Iconoclastic Messages by Banksy

Religious imagery is something that can be found in artwork all through the centuries. An anonymous world-renowned graffiti artist who goes by ‘Banksy’ places traditional paintings in public places altered to send an iconoclastic message about society and government. In this image he depicts a traditional figure of Jesus dying on the cross, but in his hands can be found shopping bags full of presents and candy.

Jesus, an iconic figure in religious history, has been turned into a puppet to fit the mold of our consumer driven society. The rhetor presents an iconoclastic view that the integral commemoration of Jesus’ death and the religious aspects people describe themselves to be living by have been lost to Santa Clause’ presents and the Easter Bunny’s candy. By associating the image of Jesus’ death with shopping and consumer goods, Banksy is forcing the audience to re-evaluate what society values as most important.

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Banksy wants to remind his audience of the reasons Jesus died on the cross, and make people contemplate if they are living the way God has intended. The rhetor is iconoclastic because he allows the audience to formulate their own opinions by simply encouraging thought provoking questions through his artwork. Banksy utilizes his work as a catalyst for societal and political change. The anonymous character known to the world as Banksy, a London based street artist, is known for reworking traditional pieces of art to send a message to both authority figures and society in whole.

The ethos of the rhetor is important because he is highly regarded for many reasons. Banksy is unwavering in his mission, and refuses acknowledgement and profit from his work. Thus further solidifying that he wants no gains monetarily or in celebrity distinction. This rhetor has the authority to make this particular argument in the eyes of the public because he himself has not fallen openly victim to the consumerism traps of society. Banksy has one objective: to rid society of its modernistic flaws.

Since the beginning Banksy has employed his work to address political and social ssues at hand in which the government and society are always the butt of the jokes. Those who view his art positively do so because he has made many political, iconoclastic statements in his work before and he seems to do it for no reason other than as an attempt to clean up society. The general public accepts Banksy’s work as constructive. Society feels not that Banksy is attempting to degrade what people have become, but instead that he has made it his mission to aid in ridding the world of the countless pitfalls in which most are trapped.

This rhetor has the authority to makes such bold statements because he portrays a self image that has nothing to personally gain, contributing to the audience’s belief that he is genuinely and solely looking to construct and rebuild a healthier world. The rhetor is prompted to create this image because of his views about what society has become and the ways in which society is currently failing. The argument is shaped upon the assumed religious knowledge that Jesus died on the cross thousands of years ago so that all mankind could be saved.

He was a man who lived by simple means, and never valued tangible goods or monetary success. Banksy has created an image of Jesus being weighed down by consumer goods to aid in the realization that society is now consumer driven. People live in ‘the now,’ forgetting what is important. Banksy displays the vicious cycle of being so consumer driven by including a circular image above Jesus’ head. This exingence is employed to prompt theoretical discourse over the skewed idea of what society values most in current times. Banksy is addressing society’s failing morals and values.

The rhetor’s motivation for the piece is to present his idea about the disappointment he believes Jesus would feel seeing how his efforts to save mankind have tragically been thrown aside and forgotten. By associating the image of Jesus with such trivial social activities like shopping, the rhetor is sharing that he believes society has adulterated the big idea of the Bible. Its entire scope wanes away until soon enough, any salvation God intended Jesus’ death to bestow upon the people will be lost while consumerism and monetary concernment will take control.

The ways Banksy uses this skewed image of Jesus on the cross suggests that he believes society needs to break away from strongly valuing consumerism the way it does currently. The rhetor utilizes this image to depict what he believes society has become, and how drastically different it is from what God envisioned. In this particular image, Banksy has included Jesus to further depict his anti-consumerism views, believing that Jesus never intended Christians to value tangible objects.

The rhetor gains support because he is not attacking society as a whole or blaming anyone in particular. By including Jesus in a sense he is defending religion whom so many regard so highly. By defining his position as defensive of God rather than attacking what society has become people are forced to re-evaluate what they value most. The rhetor’s suggested stance on the issue and the way he presents the controversial religious topic rallies support and acknowledgment of society’s faults rather than denial and outrage.

The nature of Banksy’s work is iconoclastic in the way he blatantly designs images to rebel governmental authority or depict the failings of society. He places his work largely on public buildings where all passersby can see. Banksy’s ideal audience ranges from governmental authority figures to religious enthusiasts to everyday ordinary citizens. He is working for change, implementing enthymeme suggesting that he hopes his audience will react by identifying with his stance and aid in spreading his iconoclastic message.

