What is art? It’s a question whose answer has evaded us for centuries. Attempts to define it clearly have never worked because, like the wind, we can see and feel it all around us, but can never quite pin it down.
Frustrating as this might be, mostly we know art when we see it; this elusive quality is what makes it so fascinating and versatile. In turn, that means that art is forever reinventing itself and can appear in the most surprising forms, especially these days when fairly mundane items created for a different purpose are remodelled or redefined as art – folk art, for instance.
A good example of this is the EU entry gate sold at auction last year when the entire contents of Terminal One at Heathrow came up for sale. The hammer came down at £1000 and no one thought any more about it until the Royal Academy Summer Show opened a couple of weeks ago and there it was, transformed by Banksy into a new work of art combining humour and political statement. The gate itself looked almost the same as it had done when auctioned off. Banksy had added a shutter and painted the words Keep Out on it, rendered as Keep Ou because his signature rat had removed the T to use it as a hammer to break the padlock at the bottom. Not to everyone’s tastes, maybe, but with Banksy’s transformative touch, this work of art will be worth a great deal more now than its original auction price.