So, Banksy has been getting quite nostalgic over the waning half of the last decade. Beginning with 2006’s Wall and Piece, and continuing right along a couple more years into Exit Through the Gift Shop [Presumably so you can buy that book the director wrote and produced pieces and situations (or pieces of art or “it”s)], Banksy has spent a lot of his energy  cataloguing his pranks.

and talking about them

I couldn’t be more pleased. This presentation of street art is the perfect maturation of its energies. On one hand, yes, photos of a mannequin attached to a balloon floating up into air, instead of designing more mannequins for more balloons to raise in the air, seems specifically like Banksy’s trying to make a profit instead of make art.

But, hey, mad schemes cost money, and it’s not like my heroes aren’t all sellouts eventually. Besides, I mutter to myself under a starless sky, street art is turn of the century mass entertainment for the jaded twenty first century. It only makes sense that it’s beginning to get mass produced.

Here’s where the scene gets sticky.

Can street art remain gloriously tied to experiences, as inspiring as looking up in the sky for a couple minutes to see if that’s really a person flying, or will it simply become overly manicured photos of “awesome” “events”. Because, honestly, the anxiety of the quotation mark /authorship (well, and the insufficient loudness of speech), all make someone want to spraypaint language instead of just spray it.

Personally, I’m hopeful. I’m seeing more and more artistic graffiti every month in San Antonio and Austin. While a model of behavior can constrict and limit people, it can also give them something to aspire to. Hopefully, we can keep it that way.

Some of Banksy’s rules for street artists, published in the back of the book, a treasure of an appendix:

“It’s always easier to ask forgiveness than permission

Mindless Vandalism can take a bit of thought 

Leave the house before you find something worth staying in for: Nothing in the world is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. 

[The editor rearranged the clauses in this quote because it was kind of confusing. The editor knows Banksy won’t care]

 A regular 400ml can of paint will give you up to fifty A$ stencils. This means you can become incredibly famous/unpopular in a town virtually overnight for approximately ten pounds.

 Try to avoid painting in places where they still point at airplanes. (avoid airstrips! -ed.)

 Spray the paint sparingly onto the stencil from a distance of 8 inches.

 The easiest way to become invisible is to wear a day-glo vest and carry a transistor radio playing heart FM very loudly. when asked about the legitimacy of your painting, complain about your hourly rate.

 The time of getting fame for your name on its own is over. Artwork that is only about wanting to be famous will never make you famous. Fame is a by-product of doing something else. You don’t go to a restaurant to take a shit.”

The rest of the book is about as inspiring as these rules. Banksy even describes him painting on the Berlin wall as absolutely ignorant of multiple snipers that existed, ready and armed with walkie talkies, that pointed and did not shoot.

He also describes a man who comes up to him. The man says, “you make this wall beautiful”. Banksy thanks him, but his antagonism endures: “We do not want this wall to be beautiful”.

Really, this book is about more than Banksy’s art. It’s about the freedom that happens when you stop thinking of what you can’t do, and you start thinking of what you can do. It’s beautiful.

And it’s more than beautiful, it’s also necessary. No other man besides Banksy could gather up all of the anonymous street art and post it under his pseudonym, because not all of the pieces are directly attributable to Banksy.

Heck, he could just be an incredibly astute viewer of art, a Peter Parker inventing his own Spiderman for publicity, and be playing us all for chumps.

Personally, I think he’s Sasha Baren-Cohen, an idea which Will Plunkett proposed. He needs mad money for his schemes, and he travels a lot.

But, regardless, this book. It isn’t simply pictures of his works, no. Banksy adds plenty of his own text, and makes the book its own statement, instead of simply  letting himself become the subject of some giddy, obsessive compulsive curator, collector type (DON’T TRUST THEM!).

And if there is one thing to be gleamed form the book, it is that the best street art says something. Maybe not something that hasn’t been said before, but it says it louder, or it says it more directly, or it says it more obliquely, but, whatever it does, it communicates.

With architecture.

Or symbols

At first, at least, but, inevitably, people walk up to Banksy while he’s painting, or something, and suddenly he must speak about his actions. This is where the book really shines, revealing Banksy not as just a prankster, but more a Hermes type, sending messages from the god (in this case, his own creative imagination) through his own actions. And, in so doing, he gets yelled at for making a hated wall beautiful. His work gets taken down by museum curators who do not see humor in beauty. His work gets installed by the same museum curators who see value in commodifying graffiti. Wherever Banksy’s art goes, it always creates its own context. It isn’t just street art, it’s speech art, something that demands a response and creates its own dialogue through its cultural misdemeanors. Like most surreal art, it asks you to reconsider the tenacity of your own mundanity, to more fully live your life, to stock your mind with narratives and treasures and anger and emotions.

It’s about giving you something to talk about.