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“Why isn’t Art Writing More Humorous?”

Today’s question reads as follows:

“Why isn’t art writing more humorous? If art people took themselves less seriously, maybe more people would be interested in the field.”

I completely agree that art people should take themselves less seriously. But then, in the same way, all people, of every stripe, should take themselves less seriously. That’s not to say, for example, that issues like climate change should never be taken less seriously. Problem is, we don’t take them seriously enough.

But along with a sense of urgency, climate scientists, journalists, etc., should also have a sense of humour.

And they do.

After the Trump administration announced, in the summer of 2017, that they would pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, the Weather Channel dedicated its entire front webpage to trolling the administration, asserting that climate change is real and harming the planet with headlines like: “So, What Happens to Earth Now?”; “Still Don’t Care? Proof You Should”; “… and More Proof …”; “… and Even More Proof …”.

Yup, that model White House and little orange man are drowning in a puddle

Coming back to art — something far less planet-threatening — I’m not sure whether we all would be more interested if art people were less self-absorbed.

There’s an argument to be made that the arts and cultural fields, along with the entertainment industry, are attractive and popular in part because of the vanities of their major players. We seem to enjoy simultaneously admiring and mocking celebrities and cultural elites. How many art people secretly, or not so secretly, aspire to be divas, or are already somewhere along the diva spectrum?

In any event, this question is aimed at art writers, not star artists and curators.

So why isn’t art writing more humorous?

Well, for starters, humour is HARD!

Not that I’d ever want to do stand-up, but if I were any good at telling jokes, I’d certainly incorporate more of them into my criticism … A priest, a filmmaker and an art critic were on a radio show in Singapore [drum rimshot punchline sound effect].  True story: I once argued on a radio show against censorship (the banning of content), advocating for regulation (the rating of content), and then some listener calls in to say that if the government stopped censorship, there would be riots on the street [canned laughter]. 

Come on, that was a little bit funny right?

If you think about it, though, the problem can’t be that comedy isn’t as easy as it looks. ‘Cause making art is hard to do.

It’s not like there aren’t a lot of artists out there trying — many of whom, frankly, are just okay at it. What about the legions who are less than average? How many awful poets are there in the world? Each one more sincere than a puppy dog. Much better, I guess, than being a corrupt and hypocritical politician. (Maybe I need to spell this out. I am joking. It’s not helpful to throw around terms like “bad artist” without explanation. What makes a painter or poet bad? Being a bad person? Someone who can’t draw or rhyme to save his life? Who decides what’s bad? What about the ironically bad? And what do we do with all the bad artists, send them to bad biennales? Too many questions! Let’s move on). 

 Maybe it’s some mistaken ideological presumption.

Art is important, damn it! Therefore, we, who write about it, are important people! Or at least, let’s pretend we are. And so we attract the “self-important” instead of the “important”, and being humourless becomes the default mode for too many an art writer.

Snobby art critics – what one might look like

Yet bad habits are not destiny — meaning, we could choose otherwise.  This question hits the nail on the head and also answers itself: the reason why art writing isn’t more humorous is because art people take themselves too seriously. I’m not sure what else to say.

I don’t want to end with a rallying cry like, “let’s all try for a little more levity in our writing.” That’s not very satisfying. I wish we found ways to be more light-hearted, even when taking on heavy issues like ecological catastrophes. I wish there were less self-important jerks in the art world, or make that, the world in general. I’ve got my wish list, just like everyone else. Maybe the question is not about why but how.

How can we get art people, indeed all people, to laugh at ourselves more?

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