Illustrations by Sara Pfefer
Bridge over a Pond of Commercialism
by Stephanie Jennis

Art is the thread that binds humans together; it sends a message to the public and requires that they not only understand but also react to its purpose. Whether it causes shock, laughter, or appreciation, a masterpiece of any medium has an immense impact upon society. It trickles its way through history, and as interpretations of the piece grow more and more, artists add their own spin, creating entirely new, unique versions of the work. One example of this is Banksy’s repurposing of Claude Monet’s “Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies” which was, in its original form, intended to serve as the culmination of Monet’s style and to promote the contemplation and appreciation of nature’s unchanging beauty. Banksy’s version, on the other hand, de-romanticizes Monet’s ideal world and uses symbols of mass urbanization to persuade his audience to fight against consumerism’s massive control on modern-day society.

The original piece by Monet, however, certainly did not mean to elicit this reaction. “Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies” was intended to signify the start of a new stage in Monet’s career and life. Instead of seeking out the beauty in nature as he did before, Monet focused on what was right outside the doorstep of his gorgeous house and elaborate garden in Giverny. As Karin Sagner-Düchting writes, “In many respects, this marked a turning point. Monet traveled less often. On his own admission, he found it increasingly hard to leave Giverny…He was also increasingly prone to rheumatism…Having formerly painted a wide variety of subjects, he now concentrated on fewer and fewer” (28).  Giverny evolved into Monet’s sanctuary, a place where he could truly lose himself and forget the stresses accompanied with approaching age among all of the outside world’s forms and complexities. The maintenance of this setting and the subjects within it eventually became the fiber of Monet’s very existence as an artist.

Therefore, the construction of his house at Giverny greatly concerned him, and every aspect of Monet’s house and garden was meticulously planned and agonized over to reflect his artistic lens and style. The full-time care that Giverny required was a way for Monet to control his life, which seemed for him to be drifting away day by day. In his garden, Monet “sought chiefly for the flicker and brilliance of innumerable tiny points, a general iridescence of colour: in short, a Monet picture” (Gwynn 57). The garden’s pond became “a piece of water of his own, to adorn after his own fashion; a mirror of the sky at his own door, to set in a frame of his own devising” (61-62). A full-time gardener monitored and maintained Monet’s desired placement of the water lilies (Sagner-Düchting 50). Although this might seem trivial to some, the house and garden of Giverny was Monet’s prized possession.  It was the culmination of his view on the world. As Sagner-Düchting writes, “It was in the garden and water landscapes of Giverny and its environs that Monet found the ‘ideal’ landscape motifs to which he had always been drawn” (11). In a way, this find led to Monet’s own self-discovery, the ending of a personal journey and a coming to terms with both his surroundings and his identity as an artist.

In the comfort of Giverny, Monet created one of his most famous series and well-known pieces of art “Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies.” The painting, in its dotted splendor, reflected the beauty that he saw in the natural world, beauty often ignored or undermined. He wished for his audience to see and appreciate the environment for how he saw it and to express his identity. As Gwynn states in Claude Monet and His Garden, “Where Monet differed from other artists was that he endeavored to see more, to represent not a generalized image of many passing phases, but actually one momentary phase of the illuminated world…what he sees in his magic pool are not merely images but symbols. It is a cry of ecstatic contemplation” (65-66). Many people did not relate to this message, however, and “contemporary critics regretted that the Japanese bridge series displayed so little variation and was painted from an almost unchanging viewpoint” (Sagner-Düchting 52). What these critics did not see was that Monet was probably painting a similar scene for a reason; through repetition and countless hours observing a particular setting, Monet saw something that was worth noting and expressing through his masterpieces. While he could not travel any longer, Monet left his legacy by showing his audience how the nature around them can reflect a person, how they lived, and their desires. The perfect order and symmetry of Giverny brought comfort to him, and it was through this scene that Monet seemed to find his place and leave his memory in art.

