when art fails xabier gantzarain   This story will be familiar to you. They showed Banksy’s film Exit Through The Gift Shop at the 2010 Donostia Film Festival, and just then this image appeared in the old part of town.

A man looking at an empty frame, as if asking himself: What am I looking at? Like a set of Matryoshka dolls, everything you see here is like a precedent, a part and an embryo of everything that is going to appear in the image.

As you’ll remember, it was quite a lamentable spectacle. Was it Banksy’s, wasn’t it, it didn’t matter who’d done it, it had to be removed, then it didn’t, the city hall would keep it there even if it wasn’t Banksy’s because it was a cultural manifestation, people painted over it, then scrubbed it off… It was a complete event.

But that pitiful spectacle took our measure well. In fact, it separates our ills one by one. And it reports our worst ill quite exactly: names and signatures. What is it we admire about Banksy?
If Banksy did it it’s art, otherwise it isn’t?
What does it matter if it’s art of not? Jon Alonso has translated some passages from Witold
Gombrowicz’ Ferdydurke in his novel Astrolabioa, and I’d like to mention a few of those pieces.

“First of all, I’d like to pull these words up by their roots: Art; and also, artist. Don’t you all get too wrapped up by those words which get repeated monotonously throughout eternity? Isn’t it truer that everybody is an artist? Isn’t it true that art is created not just on paper and canvas, but also in daily life in general?”.

Stop for a moment, put that question between your lips, take them in, say them aloud if you want to, isn’t that right?

“When the virgin puts the rose down, when a funny joke’s told in the middle of a deep conversation, when somebody confessed things to the afternoon, that’s all art, as simple as that. So why make this incredible separation? Oh, I’m an artist, I create art.

Shouldn’t it be said like this, for humility’s sake? Perhaps I’m interested in art and I do a few more things in art than other people.”

I hate it when they introduce me as an expert on art. To calm down, I always remember this sentence: You can always trust an expert except for in this area.

What is it that makes something art, what makes that art good? What, who? “And, secondly, why that cult, that admiration, called art “works”
when we’re looking at it? Where have you all got that absurd idea from, that man admire art, faints when hearing a symphony by Beethoven and then we die of pleasure? Haven’t you ever thought
how impure, confused and severe this cultural area is, this thing you want to fence up in your limited phraseology? I’ve heard this mistake time and time again: thinking that the relationship between people and art is no more than an aesthetic emotion, believing, what’s more, that emotion to be purely personal and individual, in other words, as if each of us lived in absolute solitude with that relationship, separated from all other humans. But, in fact, countless different emotions are mixed up in that relationship’s crucible, because so many people take part in it, and those people influence each other and create a group soul¨.

Once I heard an audience clap Placido Domingo for 80 minutes after one of his performances. And they say artists have egos. You should all read this wonderful book: Txalorik ez, arren (‘No
applause, please’). By Harkaitz Cano. I’d happily bring up more quotes from Ferdydurke, but I’d go on too long and I’ll keep it short, if you want them you know where to look, so here’s a summary:
Isn’t it truer that everybody is an artist? Isn’t it true that art is created not just on paper and canvases, but also in daily life in general?”.

Who can say what, in that beauty, is really beautiful, and the result of what historical-sociological process?

That’s why they stand in front of beautiful paintings, faint in front of them, but never in front of copies of the same paintings.

We keep on looking, ceaselessly, for forms and expression.

Form is something alive and human, something practical and daily, not an amusing part of art.

When we look for a form, it’s to make ourselves come true, not to give anybody lessons.

Try to oppose forms, set yourselves free of forms. Don’t identify with what defines you (Experts in art: always trust an expert

Eternal immaturity is our lot. There is another wonderful book, Parisen bizi naiz (‘I live in
Paris’), written by Koldo Izagirre. The last poem in the book is titled I live in Paris. And this is what it says: this city’s wonderful the incinerator’s smoke comes up to the windows in the block like me at an ironmonger’s pressing my forehead to the glass let’s not find out where the attack will come from the neighbours ring my bell we’re going to sign a document against the smoke the town planners have done us a lot of harm this time the upstairs neighbour gives me old postcards of the city dirty messages all along the bottom of the wall their young son’s cleaned it up they’ve brought the child a colour pencil there’s nothing for me to get angry about here but where’s tokyo where’s copenhagen where’s
Montevideo here where Beirut where Luanda
this is so cosmopolitan only in this child’s coloured drawings can your city be anything
What’s the fine for painting on a wall in Donostia without a permit?

For how long can they imprison you for putting up a poster? Nowadays you can see graffiti and banners in museums and art centres. No-one says anything because they’re art, they’ve become art.
When art’s done in the street, when nobody sees it as art, when no-one sees it as a work of art which should be respected, it becomes something else: it isn’t art which should be kept, it
deserves no praise, it’s part of society, part of the debate. That’s when it works best.