It would seem that humour and style are inseparable. But humour itself is not-never was-mere jocularity. Humour is a way of feeling about life, and when humour is great it is almost never without one of its opposite moods- tenderness, tragedy, concern for people’s condition, recognition of human frailty, sympathy with their idealism. Think of how closely the performances of Charlie Chaplin skirted the borders of sadness- which is, of course, the reason why he was always a great comedian, not just an entertainer.
Humor was intrinsic in the style of Paul Klee, the great stylist. Humor, bitter humor, was the informing spirit of James Ensor. It ran like a fire through the most powerful works of Goya, with their sardonic laughter at cruelty and injustice. Humor is present in the penetratingly realistic portraits of Velazquez, too, and in those of Eakins. Humor, that in-seeing kind of humor, accounts for the unrealistic style of Oskar Kokoschka; humor is present in every object and every painting that Picasso ever made. Humor, then, one might say, is an eruption stemming straight out of keen understanding and often, not surprisingly, out of hurt idealism.
But these reasons are deep substrata and are slow to be recognized; instead the category of “l’art humoristique” is used as a label of exit for those unable to fathom layers of meaning and complexity.
Once, Guillaume Apollinaire sat for a portrait by Henri Rousseau, before Rousseau had been accepted as part of the art scene. The painting was exhibited at the Salon des Independents, and Apollinaire was so certain of what the critics would say about the work that he prewrote their comments and deposited them somewhere in affidavit form. His predictions were accurate. Rousseau was dismissed.