While Monet’s version of “Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies” was private and meditative, Banksy’s repurposing, “Show Me the Monet,” promotes activism and uprising among the lower and middle classes. Banksy, a graffiti artist from Bristol, England, wishes to remain completely unnoticed by the world. He wants his identity to shine through his artwork. He is very systematic about the way this happens, however, attempting to control his image and how his audience will perceive him. Will Ellsworth-Jones writes in Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall that “Hiding behind a paper bag or, more commonly, e-mail, Banksy wants to protect and preserve his own narrative, and he does this very well.” Ellsworth-Jones also writes “it is perhaps ironic that a graffiti artist appears to be trying to authorize the way people both think and write about him. Which is sad, for his work speaks for itself ” and perhaps disappointing for his fans to read him in one way (2). This mysterious artist has set the stage for street art across continents. Although Cedar Lewisohn is unsure that Banksy’s work will be long-lasting, he writes that “in terms of impact and raising public awareness, Banksy’s career is unmatched…He is the most high-profile artist working in this way” (120). Using streets, buildings, and cities as his medium, Banksy travels all over the world sharing his opinions and forcing people to listen, to hear what he has to say, follow him and perhaps start a movement of their own through art. Referring to the 2008 Cans Festival, where Banksy invited several street artists to stencil Leake Street in London and where viewers could also contribute, Banksy reveals, “I’ve always felt that anyone with a paint can should have as much say in how our cities look as architects or ad men” (qtd. in Edlin 56). For Banksy, street art is about the message and the medium that contributes to its spread. It is an art form that belongs to the people, and it gives them a certain kind of power, to do with as they wish, which is a view that motivates most of his work.

The title of Banksy’s “Show Me the Monet” is itself significant, calling on pop culture associations to consumerism and capitalism. The title references the film Jerry Maguire, in which the famous lines “Show me the money!” are uttered in a phone call between two main characters, where one, Jerry, is challenged to make as much money for a client, if not more, than a competing company or he will lose the man’s business. This desire to compete, to fully immerse oneself in a consumer-based society and emerge successful is one that Banksy attributes to the artistic world. Replacing money with Monet in the title of his work suggests that Monet’s masterpiece is a moneymaking machine. It sets the standard for art, saying that a successful piece in this society is one that has received the most attention and funding from museums. Monet is money.

Banksy’s “Show Me the Monet” was actually one of many pieces of art by famous connoisseurs that he repurposed. Like Monet, Banksy had entered into a new stage in his career and life; rather than simply paint on walls as he usually did, Banksy decided to abandon the idea of creating his own masterpieces and to make a statement through pre-existing and iconic works of art. He featured these in a gallery called Crude Oils, an “exhibition that might have had the feel of a slightly more traditional gallery show, but there was one important difference: 164 rats running around the gallery…if you did not have the right pass, you were allowed in for only three minutes which did not give too much time to dodge the rats and see the paintings” (Ellsworth-Jones 130). Through this medium, Banksy spoke to how fast-paced consumer society is and how people are always rushing to find the most opportunities, gain the most success, or get the best deal. Therefore, not only did he use the repurposing of these masterpieces to show how the world revolves around money and power, but he also used the kinesthetic medium of his art gallery to make his audience feel the effects of this competitive society and be uncomfortable in an environment, which they had probably already gotten used to. It caused them to think differently about the world around them and question whether or not rushing around and being aggressive was the best way to get the most out of every day and every experience.

Banksy certainly does not hold back when it comes to Monet’s masterpiece. In fact, Banksy’s systematic placing of symbols in his “Show Me the Monet”, two upside-down shopping carts and a traffic cone, violate every boundary that Monet placed within his piece. The shopping carts, a standard representation of consumer culture and a means of transportation for goods, are placed upside down in the pond and interrupt the stream of lily pads. This shows how the entire system of commercialism has gone awry and causes chaos in the originally meditative scene because the carts are outside of their controlled storefront environment. They have infiltrated nature, a seemingly uncontrolled factor of our world, and their presence shows how consumerism has slithered its way into environments originally untouched by its influence. The shopping carts distract from the beauty of nature, just as consumerism diverts people’s attention from reality, keeping them always wanting more than they can have. The carts, since they are in the foreground and command the audience’s attention with their neon orange color, become more familiar to us than nature and take precedence over its beauty.

