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More than 100 people have commented on Jonathan Jones’s piece, “Should Banksy be nominated for the Turner Prize?”, over the past two days, despite the fact we’ve heard his arguments before. The question of Banksy’s artistic worth, it seems, is something we are all still itching to debate.

Jones has confessed in the past to being “pretty harsh” about Banksy, and to publishing more articles about this “unimportant graffiti and street artist than I care to count”. Writing about Banksy is, Jones says, the “thorn of being an art critic in modern Britain”. “Cy Twombly is the only graffiti artist I care about” (3 June 2008)

However, it is a thorn that has generated a lot of material for Jones’s blog, culminating in the latest piece on his decision not to nominate the street artist for this year’s Turner Prize competition.

His reasons for considering the artist are twofold: one, he would like to be convinced of Banksy’s worth, and two, he would welcome the media attention such a nomination would surely generate. However, he concludes that Banksy no longer generates the same column inches as before, and finally says:

The reason I don’t like street art is that it’s not aesthetic, it’s social. To celebrate it is to celebrate ignorance, aggression, all the things our society excels at. For middle class people to find artistic excitement in something that scares old people on estates is a bit sick.

The vast majority of people responding to this piece argue indignantly in favour of street art, pointing out that it is not the same as “tagging”, and is aesthetic as well as social. An early comment by mroli (15 April 09, 4:12pm) reads:

Are old people on estates scared by street art? I don’t think they are. Certainly not the kind of street art that Banksy perpetrates. How on earth does it celebrate ignorance? How does it celebrate aggression? Don’t nominate him if you think he’s crap, but not nominating him because he is a “social” artist, that encourages discussion, is open to everyone, whose work is essentially disposable and yet adopted as permanent is madness.

Another comment accuses Jones of blatant self-promotion, for the article reveals nothing new about Jones’s relationship with street art, and instead seems to be a thinly veiled boast about his role in nominating artists for the Turner Prize shortlist.

And now, to bring up a blog entry Jones wrote about lazy arts reporting in September 2007, which was always going to come back and bite him on the arse. “Imagine how little news about visual art would appear in the papers,” says Jones, “if the following generic stories were banned:

  1. The most expensive work of art ever
  2. Anything about graffiti
  3. Lost masterpiece rediscovered
  4. Contemporary artists as plagiarists
  5. Art historian/archaeologist makes earth-shattering discovery Restoration stories”

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Secret Wars at Village Underground, London 01Bearded line-drawing geeks went head-to-head with slick freestyle graffiti artists at Village Underground, east London, last night.

Two teams of five artists were given an hour and a half in which to cover their half of a huge white board in Cuba-themed graffiti. They had pens and paints at their disposal, but no aerosol cans.

Team one, Intercity, were dressed in white overalls, and spent the first 10 minutes using a piece of crayon on a string to mark out three circles, which they filled in to make one red and one smaller gold ring. They then spent the rest of their time doodling all over it.

One of the Intercity boys said to me as he looked up at the board: “I’m used to working on A4… this is a bit bigger.”

Secret Wars at Village Underground, London 17

Secret Wars at Village Underground, London 10

Team two, Monorex, split off as soon as the timer started. Pen to paper, they drew quickly and confidently: Big, bold outlines. Straight away, it began to look like graffiti you would see on trains in Naples or New York. They worked in from the corners and, after a while, a scene began to take shape.

Secret Wars at Village Underground, London 16 Secret Wars at Village Underground, London 14

At first, I was behind Monorex all the way. They knew exactly what they were doing, and they did it with style. But slowly, Intercity’s charm won me over. Their doodles strongly resembled Glaswegian artist David Shrigley’s. Dotted all over the place were little quips, like “Banksy is my mum,” and, “Don’t tell them how 1990’s graffiti is”.

Plus they made the crowd move back at the end so they could throw paint balloons at their finished designs. They didn’t win, but they certainly got the most laughs and made the most amount of mess. And that’s got to count for something, doesn’t it?

Secret Wars at Village Underground, London 02

Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, London EC2

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