Last week, famous grafitti artist Banksy, of no-one-knows-who-he-is-really fame, set up a stall in New York’s Central Park and had a guy sell some canvases. He priced them at $60 per canvas. Most of them went unsold. Each would be worth around $30,000 as valued at an auction house. Here is the video clip.

For the record: I am WELL JEALOUS of the gentleman from Chicago that bought four. The Universe was clearly on his side that afternoon.

Here’s some more Banksy art if you’re interested:


Not that I’m saying that I would have bought some canvases if I’d been walking past. But that doesn’t change the breathtaking part…

Sadly: this is not the first time that someone has noticed the irrational inconsistency of popular opinion….

About six years ago, famed violinist Joshua Bell did something similar in a Washington train station. And here’s that video clip.

And if you want a really detailed, relatively outraged, extraordinarily long retelling of the experiment, here’s the original article from the Washington Post.

But What Are We To Take From This?

These stories are thrown out there with no real message other than “check out this crazy”. But that doesn’t mean that the stories aren’t heavy on the implication. Some options:

1. The “Art is Phoney” Theory

There’s a part of my Accountant soul that is not romantic. It sees “love” as a mutually beneficial arrangement and “faith” as a rational response to margins of error.

This part of my soul, when watching the supposedly finest of artists get ignored by the general public, would suggest that we focus on the adjective “supposedly”, and assert that all art is hokum. We’re just herd animals responding to a set of cues from the “experts” who have reached their status by being persuasive and gathering enough followers to push artists over the tipping point and into widespread popularity.

But it’s all just a grand artistic illusion. When you strip away the hype, you’re left with subway lemmings avoiding eye contact in order to evade the sense of connection/obligation that might require them to part with spare change.

2. The “People are Morons” Theory

Fine art is fine art. It is filled with beauty and mastery and significance. But the masses are blind and ignorant and eat at McDonalds.

The only worthwhile opinion is an expert one: the opinion of a cretin is funny because there is no such thing.

3. The “Appreciation Does Not Happen By Accident” Theory

We’re creatures of context and habit.

Most of the day, the best of our human faculties are dulled both to conserve energy and as a natural evolutionary response to stimulation. How can you discern a threat if you’re constantly aware of most things in every dimension all the time? That’s just too much white noise: and it sounds like a Looney Tunes cartoon where the skunk is floating along in a cloud of love and appreciating every flower until he gets slammed by a train.

Sure – it means that our lives are less interesting. But that’s just the price that we pay for safety.

So when we experience art, it does not happen by accident. It is a deliberate and conscious exploration of our higher faculties: a function of anticipation, cued memories and framing.

I look at a painting because I hear that it is worth looking at. A colour sparks off dusty neurons that once held the curling taste of lime ice-lollies at the end of a school day and the smell of guinea pigs burrowed in damp straw. I am told to pay attention to the artist’s use of foreground, and logic begins to quickstep with the other senses. It is sublime sublimation. And that is why it is Art.

But it requires concentration.

4. My Personal Bet

We’re just distracted by life.

Although, if I’m honest, the distraction of number 4 and the need for concentration in option 3 are probably the same coin.

Why I’m Mentioning This

Business is not art. Well – it’s a kind of art; but the earthy, practical kind that doesn’t look anything at all like art.

However, in most businesses (and in most relationships, in fact), the big problems (and opportunities) get lost in the fray. In the general distraction, and in the conservation of momentum, everyone trundles along repeating the same stuff that they did yesterday. All the way to the brink.

And then everyone is surprised and a bit horrified when it all goes wrong. Or when you realise that you missed the opportunity to invest in Google when the price was 60 bucks.

From time to time, what is needed, is an in-depth, sensual concentration on the fullness of the status quo.

I’m not saying that businesses should do it all the time. Maybe just once a month. It’s called a “strategy meeting”. And it’s the reason we have them.

Agreed: it might seem like a fairly lame connection to the experiments – but it doesn’t stop it from being true!