An open letter to Banksy regarding ‘The Advertisers’

EDIT March 1st, 18:30pm // The ‘letter’ to which I was referring here is a quote taken from two of Banksy’s books, ‘Cut it Out’ and ‘Wall and Piece’, only one of which I’ve read but clearly not recently enough that I remember the rant. It surfaced again this week, isolated from the rest of the material and context. That doesn’t change anything in particular, I just wanted to note it.

EDIT 2 March 24th, 09:18am // It was brought to my attention that the passage of text supposedly by Banksy we’ve all been so eager to debate was in fact plagiarised from Sean Tejaratchi’s  essay ‘Death, Phones’ Scissors’ (http://gawker.com/5892332/). As far as I’m concerned, Banksy stealing someone else’s argument basically makes the whole thing void, so I’ve disabled comments on this post.

Dear Mr Banksy,

I read your recent open letter regarding ‘The Advertisers’ and I have to say I didn’t much like your tone, particularly coming from one of the art world’s greatest marketeers since possibly Warhol.

Allow me to say from the offset that I don’t much care for the advertising industry as a whole either, though having worked at several agencies in my career (as a typographer), I’ve done OK out of it. I live in New York these days but when I lived in London I used to see your work all the time. I didn’t ask to see it – in much the same way as you don’t ask to see advertising – and I never much cared for it either. A lot of my friends did though, and several of them now own your prints, books and in a couple of cases, original works.

I should probably mention that, without exception, all of those people work in advertising.

Now, as far as I see it, the very act of putting your work in the public eye – say on walls, street corners, in alleyways and underpasses etc – is, effectively advertising it by virtue of people being able to see it at all. Exposure is advertising.  And unless I’m much mistaken, the only product you’re selling is yourself.

The last time I checked, The Advertisers at least had to pay a lot of money to use the public spaces that their wares occupy – unlike yourself who has decided to remove yourself from that model in the name of art and anti capitalism.

Another criticism often leveled at advertising is that it steals from artists and plagiarises ideas, where as your work is merely ‘inspired’ by one artist; Blek Le Rat. Which I guess is OK. And the fact that you’ve made a comfortable living from it is also fine. I feel like it’s a convenient irony though that the only people who can now afford to own your work are the ad-land Creative Directors and City boys that you so eagerly rail against, while at the same time selling your own brand of rebellious, anti-establishment cool.

If the Advertisers are laughing at us, then you are surely laughing with them.

It’s all just so easy isn’t it? Big companies are evil; advertising sells stuff for big companies; ergo, the people who work in advertising are also evil. I think Bill Hicks had a similar thing going a few years ago. No, wait I’m sorry, exactly the same thing going.

As a child of the 80’s I grew up surrounded by cigarette advertising, yet I’ve never bought a pack in my life. I’ve seen car ads every day for 30 years and I’ve never bought one of those either. That’s as much as I can say about myself, but its clear to me that you’re ignoring the fact that people have a choice in what they buy – if they buy anything at all – and that they actually like buying things. They work hard for a living and purchasing something other than basic food, utilities or clothing gives them a sense of achievement; that their hard work has paid off in some capacity.

When I first read your letter I thought you were going to mount some stenciled horse and storm the castles of advertising with a well formed argument, but instead it seems like you were just inciting people to steal and vandalise ads that they saw on the street. Personally, I don’t have the time or inclination.

Regarding ‘the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen’ that you mention, you must be referring to the office fax machine? Having seen agency life, I can attest that there’s nothing Machiavellian going on; no illuminated map of the globe and no sinister plot  to take over the world; just a bunch of people trying to make a living.

As it stands, there are are only 1.2 billion formal jobs in the world for the 7 billion people that live on it. If advertising keeps a few thousand off the streets then let it be, eh? People who work in advertising are good enough to buy your work, so why not buy some of what they’re selling from time to time?

Kind regards and good luck in your future ventures.

Craig Ward /
Words are Pictures

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