Tuesday, October 29, 2013

NYC Title 10 § 10-117

No person shall write, paint or draw any inscription, figure or mark of any type on any public or private building or other structure or any other real or personal property owned, operated or maintained by a public benefit corporation, the city of New York or any agency or instrumentality thereof or by any person, firm, or corporation, or any personal property maintained on a city street or other city-owned property pursuant to a franchise, concession or revocable consent granted by the city, unless the express permission of the owner or operator of the property has been obtained.
Via Anthony Gill, Mayor Bloomberg vows to uphold the city's statutes.

Tony asks:
1. Graffiti (defined as someone painting on property without permission) would not be euvoluntary.
2. But, as noted in the last paragraph, being Banksy-ized raises your property value.
3. Also, it may turn out that you actually like a Banksy on your property but never knew it until you were Banksy-ized ... and lo and behold ... your property values are raised. (The question might be where is the "exchange" part in the [potential] EE, but allowing the graffiti to stay and hence publicizing the art to increase the value of Banksy's art portfolio might be considered the exchange ... especially after our last discussion about how far the chain of exchange extends.)
4. General principle: If someone does something nice for you without your permission and it increases your utility in some fashion, and they receive positive spillover effects, is it EE?
5. Now take it to the public property arena wherein Banksy Banksy-ificates a publicly-owned overpass and everybody who drives by likes it except Mayor Bloomberg. (Annoying the good mayor is enough to make it EE for all.) Is that EE?
Sam replies:

  1. Conventional ownership says property owners retain the right to keep their premises free of vandalism. Most folks would agree that one of the legitimate functions of municipal police departments is to enforce this common-sense intuition about property rights. Nothing controversial there.
  2. Ex post justifications about property value appreciation doesn't seem strong enough to counter expectations. Laws that protect upstanding citizens from having their exterior walls tagged necessarily impose restraint against fine artists like Banksy. Indeed, much of the value of his work is that it subverts convention.
  3. Hm. The best analogy would be a gift, albeit one that's costly to refuse. If a stranger ran up to you on the street and shoved a Warhol original into your hands and to get rid of it, you'd have to schlep out to Home Depot and pick up a can of turpentine, would you be put off, even if it turned out that you liked Technicolor panel art of pop celebrities from the 60s? I'm inclined to count gifts as euvoluntary, but again, that's under conventional gift exchange protocols. This? Depends on the person, I suppose.
  4. Value is subjective, art even more so. We can think of conventions using the same logic Buchanan and Tullock used to describe constitutional formation in The Calculus of Consent. A rule over the acceptability of rogue art has to be made behind a Rawlsian veil of uncertainty. It's not immediately clear to me that Banksy s anything but an anomaly, and that generalizing a rule based on the popularity of his work is necessarily prudent.
  5. Take out the name "Banksy" and substitute in the dude who scribbles shithouse poetry on public toilet stalls. There's some expectation of ex post regret in that case.
I also have a sneaking suspicion that Banksy would get himself up to other sorts of trouble if he found that his work were suddenly sanctioned. Pirate TV maybe. I wonder what Matt Frewer is up to these days. Max Headroom was a great show, way ahead of its time.

1 comment:

  1. I like Banksy. I would not like him if he suddenly appeared and sprayed his artwork all over my neighborhood. Not that his work isn't 'art' - IT IS. BUT...good art requires consent.
    Sure, my house might suddenly be 'worth more', but is it worth more to a smaller potential audience? Probably. There are people who would buy a Banksy-ized house. But there is likely a larger group who don't want to buy a house with a Banksy on it, which means my opportunity to ACTUALLY GET the higher house value is smaller - the potential buyers of my house may not want to live in my neighborhood!

    Now, counter this with Banksy on public property (a concept I have huge problems with at a basic level, but it exists today, so let's run with it). Banksy shows up and spray paints on a trestle. It looks great, I love it because I like Banksy's work. It increases the 'value' of the trestle in the community.

    But I also like Picasso. Sadly, not everybody likes Picasso. Or Warhol. Or Constable, van Gogh, Seurat and a host of other artists. Just because Banksy improves 'value' doesn't mean he improves it for everybody. Plenty of people in the Banksy-ized community may hate the art he put on the trestle.

    Banksy makes the assumption that art is 'for the people'. To an extent, it is. It should be accessible, at the very least. But just because art is 'for the people', doesn't mean 'ALL the people' want the art.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?