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"It doesn't take much to be a successful artist -- all you need to do is dedicate your entire life to it." - Banksy
Famous street artist and provocateur Banksy is in the midst of what he's calling a month-long residency on the streets of New York. Each day, a new work of art shows up somewhere in the five boroughs. It could be anything from clever graffiti, to a video installation, to "substandard" performance art.
Last weekend, the artist made waves as he had an elderly man set up a stall in Central Park and sell original signed Banksy canvases for $60 each. These pieces are all estimated to be worth upwards of five-figures, and most pedestrians walked right by without even taking a second look. In total, the shop took in just $420 on the day.
That may be all the money the artist brings in from this elaborate project. In an interview with The Village Voice, Banksy said, "I wanted to make some art without the price tag attached. There's no gallery show or book or film."
Perhaps the point is that art should be about the connection made between the artist and his constituency. That's the key to success as an artist in Banksy's mind, and in his opinion, it's never been easier to find an audience and connect -- "all you need now is a few ideas and a broadband connection."
Street art in the 21st century
In 2006, the term "Banksy effect" became a way to describe the rise of urban street art on the back of Banksy's success. His art has made the transition into galleries, and some pieces have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Dozens of other street artists have followed in his footsteps.
Hundreds more call him a sell-out.
Street artists suffer from a unique conflict -- success is a mark of failure. But as Banksy points out, "people need to get paid -- otherwise you'd only get vandalism made by part-timers and trust-fund kids." But monetary success can fundamentally change how a street artist's work is viewed. It's true, even for Banksy.
Banksy's work was once admired for its subversiveness, but with his success, the irreverence has faded. The value in his creations is often derived from the gesture, not just the image alone. Perhaps that's why his pop-up stand only sold eight canvases all day.
With no monetary incentive, Banksy is able to make art that speaks to its audience. Things like a slaughterhouse delivery truck full of animatronic farm animals driven around the meatpacking district sending children running and making babies cry. Or a video of insurgents shooting down Dumbo the elephant with a surface-to-air missile. These are pieces that create a striking emotional response in its viewers.
Finding success as an artist today
Becoming a successful artist used to be about establishing relationships with galleries. You went to college, showed your portfolio to everyone, and sent transparencies off to galleries with the hopes of hearing back.
Today, the world of art belongs to the people more than ever before. At least, the lines are blurring. We live in a world of viral videos, where interesting content is spread like wildfire through social media.
Banksy's newest project may be a guide on how an artist can find an audience by using the Internet. He uploads a new image or video to his site every day. He relies on social media to spread the word -- #banksyny on Instagram. He keeps the viewer engaged by accompanying most pieces with an audio explanation. And he's making art for the people, not a gallery. Although Banksy already has a strong following, this is a strategy that can be easily emulated by nearly any artist and subverts the traditional path to success.
You no longer need a gallery show to sell art. There are plenty of places to sell original pieces online. For example, websites like Etsy.com allow artists to set up virtual shops, as does eBay. Or they can elect to sell directly from their own websites. There's a slew of options. The point is connecting an artist and buyer no longer requires the artist to jump through hoops.
It still isn't easy
As Banksy said, tongue-in-cheek, "It doesn't take much to be a successful artist -- all you need to do is dedicate your entire life to it." Easier said than done. Still, we live in an age where good work, as judged by the masses, not the elite, is often rewarded.