Sample Expository Essay on Art: Who is Banksy and Why is He Important?


Writing different types of essays is a crucial part of studying art. These essays often describe, explore, and analyze artworks and movements in the history of art. Art analysis , for instance, looks at how artworks elicit a response among audiences. Meanwhile, art history essays interpret artworks by placing them within their social, cultural, and historical contexts. This sample expository essay on art explains who Banksy is and why he has become such an important figure in contemporary art.

On October 5, 2018, attendees of an auction at Sotheby’s in London stood in shock when a painting that had just fetched a price of around $1.4 million went through a process of self-destruction. Right after the deal was closed, the acrylic-on-canvas painting titled Girl with Balloon  slid down the frame and was partially cut into ribbons by a shredder concealed on the bottom of the oversized frame (Edwards; Badshah). The incident quickly became viral, with art experts and members of the public alike offering what they consider the artist’s message in pulling the stunt and speculating on what the incident meant for the painting itself. This event, however, is neither isolated nor unusual for the artist known as Banksy. Since his emergence in the 1990s and early 2000s, Banksy has achieved mythical status in the art world, not least the fact that his true identity has remained unknown for decades. More than being one of the more enigmatic artists today, Banksy’s works contribute to the constant transformation of art through his subversion of expectations and criticism of authoritarianism, incompetence, and corporate greed.

Who is Banksy?

Unlike many other artists of similar fame and reputation, Banksy did not get his start by making the rounds of prestigious galleries. Instead, he began his career as a graffiti artist in the city of Bristol, painting, and stenciling on walls when no one was looking. Graffiti is illegal in many jurisdictions. It is also viewed by many people as vandalism rather than art. Banksy’s anonymity was, therefore, at least initially, a matter of necessity (Ellsworth-Jones). Early Banksy was an underground artist. Many of Banksy’s works are critiques of war, violence, and corporate greed. Because these works often appear without warning in public spaces and convey controversial themes, the appearance of his works usually attracted media and popular attention. It was only a matter of time until the art world, which arguably remains the definitive authority in matters of art, caught on. By the early 2000s, Banksy was exhibiting works in major cities such as London, Los Angeles, New York, Sydney, and Jerusalem among others. Banksy also became a fixture in many auction houses like Sotheby’s as privately owned works by Banksy are put on sale and increase in value every time they change hands (“Banksy: Who is Banksy”).

Despite his rise to global fame and the skyrocketing prices of his works, Banksy has remained unknown. For years now people have been speculating over his real identity, with some putting forward well-known graffiti artists as candidates including Robert Del Naja, Robin Gunningham, and Thierry Guetta (Sommerland). Others have advanced wilder theories, such as the claim that Banksy is none other than Neil Buchanan, the former presenter of the children’s show Art Attack . But with no concrete evidence to identify the person behind the artist, Banksy remains unmasked. And it is precisely this anonymity that has made Banksy a legendary figure in the art world. Here is an artist who has refused to reveal his identity to the world, when billions of people can only dream of achieving a fraction of his fame. The mystery of Banksy’s real identity is equaled only by his reasons for insisting on anonymity, and the questions that these elicit captured the public imagination and undoubtedly contributed to the allure of his work.

Why is Banksy Important?

While anonymity is certainly a contributing factor to Banksy’s fame, there are many other dimensions of the artist that make him an important figure. One of these is the fact that Banksy continues to redefine the concept of art. For centuries, art was generally considered the province of the elite, and there is a great deal of solid ground for this assumption. Most traditional art costs money. Painting, sculptures, and decorations for buildings were often made from rare and expensive materials. Meanwhile, the artistry employed by artists required a great deal of time, talent, and skill, thus rendering the cost of their services. In the pre-modern world where wealth was concentrated in the hands of a very small group of people and where the vast majority of the population comprised the working class, art was essentially unaffordable to the common person in the street (Wood). Socioeconomic and technological developments made more people richer, and this translated to art becoming a more accessible commodity. Whereas art was only once affordable to the likes of the monarchy and high-ranking nobility and clergy, the average merchant now had the power to commission works. By the 19 th century, the middle classes have grown enough to be able to become major consumers of art (Kaufmann et al.).

