recently came across a movie, “Exit through the Gift Shop”, concerning what is known as Street Art, which, like most people, I had dismissed as “graffiti”. I have found it deserves its different name. Whatever you think of contemporary “art” and this special form it takes on public and other buildings, monuments, vehicles and even animals around the planet, the phenomenon deserves a brief Reflection, not on its intrinsic value (for me close to zero) or its market value (the sky’s the limit), but on an obvious similarity with religion I cannot resist underlining.
Some Street Art is so strikingly original, memorable, intriguing, clever and sometimes either outrageous or amusing or both, that passers-by often stop to stare, to decipher, admire, criticize or complain about it.
My story has to do with two recognized masters of the art, the famously anonymous Englishman Banksy, and the American Shepard Fairey, but also a controversial, extraordinary French newcomer who now signs his work “Mr B.W”, “Mister Brain-Wash”. The eccentric Thierry Garcia become Mr B.W. obsessively spent his life since adolescence videoing everything. He began specializing in filming the work of the masters of Street Art, until he himself caught the bug and apparently the charism. “If they can do it”, said he … So he ended up putting on a fantastic exhibition of his “oeuvres” in L.A., which attracted thousands of people and produced millions of dollars in revenue. He was not, any more than they, a total, cynical fraud; he was just aware of how easy it was to get “artistic talent” recognized.
The comparison with religion’s professionals is too obvious for me to ignore. Suffice it to say that however sincere they may be, members of the clergy are conning the gullible, making a living from smoke and mirrors, irrational fears, myths and wishful thinking. Like Street Art there is a market for the fantasies as well as genuine literary, pictorial, musical, ceremonial, sculptural and architectural works of art which religion produces and exploits. Some “clients” will continue to buy religion, in both senses of the word, as they do Street Art.
Street Art is, in a word, Protest. One of its favorite objects, like that of this blog, is Religion. One of its graffiti waiting to happen, in flaming Gothic red letters, could be …