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Why We Need to Stop Comparing Artists to Banksy


Have you ever set a Google Alert for Banksy? No? Don’t bother. Seriously, don’t.

While every once in a while you may find something of interest, a new work appearing or a sale that slipped under the radar, the majority of what comes up are poorly written, under-researched click-baitey pieces about random street artists. “Liverpool’s Banksy”, “The Banksy of Berlin”, “The Banksy of Poetry”… the list goes on. These editorial short-cuts piggybacking off the prolific artist’s notoriety don’t do him, or the work being covered, any favors. And they make, at least in the short term, a mess of your inbox.

If you’re throwing Banksy in there for SEO purposes, it’s not going to do what you think it will. Chances are if someone’s searching for Banksy, they’re not searching for “The Banksy of Berlin”, which means the plug doesn’t have any relevance. People searching for Banksy often want Banksy. Not “The Banksy of Poetry”. It will hurt you in the long run. So stop.

Secondly, it’s been so overused, if someone were in fact searching for your “Banksy of Berlin” because they couldn’t remember the artist’s name, the chances of finding him or her are greatly diminished. The web has been so flushed with Banksy variants, even as a descriptor it doesn’t carry much weight if you’re hoping to narrow down your search.

Also, it’s cheap. The artist your covering will have their own style, content, causes, signature, unique placements, things specific to their practice. Talk about those, give them your attention, and find other words to describe them. I have yet to meet an artist who is ecstatic to have their work defined solely in relation to someone else’s. If they don’t have their own style, content, causes, signature, unique placements… why are you covering them? Is the artist not that interesting, or can you just not figure out what’s interesting about them?

The last point I’ll make before stepping off my soapbox, is that it flattens Banksy’s work. He’s one of the most famous contemporary artists for a whole host of reasons, and while his aesthetic is distinct, his practice is socially, politically, and contextually charged. There’s a lot of scholarly merit to the work he does, exacerbated by his characters and critical appropriation of significant cultural signs and icons. Yes, he is a street artist, but there is a reason why he is a street artist. And he is so much more than that.

So please. If you’re going to compare one artist to another, ask yourself why, and what it brings to the conversation. If you’re going to compare an artist to Banksy, maybe just don’t.