The other object that he introduces into the scene is a traffic cone, which is an object that attempts to govern our world. It directs people where they should go, guides the public along their route, determines where they can and cannot enter, and holds significant symbolic and literal power. By placing this seemingly insignificant object into the scene, Banksy commands the audience’s attention and shows them how one object can dominate an entire space. The cone communicates to the people viewing that they should be cautious around the area, and avoid it, convincing them not to even look at the surrounding beautiful scenery, possibly deeming it unsafe. The cone and shopping carts show that industrialism is spreading and tainting the natural world. By placing these two objects which are symbolic of the control that consumerism has on our lives into Monet’s painting, Banksy shows the audience that just three industrial symbols can take precedence over Monet’s beautiful landscape, which took him years to complete.

Monet’s “Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies” reveals a personal side of the artist. It represents his style, and by sharing it with the world, in a way, Monet is sharing part of himself. The audience uses Monet’s lens to see his unique, private view of nature. This type of art makes people comfortable, as it is quite conservative in its message to the public. It shows one scene and one way of looking at the world requiring no real connection other than with nature and how its beauty makes the viewer feel.

On the other hand, Banksy contrasts this appreciation and complacency for the natural world by incorporating a social, environmental issue into a well-known masterpiece that many people have come to enjoy as an icon. He states, “A small group create, promote, purchase, exhibit and decide the success of art. Only a few hundred people in the world have any real say. When you go to an Art gallery, you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires” (Banksy 143). For Banksy, then, Monet’s piece is a trophy, a symbol of high status and expertise that brings power and prestige to the museum in possession of it. Therefore, his version of Monet’s work goes against this and seeks to emphasize the view of the lower classes, not of the upper class that Monet was in, which gave him the privilege of being able to build his own house and garden.

Banksy represents the common people’s opinion about the rise in consumerism, pushing its immense consequences onto his audience and making them uncomfortable. As Lewisohn writes, “Where many street artists simply put forward their surreal messages in a ‘take it or leave it’ fashion, without presenting any discourse with their work, Banksy offers some form of critical opinion time and time again” (117). He shows that Monet’s ideal world is too much of a paradise. He most likely chose this piece of artwork because it is culturally known and respected. We have all gotten caught up in the beauty of Monet’s world and, in doing so, have ignored the reality of the situation. Banksy, per his style, makes Monet’s painting ironic by throwing off his symmetry, showing that the world, despite what we might like to believe, is not that way, and we need to do something about it. Banksy “combines urban interventions with anti-system messages in buildings, mixing writings and paint strokes. His graffiti work is authentic street art that challenges the consumer capitalist imaginary with irony” (Garrigós 4). Rather than make his art simply an expression of the lens in which he views the world as Monet did many years before, Banksy makes this lens our responsibility; it points out the very thing that we would like to ignore about our society and insists the audience takes action. By reworking Monet’s masterpiece, Banksy critiques its very core saying that we should not be content with the way that nature looks right now because we have destroyed it. We all want an ideal looking nature, but Banksy shows us that we need to open our eyes and see the world around us for what it truly is, and perhaps, by some slim chance, shows us that we might be able to do something about it.

 


 

Appendix

 

Monet, Claude. Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies. 1899.
Oil on canvas.The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York City.

Banksy. Show Me the Monet. 2005. Spray paint and oil
on canvas. Crude Oils Exhibition

 


 

Works Cited

Banksy. Wall and Piece. London: Random House, 2007. Digital file.

Edlin, Jay. Graffiti 365. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 2011. Print.

