9 December 2018
Street Art Authenticity and Value
What began as just a subculture on the New York streets around 1970 has become a
popular form of art in the modern society. Graffiti or street art is currently aesthetically trendy in
many parts of the globe. Many individuals in a contemporary culture are now more than ever
concerned with the authenticity of street art. Authentic artwork is valuable and increasingly
sought in the modern culture. It is no longer enough for a piece to be artistic or employ
craftsmanship. The art has to be authentic for it to be valuable. As street art become
commercialized, people are looking more on originality and individualism (Davis 30). This paper
will explore the concept behind art authenticity and value as illustrated by the movie, “Exit
Through the Gift Shop” by Banksy.
Definition of Authenticity
In order to understand the idea of authenticity in street art, it is important first to define
the term. Authenticity is sometimes confused with sincerity. Sincerity can be described as an
appreciation between actual and demonstrative feeling, which indicates a unique connection to
others. It is simply about people's thoughts and feelings aligning with what they say. However,
authenticity is being true and honest to oneself. Authenticity is an idea of self-reference (Fine
154). In today's world, the perception of authenticity is a result of different factors that have
impacted changes in recent years.
Street Art: Authenticity, Public Acceptance, and Value
In modern culture, street art cannot be avoided. It blooms across all fences, creeps along
alleys, flourishes on street walls and in flyovers. In this age, it is not hard for someone to wake
up to a Banksy on the wall of their building. The public perception of street art appears to be
transformed. When the art started, it was viewed as moral decay due to its association with street
gangs. However, it has now become an authentic culture. At first, people scrub the art when they
found it on their walls, but currently, the first response is "is this thing worth something?". It
appears that authenticity and commercialization of street art have played a significant part in its
public acceptance (Davis 35). The internet is also an influence. The images often go viral. In
many cases, images of pieces of graffiti online are picked up and adopted in other places. For
instance, photos of Assad with a mustache similar to that of Hitler appeared online and was later
seen in Gaza, Beirut, and Cairo (Irvine 40). Street art is ready availability across the world has
informed the artists/ practice and public acceptance.
A study conducted by Conklin shows that graffiti in many parts of the developed world is
presently associated with enhancing urban neighborhoods’ economic conditions (30). Art areas
like Brixton in London, attract more restaurants and cafes that also attract art loving people to
come in. The graffiti also affects the prices of the buildings they are painted on. People now see
graffiti as an indicator or vibrancy in an area. The authenticity of the art has impacted the
public’s opinion of it. However, people are eager to accept the art’s authenticity. More people
regard graffiti as a positive phenomenon. It seems to be more tolerated by the public than it was
when it began during the 1970s.
The Perspective of Banksy on Street Art Authenticity
Banksy uses “Exit Through the Gift Shop” to contribute to the conversation about
authenticity and street art. He is known as an original graffiti art's primary proponent since 1992.
Furthermore, he is also known across the world for his hatred of people who label graffiti as
"vandalism." In his film, Banksy focuses on Thierry Guetta's life, a Cameraman who meets him
and later documents a significant portion of his work, with the aim of creating a film about
graffiti art. However, as the movie progresses, it appears to change its direction as Guetta's later
succeeds as a Banksy's copyist (Banksy). Eventually, via the use of unique scenes as well as the
film’s characteristics, Banksy exposes the inauthenticity of the art that makes Guetta famous.
In the opening scenes of the film, the viewer sees clips of artists creating art in the streets.
This short attempt provides the viewer with a privileged view of the world, and the masked
artists live in. The scenes also make the viewers feel the emotion and attitude of the street artists.
These artists express themselves in a rebellious and public fashion. The scenes depict artists
making paintings, spraying a train with paint and tagging. Banksy thinks that art's authenticity or
lack theory has more to do with the motivations of the artist (Banksy). Different types of
motivations drive various forms of graffiti. Street art cannot be controlled or understood, without
comprehending the motivation that drove the artist. The artist's motivation separates graffiti from
vandalism is therefore crucial when trying to understand the art. In the simplest form, graffiti is
about pleasure (Young 300). It does not matter whether this pleasure is emotional or physical.
Initially, street art's motivation included its shared peer activities and aesthetic appeal.
Nevertheless, as the art progressed, its motivation started to include pleasure, pride as well as
recognition. Eventually, graffiti art has become an "identity art." It broadly reflects the creator's
By definition, street art appears to be an authentic art, and Banksy' movie aims to
illustrate it as such. Guetta is seen as he begins filming street artists like "Space Invader" his
cousin. Guetta documents the work of the street artists regularly and begins to follow other artists
such as Shepard Fairey, commonly known for the Obama poster during the campaign. The
narratives of real artists on the streets, who perfect the craft, emphasize Banksy's appreciation for
other artists like himself (Banksy). He respects them for dedicating so much time to the
development of their style and artistic expression. According to Banksy, the true self-expression,
on the artist’s part makes it authentic.
However, though Banksy is a strong supporter of the art’s authenticity, he questions the
work of Guetta. Although the viewers enjoy the scenes of street artists in the movie, Banksy
establishes a contempt atmosphere surrounding Guetta. Every time Guetta appears to push the
camera into artists or celebrity’s face, the viewers cringe. Tacky music is heard playing as Guetta
explains how he records and Banksy incorporates a testimonial from the wife of the videographer
about how he privileges his films over the family (Banksy). As Guetta plasters all over his
drawing holding the camera, copying Banksy's style and other artists he has been following, the
viewers are overcome with uneasiness. It is not clear whether Guetta does this for self-expression
or just fame. At this point, it Banksy's perspective becomes even more clear.
