What is art? This question has been asked for millennia. Art is a profoundly subjective experience. It is real, yet unreal, speaking directly to the viewer's emotions. Historically it has been the expression of an idea. Art has been used for propaganda purposes by kings, religious leaders, and social movements. Human lives were shaped by images before humans were generally literate; they are being shaped by images again as literacy declines.
The Surrealists changed the meaning of images; Dali's lobster telephone and Duchamp's urinal in the art gallery took objects out of context and turned them into something else. Andy Warhol repeated images endlessly until they became meaningless.
Graffiti became street art in the 1980s, largely due to the efforts of Keith Haring whose crawling men appeared on street signs and subway stations near my New York apartment during that decade (I disliked his work then and dislike it now.)
Then there were other artists such as Shepard Fairey who stuck stickers with the face of Andre the Giant all over the world (he is allegedly still doing this.) The new generation of graffiti artists printed or screened their work, which was redubbed Street Art, and used it in ironic context. Warhol's influence seemed to be strong, since many of Fairey's icons lose all meaning by repetition. (It sort of makes me wonder about the real meaning of this poster that he made for an 'obscure Senator' two years ago.)
The greatest of the street artists, and the most subtle in my opinion, is the artist who goes by the name of Banksy. Originally working only in England, Banksy has placed his artwork in hotspots such as the Wall in Gaza; Disneyland; and in a Paris Hilton Album.
But no one has (allegedly) seen Banksy' face. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is a feature film that is being sold as a documentary about Banksy. At the risk of spoilers, it is no such thing. It is a prank on the audience that asks my first questions...what is art? Who is an artist? and then adds more.... Is art meant to be free to the public? Is art a commodity to be sold? Is an artist who uses a team to assemble art pieces fair when he/she receives all credit for the work? Can art that is created by another artist be used fairly to create a new composition? (Nina Paley, creator of SITA SINGS THE BLUES, maintains that all creative work is derivative.) All artists build on what has gone before. If so, when do you stop?
The tag line for this film "In a world without rules, he broke them all", is absolutely true.
There is speculation that Banksy and Shepard Fairey are pulling the wool over our eyes with this film, that it is too contrived and convoluted to be true. It has been my experience that some of the weirdest and most contrived situations in life are real.
So I was rather disturbed by the material included on this artist. I can't say more without revealing too much about this terrific film which I will certainly recommend to all, and which I will definitely see again.
I'm not sure whether Banksy is just one person, but the onscreen Banksy definitely can be identified, sans hoodie, if you pay attention to two important hints (one visual, one textual) that are provided in the film. Animators will find it very easy.
I also choose to regard the success of this artist as part of the show. Otherwise, I and all the rest of us went into the wrong business. See for yourself. Seeing is believing. Or is it?