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Friday, March 10, 2017

Anonymous Art

Colored Dots, Anonymous
In the late summer of 2005, an anonymous artist scaled the heights of the Israeli West Bank barrier to paint an incredible nine images on the wall that separates the country from Palestinian territories. The work on the Palestinian side is remarkable (and remarkably complicated). It’s a politically volatile area that is constantly patrolled. The works are massive, and the pieces all come with a very political bent--a paradise seeking theme. Although the wall is covered with a wide range of other protest graffiti, the work of this unknown artist (below) stands out for its daring, its technical expertise, and the ideals it creatively promotes.
There's actually an anonymous artist who goes by the name, Anonymous.
Although the artist is anonymous, he, she, or they (no one is quite sure) has a name--Banksy. Banksy is the most famous "wall" artist today. Every new work grabs media attention, somehow bringing the artist's net worth to an estimated $20 million. Of course, you won't see Banksy in public. The painter’s identity is shrouded in secrecy, although some believe that Robin Gunningham is the real Banksy. Others contend that there is actually a whole team of people supporting a single artist’s work.

Calvary, 16th-century unknown painter
There is nothing new as to anonymity in the fine arts. Novelists, musicians, poets, and painters such a Banksy have long used pseudonyms to guard their privacy and the much-needed creative environment allowing them to work in peace outside the celebrity spotlight. Some have been more successful at it than others. Some, such as J.D. Salinger, didn't even bother with a pen name, but simply refused to become a part of the publicity mill which accompanies literary success. Today's new anonymous artists scorn such half measures, preferring not to hide, but to entirely disappear.

Inferno, ca. 1520, Anonymous
In some ways, they are returning to medieval times, when major works of art were created by anonymous artisans. But today there’s a difference between an artist being simply unknown and those choosing to be anonymous. Mystery artists cultivate their aura of secrecy. They see obscurity as more desirable than the perks of celebrity status. The fame and fortune of the Kardashians have little appeal for them. Artists such as Banksy are living the dream by somehow managing to avoid the constant surveillance that the rest of us take for granted. Through the growing use of avatars, the anonymous artist is no different from the millions of people who keep their identities secret on Twitter. The avatar becomes the brand image--a pseudonym more powerful than a brand. It's more easily fine-tuned and Photoshopped in line with public expectations than boring real-life people. Whatever the case, this new cult of anonymity can be seen as something of a relief. In an age in which artistic works have often been overwhelmed by gossip surrounding their celebrity, anonymous creators have forced us to once more turn our attention to the art itself. Moreover, anonymity is more than a passing fad. It underlines the premise that we should adhere to contemplating art critically and appreciatively whether or not we know the artist’s real identity.

Audrey Hepburn as
Holly Golightly by an
anonymous artist.
In choosing images by anonymous artists I found the task more difficult than expected. Most anonymous art is anonymous for good reason. It's so bad that no one really cares who the artist might have been. In other cases, where the source of the art work is corporate, rather than individual, the name of the artist becomes so overshadowed by the person, place, or thing depicted that the em-ployee-artist gets lost in the hoopla, as in the case of the iconic image of Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany's (right). Along a similar track, there are those anonymous artists having achieved little recog-nition during their lifetime, who easily slip into the "unknown" category after their deaths. It would seem that might be the case with the starkly realistic Head of John the Baptist (below). In this case, it also may have been that the stark, unappealing image was poorly received at the time, causing the artist to disassociate his name with the work. If so, it would appear that he or she did so quite successfully).

Head of John the Baptist, Anonymous

Entombment of Christ,
Anonymous (or unknown) artist.


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