Ellsworth-Jones, Will. Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013.

Digital file.

Garrigós, Virgilio Tortosa. “Intermediality, Architecture, and the Politics of Urbanity.” Trans. Asunción López-Varela. CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 13.3 (2011): 1-7. PDF file.

Gwynn, Stephen. Claude Monet and His Garden: The Story of an Artist’s Paradise. New York:

The Macmillan Company, 1972. Print.

Jerry Maguire. Dir. Cameron Crowe. Perf. Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. TriStar Pictures, 1996. Film.

Lewisohn, Cedar. Street Art: The Graffiti Revolution. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 2008.

Print.

Sagner-Düchting, Karin. Monet at Giverny. New York: Prestel Verlag, 1994. Print.

 


When my professor assigned a 2500 word essay in which we had to describe a cultural object that was being repurposed, I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated. What object would I pick and where would I start? She told us to pick an object that really spoke to us, that got us thinking in a new, unique way. I had been hearing some news about the movements of a graffiti artist named Banksy and his multiple run-ins with the police for making some strong political statements through art on public buildings. Since this was such a touchy topic in the world of street art and very relevant to society today, I knew it would be intriguing. After some thought, I decided to focus in on Banksy’s repurposing of a well-known, famous painting “Bridge Over a Pond of Waterlilies” by Monet.  It was interesting to me how time and symbolism could change how an audience perceives a particular painting from its original form in 1899 to Banksy’s version in 2005.

I started my research online, first looking up reliable biographies and autobiographies of both Banksy and Monet to get a better idea of who these artists were, where they were coming from, and what were their contributions to the creative world. Then I looked up the paintings, taking a significant amount of time to look over them, pondering their meanings, paying attention to the detail and technique in each. Once I exhausted these online sources and had a good idea of the masterpieces I was working with, I moved on to the library where I searched for books that went beyond the biographical level and explained how each artists’ work, specifically “Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies” and “Show Me the Monet,” made an impact on their respective fields. I looked up how people perceived Monet’s masterpiece, and then searched for reactions to Banksy’s version and reviews—who it shocked, who it intrigued.

Besides looking up these sources and how other writers analyzed these paintings, I thought it was also important that I put my own interpretation into the essay. I tackled the added symbolism in Banksy’s work and how the addition of everyday objects like traffic cones and shopping carts changed the meaning of Monet’s classic piece and made a statement condemning modern-day, consumer society. My goal was to show how the evolution of Monet’s painting into Banksy’s repurposing sends a message to society about how crucial art is in making statements about the world around us. My hopes are that my paper makes a ripple in the discussion of art, allowing people to see how a masterpiece truly impacts the world around them.

Prof. Stewart

When students submit their final, polished drafts of this essay—a researched rhetorical analysis of a cultural object—they’ve reached the top of the mountain that was our semester. Ta-da! (And whew!) The fifteen week-long pathway to the top of the mountain is deliberately and methodically winding, as we practice new skills again and again, around and around, building our foundation stronger and higher.

When writing this essay, students practice observation, description, analysis, interpretation, and synthesis to develop and complicate a thesis—all the while, thinking critically about the ways in which a writer’s or artist’s decisions are shaped by the complexities of a rhetorical situation. The icing on the cake, or the snow on top of the mountain, is research. Once they’ve reached the peak, students find themselves skiing gracefully among other scholars who have also worked their way to the top—their tracks intersecting in a beautiful, complex design.

This assignment also gives students the opportunity to cut their own paths as scholars. Draft by draft, students learn where their own interests fit in the wide academic world. And I learn so much about my students by seeing the world through their eyes. During the fall of 2014, I learned not only about Banksy and Monet, but also the volleyball from Castaway, lipstick as a tool for protest, Winnie the Pooh’s role in the environmental movement, the difference between geeks and nerds, and what it means to pursue and then surf the ideal wave.

Paper Prompt PDF