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When great art makes you LOL

Is funny art actually funny? The answer, as we see it, is a rousing chorus of “it depends”

By Alicia Eler & Alex Huntsberger

If you heard peals of laughter ringing out through the quiet, reverent halls of an art museum, what would your reaction be? Would you “tut-tut” in their general direction, maybe shoot them a glare or offer them a pointed “shhh”? If so, can we be totally sure that you, and not they, are in the right?

For contemporary artists who love to insert a little bit of humor in their work, the situation above begs the question: Can art be funny?

Yes, of course — but it doesn’t have to be, whereas comedy has to be funny or else it fails. The basic structure of a joke is simple: set-up, punchline, laugh, repeat. No laughs is proof that the joke doesn’t work. But art? It can be whatever it wants to be, as long as it’s full of thoughts, emotions, humanity, concepts, etc.

Another defining difference between art and comedy is that the latter has a clear purpose: the goal is to land the joke. In art, there is no clear goal — there is no end, and there may not be a beginning, either. The complete lack of rules — of form and structure — can be overwhelming. But artists, unlike comedians, also have a convenient out if their funny art isn’t really funny. When art is, it’s a bonus — but it doesn’t have to be to succeed.

But is funny art actually funny? The answer, as we see it, is a rousing chorus of “it depends.” Of course, to just use the term “art” when talking about this is to be imprecise. There are many different kinds of art — painting, sculpture, performance, whatever — and they each come with their strengths and limitations.

An image can of course be funny. For proof, check the internet. However, static art that attempts to be funny rarely succeeds at being both funny and art at the same time. This is inherent to its nature. In order to be funny, the artwork has to both set up the joke and deliver the punchline in one go. In order to do this, the art often has to sacrifice depth.

Because here’s the thing about comedy: it relies on the subverting of expectations, which means that it cannot exist without them. Jokes need to be clear and comprehensible, but ones that are too easily understood — where the punchline can be seen coming from a mile away — are often the least funny jokes of all.

Static art often lacks this element of surprise, because in order for its joke to be understood, it has to sacrifice most everything else.

Temporal art forms still have an easier time escaping the basic “get it/don’t get it” binary, and more gracefully collaborate with comedic forms. Because the art unfolds through time, it can create multiple sets of expectations and multiple forms of subversion. It can be funny in one moment and then deadly serious the next. It can play with multiple ideas — or at the very least many unique shades and tones within the same thematic palate.

A number of artists who are exploring with comedy create personas. In reality, many comedians would bristle at being told that they are not artists. And maybe they should. After all, they are expressing their own thoughts and views through the creation of original work — just like other artists do. Art can definitely be funny and still be art. More importantly, it can still be great art.

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Full story: hyperallergic.com

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