Banksy’s Art Shredding More Spectacle than Statement

Every piece of art has a different meaning for each person. Some people may have similar general views on the art piece, but their specific opinions will always have differences. Recently, the artist known as Banksy had one of his paintings sold in an auction at a closing bid of $1.4 million, only to have it destroyed by a built-in shredder within its frame. Banksy is no stranger to controversial art, as he paints satirical and anti-capitalist pieces all over the world. Most of his artwork is canvassed on streets, walls, and bridges. One example is “The Son of a Migrant from Syria,” in which Steve Jobs is portrayed as the face of Syrian immigration.

The painting in question, “Girl with a Balloon,” was a framed painting with no clear meaning. MyArtBroker.com claims the painting depicts how “innocence can easily be lost,” while blogs claim it means “there is always hope.” Whatever the meaning was, it certainly changed when it was shredded. The question is, what is the new meaning and does it even matter? No matter the meaning, paying millions of dollars for shredded paper is ridiculous.

Art is open to interpretation. Could the general populace even begin to understand the meaning of Banksy’s “prank?” All the artist can do is make their art and send it out to the world with wishes that it will reach someone. In the original painting, I got a feeling of childlike sadness. The idea of losing a balloon, something that is not finite but doomed to live shortly. It reminds me of the falling action of a movie, where the protagonist is low on morale and comtemplates their future.

Meaning or not, what was the point of shredding? Perhaps it was a comment on the fragility of art and beauty. I believe that Banksy expected his painting to get more valuable after its destruction and knew how ridiculous paying millions for shredded paper would appear – the issue being that people are more focused on the action of the shredding rather what it means.

He could also have been making a comment on the gross excess exhibited by the social elite. Why pay $1.4 million for shredded paper when world hunger is around 13%? If this was truly his intention, no one seems to be catching on. For one, the woman who bought the painting has decided to keep it. Second, as a new piece of art, it has changed its name to “Love is in the Bin” and the art world is awed by the bold creativity Banksy employed by shredding his art in a live auction. Sotheby’s said, “This unexpected piece of performance art became instant art world history.”

Whatever the result, I admire Banksy’s art. It’s a form of beautiful sadness with brutal reality. The message I received from his art is the dynamic aspect of change and how art can be metaphorized into something completely different than the original meaning. This is the power that artists like Banksy have, the power to change one’s perception on life. Banksy is one of the few artists who uses his platform to talk about global issues like war and corruption. Now only if more people would start to look at his art for his social commentary and satire instead of the wonder and awe of shredding paper.

Frank Peña is a third-year Journalism and Informatics major. He can be reached at fpenaaya@uci.edu.