looking for the punch line

There is always the question in art of private meaning within public purposes, a kind of personal humor characterized by a kind of sharing between joke and dream. As E.H. Gombrich asserted, there is always an underlying code that serves to generate the message. As if something has been forgotten, and there is something amusing in attempting to recover it,the result being an approximate language; the joke arising from this tendency of displacement. We remember in a disguised way only to lose insight, especially if our imagination is operating at different levels at the same time.

---On the other hand are the painfully attenuated figures, suggesting near starvation, the stark, immobile, emotionless faces, without masks or make-up. One of these paintings, called Saltimbanques, inspired the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, to compose his famous fifth Duino Elegy. The picture shows a family of acrobats standing rather awkwardly about in a moment of repose that is heavy with fatigue and futility. Rilke asks, "But tell me, who are they, these acrobats, even a little more fleeting than we ourselves?"...Read More:http://physicalcomedy.blogspot.com/2009/11/happy-birthday-pablo-picasso.html

But, in visual images, they are condensed . Why? Because in dreams there is often a synthesis, a combining of features belonging to a number of figures that a conscious mind could not conceivable make head or tails of; the joke process being a reaction against this absurdity and enigma rooted in the primary process of the unconscious mind which might not be able to differentiate between opposites. A girl is stopped by the police in the Montreal subway for acting like Hitler. She returns the next day as Marilyn Monroe. Evidently, medication is an issue. but, both the dream and the joke may also express a meaning by the use of the exact opposite. Our unconscious mind is able to understand the hidden meaning because,as  Ehrenzweig says, ‘the technique of unconscious perception and image-making is less differentiated than our conscious language and imagery’.” Read More:http://www.psychoanalysis-and-therapy.com/human_nature/glover/chap1.html

The work of the individual imagination can be considered to be sourced from the fecund psychic swamps in which we live in. The bayous and backwaters, the French “marais” of the mind there is a rich habitation of the small and organic as well as a few monsters lurking on the bottom of the pond…

Signed After Picasso Lithograph, Le Clown et l'Harlequin (The Clown and the Harlequin), 1971

Freud asserted that there were similarities between jokes and works of art.Picasso once said that every good work of art is a kind of joke. Diego Rivera, the revolutionary Mexican muralist, agreed. Every piece of worthwhile art, properly understood, is not only like a joke, it is shocking. It must connect its elements in a new way; the world comes to be seen in a new way. A punch line of a joke may get a laugh, or perhaps only a smile. A first view of a great work of art may make one smile, more likely not. But it will be shocking, often without the viewer knowing quite why. “So art may not be a joke,” Rivera said, “but it is always like one.” Read More:http://www.analysis.com/vs/vs85.html

---While the harlequin in this early composition is dressed in whiteface and a conventional parti-colored unitard, his averted gaze and contemplative, melancholy demeanor are in marked contrast to his traditional role as a clown. Holding two fingers to his cheek, he rather epitomizes the thoughtful introvert. The café setting, enlivened with bold floral wallpaper and accoutrements for smoking, further heightens his isolation from his surroundings and from everyday pleasures. Here, as elsewhere, Picasso has revealed the private sadness behind the public face of this character—an interpretation that has greater resonance when one considers that the artist often regarded his clowns as representations of his alter ego. Painted in Paris in the autumn of 1901, the somber mood of this picture might reflect Picasso's own profound feelings after the recent suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas. Source: Pablo Picasso: Harlequin (60.87) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art---

Max Sterner, an influence on Picasso was tapping into this filtering process represented by visual language, in the mid nineteenth-century. He believed in individual self-realization through “voluntary egoism”, with morality being an artificial concept that limited the freedom of the individual. Thus, he heralded the twentieth Century of the Self. His  rejection of conventional morality would be seized upon by the Nazi-ideologists and anyone else that sought to legitimize anti-social behaviour.  While mainstream art would idealize the upper,and upper-middle classes, Picasso’s depiction of the margins of society, to which his circus artist subjects appeared to belong, would work the ambiguous nature of the joke and humor as part of a conscious move towards the political left.