While the art trade certainly grew, the definition of art remained rigid, presided over by an elite network of artists, critics, and art dealers collectively known as the art world (Kaufmann et al.). The art world got to say who was an artist and who was not, what qualified as art and what did not. In general, art was an object that was created according to lofty standards set by the art world. The old concept of art, however, began to crumble in the 20 th century when provocative artists began subverting such standards. An example was the French artist Marcel Duchamp whose submission of a urinal to an art exhibition in 1917 was a direct critique of the traditional definition of art (Wood). Banksy continues this tradition of questioning art and it is rigid standards. Banksy has indeed exhibited in museums and galleries, but for the better part of his career, it was the art world that was chasing him rather than the other way around. In compelling the art world to come to him, Banksy proved a point: art does not merely refer to works made by famous artists seen in museums and galleries; art also includes those that anonymous artists make in unlikely places. In short, Banksy took a much-derided and often illegal practice and legitimized it as art.

But more than legitimizing street art, Banksy is also important because of what his art represents. Art has traditionally been associated with beauty and people’s experiences with beauty. But Banksy’s work is a testament to the fact that art can be ugly and uncomfortable. More than this, he showed that art can be a channel through which authoritarianism, incompetence, and corporate greed can be exposed and criticized. Many of Banksy’s works exemplify this. For instance, one of his earlier pieces titled The Mild Mild West  criticizes the use of violence the police mete out against innocent groups. The mural, executed in 1999 in Bristol, depicts a teddy bear throwing a Molotov cocktail at the police. Banksy explained that the piece was inspired by police paying unnecessary attention to rave parties that were being held in the warehouses of the city. Another provocative piece was the painting titled Rage, Flower Thrower , which the artist executed in the city of Jerusalem in 2005 (Petrulla). Depicting a rioter throwing a bouquet instead of a Molotov cocktail, the piece has been considered as an antiwar stance in general and a criticism of the violence between Israel and Palestine in particular. Still, another piece is the partly submerged spray-painted phrase in London that reads “I don’t believe in global warming,” which is the artist’s criticism of the apathy and lack of action of governments in response to climate change (“Banksy Sees Red”). Banksy’s use of graffiti, especially stenciled graffiti, in his work goes well with the message behind his works. As the artist himself stated, “I could feel the power there [in the stencil]. I also like the political edge. All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars” (quoted in Ellsworth-Jones). Through his art, Banksy has diverted the public’s attention to important social issues today, thus cementing his reputation not only as an artist but also as an activist. His works have given a tangible illustration of the many anxieties that beleaguer the modern world while his choice of the street as his canvas resonates well with the common folk. One could say that the faceless Banksy serves as the face of the powerless who are often invisible to the powerful.


In the past two decades, Banksy has risen to become the most mysterious artist of the contemporary era and one of the most important artists today. Choosing graffiti as his primary medium, his art has not only questioned preconceptions about the nature of art but has also used it to express political messages. His work is part of the long tradition of using art to subvert, criticize, question, and raise awareness. But as more of his works find their way into the hands of private collectors and as the price of his works soars to the skies, it comes as a question whether Banksy has allowed himself to be part of the very system he criticizes. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

An essay is just one of the many types of papers that you will write in art class. Others are research papers, journal entries, theses, and dissertations . While studying art is fun and enriching, it can also be stressful if you are tied up with a heavy academic workload. Free yourself from worrying by getting the help of a professional writer at CustomEssayMeister.

Works Cited

Badshah, Nadeem. “Banksy Sets Auction Record with £18.5m Sale of Shredded Painting.” The Guardian . Accessed 23 January 2022.

“Banksy Sees Red Over Climate Change.” The Guardian. Accessed 23 January 2022.

“Banksy: Who is Banksy? What We Know About the Anonymous Graffiti Artist.” British Broadcasting Corporation. Accessed 23 Jan 2022.

Edwards, Jonathan. “Banksy Tried to Destroy His Art After It Sold for $1.4 Million. The Shredded Version Just Went for $25.4 Million.” The Washington Post . Accessed 23 January 2022.

Ellsworth-Jones, Will. “The Story Behind Banksy.” Smithsonian Magazine . Accessed 23 January 2022.

Kaufmann, Thomas DaCosta, et al. Circulations in the Global History of Art . Routledge. 2016.

Petrulla, Sofia. “Rage, Flower Thrower.” Cornell University, Accessed 23 January 2022.

Sommerland, Joe. “Who is Banksy? The Suspects Linked to the Art World’s Biggest Mystery.” The Independent . Accessed 23 January 2022.

Wood, Christopher S. A History of Art History. Princeton University Press, 2021.

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