Banksy also raises the idea of emotional motivations as an aspect of artistic authenticity.
An example of this is Borf, a street artist interviewed by Guetta when the movie starts. Guetta
explains that the art of Borf is a tribute to his late friend, and thus holds important emotional
value (Banksy). According to Irvine emotions are an important depiction of self and are thus
important in authenticity judgment (35). Social psychologists concentrate more on the role
played by emotions in the authenticity discussions. Because of the main role played by self-
knowledge in the revelation of the authentic self, emotions are viewed as passing important
messages to the human cognitive mind concerning the true state of self. For the psychologists.
The truthful view of instantaneous psychological reality acts as the basis of authenticity. In other
simple terms, because emotions can be seen as basic indicators of identity and self, they are a
reflection of authenticity. The pleasure emotion, the main motivation behind street work, speaks
to graffiti art's authenticity. Even so, Banksy's perspective differs from this psychologists'
opinion. Clearly, Guetta is emotionally motivated. He is driven by pleasure as he posts stickers
and printouts that depict him holding his camera. Nonetheless, Banksy still thinks that Guetta's
work is inauthentic. Banksy believes that the pleasure of an artist while creating an artwork does
not speak to its authenticity (Banksy). There have to be other things that make the art authentic.
Fine, in the article, “Crafting Authenticity” examines the effect of self-taught identities
affect the artist’s work (170). He discusses how authenticity and originality are bestowed, and
particularly, how personal legitimacy of the artist is utilized to support the aesthetic authenticity
of the artwork in the cultural elites' minds. This concept is particularly referenced in association
with the biography of the author. Fine indicates that a biography of the artists gives the art
authenticity (Fine 160). However, the artist also has to be inspired and motivated. Closely linked
to the inspirations and motivations of the artists are biographies' presentations. The biographies
of artists who are self-taught, prove their authenticity, acting as the main evaluation criterion.
The work itself is important because many individuals have fascinating biographies, but these
biographies invest meaning with the material.
In simple terms, the experience and biography of the artist, and not only the motivations,
defines the authenticity of his or her artwork, and the background gives it meaning. The
biography of Banksy and those of many other artists in the street, followed by the film, is
lengthy. Nonetheless, the biography of Guetta is short. Before he started his work as an artist,
Guetta was just a videographer, with a desire for artistic work, but currently, he has risen to
prominence (Banksy). Guetta’s lack of experience in arts, is objected by Banksy, which he
asserts is a crucial aspect of the identity of the artist and as such should be considered when
judging the work’s authenticity.
Eventually, Banksy feels that he has been cheated. It gets even worse as Guetta becomes
more famous and opens a huge art show, making millions in a style he has developed within a
short time. Although, the people showed in the movie do not seem to value authenticity.
Currently, individuals respect authentic artworks. An enthusiast at the show highly praises
Guetta for his work. Banksy says that sometimes people are eager to believe in the authenticity
of art. Banksy sees Guetta as a sellout (Banksy). Like many artists in the modern culture, Banksy
started as just a disloyal, while Guetta goes straight for the status of an icon such as Andy
At the end of the film, Banksy struggles with the concept of authenticity. He mentions
that Guetta did not play by the rules, but then again, there are no rules in street arts. Sometimes
ago, street art was illegal, even now in some places, it is still illegal. Due to the modern standards
of the evaluation of art, individuals such as Guetta stifle the motivation and creativity of other
street artists because they become famous so fast. Yet, their artwork is not authentic. Banksy has
been questioning even his own art due to Guetta's fame (Banksy). He does not encourage artists
anymore. Street artists also object to the commercialization of their art. They indicate that their
art was not meant for sale. Currently, in protest to the growing market street art, artists are
buying other artists work in order to destroy it.
The authenticity of the art is important both the public and the artists who make it.
Banksy has influenced people to consider the authenticity of artwork and how they impact the
livelihoods of artists. In a changing culture of fine arts where it appears as though many artists
learn rules to bend them, it is important for people to assess their standards for evaluation of art,
particularly in the context of their search for authenticity. The continued acceptance of this art
will depend on acceptance of the art by the public. However, commercialization of the art may
end up killing it in the long run.
Young, Alison. "Criminal images: The effective judgment of graffiti and street art." Crime,
Media, Culture 8.3 (2012): 297-314.Print
Conklin, Tiffany Renée. "Street art, ideology, and public space." (2012). Retrieved from
Irvine, Martin. "The work on the street: Street art and visual culture." The handbook of visual
culture (2012): 235-278. Print http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/articles/IrvineWorkontheStreet-preview.pdf
Fine, Gary Allan. “Crafting Authenticity: The Validation of Authenticity in Self-Taught
Art.” Theory and Society32.2 (April 2003): 153–80.
=dfff0b55-3318-4b2c-8762-cbc0b590cdaa%40sessionmgr120 Accessed 25 November
Davis, Lindsey. "The privatization of street art and the preservation paradox." Visual Inquiry 7.1
47a-5e67-49f9-bda2- Accessed 25 November 25, 2018
Exit Through the Gift Shop. Dir. Banksy. Paranoid Pictures, 2010. Netflix. Web. 5 December
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