Banksy works all night like a selfless elf and never gets the credit

If no one knows who he is, how will he feed all of the little Banksies?

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This week's Thought for the Day will no doubt see me being accused of something akin to schadenfreude, but all I really want to do is echo Gore Vidal's elegant misanthropy, to wit: "Every time a friend of mine succeeds, I die a little."

And while a few of my friends’ star-high salaries and lusher lives do put a little bruise on my day whenever I ponder them, it was the activities of someone who is neither friend nor foe which caught my attention this week and made me think of old Gore’s splendid mean-spiritedness. In an inverted fashion. Let me explain.

My wife and I watched a documentary the other day about the street artist Banksy and the year he spent in New York. If you are unfamiliar with Banksy, he represents something akin to the Grimm fairy tale of the Elves and the Shoemaker – about a kindly old cobbler who is going out of business. He gives his last pair of shoes to a poor old lady, then leaves out his last piece of leather as he goes to bed, intending to make his final pair of shoes in the morning – the sale of which should be just enough to cover his rent.

During the night, a little gang of elves appears in his workshop and proceeds to create the most beautiful pair of shoes. He manages to sell them for far more than their worth, buys enough leather for two more pairs of shoes and then feeds a homeless man with the rest of his money. That night, the same thing happens and next morning he finds two beautiful pairs of shoes waiting for him in his workshop. He gives one pair to another needy person and sells the other pair to a customer who recommends him to all of her society pals. His money troubles over, he makes some little clothes for the elves. Suitably attired, they are never seen again.

Banksy is like an elf with a spray can. Under cover of anonymity and created in the enveloping privacy of darkness, his work tends to appear on some random city wall or structure. The next morning, crowds gather, taking pictures of the freshly minted art and swelling the artist’s already enormous reputation.

What then tends to happen is that the owner of the wall slices the art from it and sells the work to actors or spacemen or rock stars for millions of pounds.

Now I love Banksy’s art. My wife and I were lucky enough to be in New York during his “residency” and stumbled on two of his pieces completely by accident. But it is this love for his work that brings me to Gore Vidal’s nippy sweetie of a maxim.

Well, in truth, I turn that saying on its head when I think of Banksy. I worry that he isn’t making enough money! If no one knows who he is ... and all of his art is in effect donated to whichever wall he chooses to put it on, how will he feed all of the little Banksies? Anyone have any ideas?