There is this idea, floating out in the world, of “good mischief.” It appears in pop culture and comes up in conversations — this dream of doing good by breaking the rules. The very notion feels incandescently cool, hinting at the last vestiges of our civilization’s renegade spirit. A trace of our rebel roots and a chance to cause chaos without hurting anyone.
It’s also a tough phrase to parse. What the hell does “good mischief” mean, in the literal sense? No credit for film, TV, or book references, either. We want actual examples, pulled from the real world.
Well, over the weekend we got one — street artist Banksy’s “shredder in a painting” stunt. It was a bold move and a wild story, cutting through the static to captivate millions. It was also absolutely joy-inducing to watch. A bunch of art auction suits rubbing their temples in baffled anguish? Sign us up. That moment where the Sotheby’s staff took the painting off the wall because they literally didn’t know what else to do? Gold. Straight up gold.
If you can see this and not smile, god help you:
Before we go worrying that this little bit of levity had a human cost (some mega-rich person getting less mega-rich), it’s worth noting that by shredding “Girl With The Balloon” and creating a rare viral moment for the art world, Banksy likely tripled the value of the painting. Tate Modern in London absolutely needs the piece in their collection now, and they’ll pay heftily for it.
The only loser here is Sotheby’s because they’re legally bound to give the painting to its bidder, thereby missing out on reselling it for more money. Spoiler alert: They’ll be just fine.
While the piece seems pretty direct in its objective — to literally shred the commodification of creativity — there are hidden layers worth exploring: Is the painting worth more now that it’s in ribbons? Probably. Is that ridiculous, considering that the aesthetics of the piece are ruined? Possibly. Are we, as a culture, more interested in the shredded painting that created a viral moment than we are in the arrangement of actual brushstrokes on a canvas? Most definitely. And what does that say about us?
Sure Banksy addresses these issues with the subtlety of a jackhammer (he also famously sold his original art on the street for $20 a pop, circling this same point), but 21st-century art never cuts through the chaos when it’s indirect. The modern art scene’s disconnect with the real world, the reckless ways the mega-rich spend money as the wealth gap increases, and our absurd habit of paying for things (purses, paintings, clothes) without asking ourselves about their greater inherent value, are all themes that are ripe for attack.
Also, forget the shredder scraps, this image should be in MOMA: