. It is obvious that his showcases go for shock value especially since his identity is a secret, but is it art? His exhibits fall under the category of “street art” where there is no simple definition or boundary. It is defined as, “art which is found in or inspired by the urban environment.”  The limitations of street art are beyond a gallery and any public surface can be a potential blank space to work with. There are also legalities with street art because most artists do it in the dead of night without permission. Somehow, Banksy overrides the sense of permission for his works. The public is in awe when they come across a Banksy original in their everyday environment. Perhaps, the sense of mystery and the sporadic period between works is the best approach when orchestrating a Banksy original, which in turn gives him no repercussions.

In terms of marketing, his timing is impeccable. His strategy of using stencils for his larger works save time, but in the case of the work on the schoolhouse, one could say that this was free-handed. Banksy had more time to conduct this mural over a weekend because the students were on a half-term break as well as he left a note to the caretaker.  The note assisted in the verification of the work and so that the caretaker would not think it was a work of vandalism that needed to be painted over.

The letter from Banksy reads, “ Dear Bridge Farm School, Thanks for your letter and naming a house after me. Please have a picture. If you don’t like it feel free to add stuff, I’m sure the teachers don’t mind. Remember- Its always easier to get forgiveness than permission. Much love, Banksy”

Banksy has no specific consumer, buyer, or competition which leaves him open to different public venues for his creations, which I think is a great visual marketing plan. Any artist with the societal impact of Banksy has a chance to do something powerful and meaningful.


Photo of Mural

Story about Banksy from BBC

History of the Hoop and Skimmer

Fire Symbolism

Definition of Street Art

More about Banksy


One thought on “Is Banksy’s work Art or Graffiti?

  1. Great article! Very entertaining and an interesting read. We should make time and get a coffee together sometime in the near future, and catch up. I have a good story for you.

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