Banksy identifies with his audience because the message being sent applies to all. The inclusion of Jesus in the image produces an elevated likelihood that religious people will understand and identify with the message. The rhetor is aware that Christianity, one of the most popular religions in the world, does not support consumerism in the excess affection of tangible goods. By including Jesus, Banksy is able to directly depict how he thinks Jesus would feel about the value society places on money.

The message resonates because it touches on religious values, something that most people attribute to their way of life, morals, and reason for being. The image portrayed piques emotions and creates enthymeme. Banksy appeals to audience members’ emotions through pathos of religion, knowing that those who view the image who have religious beliefs will begin to question the way they are living. Religion is a passion at the center of one’s being, so by invoking a religious sentiment, the rhetor is creating enthymeme. He has pawned an iconoclastic image, and from there the audience will formulate their own ideas about the failure society has become.

The image suggests that the rhetor wants the audience to feel Jesus’ pain and contemplate the necessary steps of change. The image of Jesus on the cross employs enthymemes by relating a monumental religious sentiment of the past and altering the image in a way that all can directly relate to the metaphorical sense that society is sucking the life out of the savior in order to have all of the tangibles that will only end up weighing people down in God’s eyes.

The rhetor pushes the audience to evaluate the current state of society by evoking pathos, leading the audience to use their own logos to reach a similar conclusion as the rhetor on their own: the modern consumer-driven society is far from what God intended the world to be when Jesus died on the cross to erase mankind’s sins so that they might seek salvation. Banksy prompts the audience to ask, “what is the purpose of life at all if we are not seeking salvation? ”

The rhetor’s medium, elaborate wall paintings of graffiti, is historically used to express underlying social and political messages. Graffiti itself is symbolic of a rebellious nature therefore society generally views graffiti with inherently biased eyes. This can be viewed as both advantageous and disadvantageous. Since the rhetor uses no language, solely images, he is limited in how detailed he can express himself. In Banksy’s favor, since his choice of medium is historically iconoclastic, people viewing his work are already expecting to see a rebellious message on some topic.

In a sense, their minds are ready to process his message before they even look at the building he has covered in art. Although Banksy has many revolutionary ideas it is hard for a graffiti artist to establish legitimacy therefore limiting his power beyond the spectrum of the people. Graffiti, despite the fact that it can have much to offer, is considered vandalism. This limits Banksy’s possibilities to invoke political changes and does not allow him to do more than rarely ‘plant the iconoclastic seed. ’ After this point, he is rendered powerless in how far his message will reach.

Even though Banksy is a world-renowned graffiti artist who has many legitimate ideas that he places very publicly around the world, his choice of medium handicaps him a spectator after each piece is complete. The overall effectiveness of ‘Consumer Jesus’ is debatable and inconclusive. The argument is persuasive in some way to all whom view the image, which is believed to be the rhetor’s intentions. The most significant aspect of the artwork, the inclusion of a religious icon, is what causes divergent reactions.

Many who view Banksy’s piece are struck by the realization of what society has become and as a whole have failed Jesus’ hopes for the world. These people are moved by the realization that society has fallen and are driven to make changes and turn their focus back to the intangibles that God has intended. Others have been offended by the rhetor’s inclusion of Jesus and have released media reports detailing how Banksy has ‘hurt the sentiments of the Christian community’. If exigence is intended, not all in the audience will receive the message well. This piece of art prompts me to re-think the things I value most.

I fall into the same category as most, of those failing Jesus, and I think this is the reason so many people have claimed to be offended by this piece. It strikes a deep chord and touches on faith, a things religious people are intensely protective about. The artwork suggests that Banksy is pushing society to change, which is a thing most are unwilling to contemplate. The piece is effective because it plants a seed, which I think is Banksy’s intention. The way Banksy seems to be reaching out to society conveys that he does not intentionally offend, it is simply an inevitable aspect of being iconoclastic.

His work produces the effect that he does not wish to tell society how to perform, but instead to invoke thought provoking questions allowing the audience to formulate their own beliefs.


  1. “Mangalorean. Com. ” SBangalore: Christian Community Unhappy With Controversial Jesus Graffiti In Media. Bangalor Mirror, 3 Aug. 2012. Web. 13 Jan. 2013. <http://www. mangalorean. com/news. php? newstype=local&newsid=335856>.
  2. “Banksy « GrooveTOAST. ” GrooveTOAST. N. p. , n. d. Web. 13 Jan. 2013. <http://groovetoast. wordpress. com/2010/12/07/banksy/>.

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