---Watteau. Pierrot is a stock character of mime and Commedia dell'Arte, a French variant of the Italian Pedrolino. His character is that of the sad clown, pining for love of Columbine, who inevitably breaks his heart and leaves him for Harlequin. He is usually depicted wearing a loose, white tunic. --- read more:http://wellingtonforce.blogspot.com/2009_11_01_archive.html

The art historian, E. H. Gombrich, who collaborated with Kris (1952) was similarly encouraged by Freud’s work on the joke mechanism, hailing it as ‘the germinal model for any account of artistic creation along Freudian lines’.15. He remarks that Freud made a step forward for psychoanalytic aesthetics when he described the joke as a preconscious idea that has been exposed briefly to the workings of the unconscious. This means that it is not the content so much as the form, the dream-like condensation of meaning which is characteristic of the primary process, that is important. Gombrich stresses that the two supreme virtues that recommend it to the historian and the critic of art are the ways in which it explains the ‘relevance of both the medium and its mastery’ – these being elements that have often been neglected in many psychoanalytic approaches to art.Read More:http://www.psychoanalysis-and-therapy.com/human_nature/glover/chap1.html aaaa

Jackson Pollock. The She Wolf. 1943. ---Like Kris and Gombrich, Ehrenzweig believes that it is Freud's analysis of the joke (and the primary process functioning it represents) that is particularly valuable for a better understanding of the formal aspects of art, and their relationship to what Ehrenzweig (1967) calls the 'hidden order of art'. Thus both Ehrenzweig and Kris make an effort to de-emphasise pathographical interpretations of art and to highlight its autonomous nature. However, where Kris regards the primary process as an essentially archaic, form of thinking (hence his term, 'regression at the service of the ego'), Ehrenzweig sees the primary process as primitive, chaotic and uncontrolled, only from the point of view of our rational, conscious modes of perce

n.... Read More:http://www.psychoanalysis-and-therapy.com/human_nature/glover/chap1.html


Harlequin plays a peculiar role in the Picasso oeuvre. He recurs frequently throughout the almost fifty years of painting, and always he is treated in a conventional, representational manner, no matter how wildly distorted the other paintings of the period may be. All the harlequins have a dignified composure quite out of keeping with the traditional character of the original naughty, scampering clown. They are among the most beautiful paintings, restrained yet glowing in color, with firm, elegant line. Many of them are actual portraits of Picasso’s friends or his children. It is said that he keeps a harlequin suit on hand and dresses his friends up in it for sittings. The sadness of the early clowns is gone, and the sly humor of the cubist paintings and the sculpture are entirely absent. It is as though Picasso, the incorrigible comic, here wished to show the world that, though his appearance was clownish, he was at heart a courtly, kindly gentleman. Read More:http://physicalcomedy.blogspot.com/2009/11/happy-birthday-pablo-picasso.html


On Subjects…
“…even if the painting is green, well then! the ‘subject’ is the green. There is always a subjet; it’s a joke to suppress the subject, it’s impossible.” (Parmelin, Picasso: The Artist and His Model, and other Recent Works, 1965, p. 43) Read More:http://www.jameslourie.com/famous-quotes/

Picasso’s confession sets the seal on much of the 20th century painting:…

---Anne Stringfield:I found a marvelous quotation, taken from an interview with Diego Rivera’s daughter, which I thought summed it up beautifully, especially the last line: “Picasso once said that every good work of art is a kind of joke. Diego Rivera, the revolutionary Mexican muralist, agreed. Every piece of worthwhile art, properly understood, is not only like a joke, it is shocking. It must connect its elements in a new way; the world comes to be seen in a new way. A punch line of a joke may get a laugh, or perhaps only a smile. A first view of a great work of art may make one smile, more likely not. But it will be shocking, often without the viewerknowing quite why. ‘So art may not be a joke,’ Rivera said, ‘but it is always like one.’”... Read More:http://www.anthonymeierfinearts.com/artist/fernandez/articles/INTERVIEW.pdf image:http://msnyder.typepad.com/the_labyrinth/2008/11/page/2/

…”The time to look to Art for comfort and exaltation is past, but the over-refined, the rich and the busybodies trying to extract conclusive wisdom out of everything always hope to find something new, unique and unusual. Since the days of cubism and later I have endeavoured to satisfy these lovers and critics with those freakish ideas passing through my head and the less they understood the more they marvelled at me. While I amused myself with this sort of game I became famous and rich and that very quickly too. But when I am alone with myself I have no courage to consider myself an artist in the great and worthy sense. I am just a public joker who gained an insight into his days and has succeeded in exploiting the stupidity, vanity and avidity of his contemporaries. Of course my confession is bitter and painful but at least it has the advantage of being an honest one.” Read More:http://www.heretical.com/miscellx/jewart2.html


---The body language indicators that we instinctually look for to understand how a person feels about us are conflicting in this face. Her eye on left side of the painting has slightly increased muscle tension in those eye muscles normally associated with smiling and laughing. Also a dilated (opened) pupil indicates interest and excitement, and this pupil appears slightly more open than the other eye. However, her mouth on this left side is not showing an up-turn for a smile. A smiling eye without the mouth involved is a backward way for the face to express pleasure and happiness. On her opposite side (right side of painting), her eye is totally relaxed and not smiling, yet her mouth on this side is up-turned in a gentle smile. This would be called a "polite smile", at best. It is no wonder we are confused when looking at this painting. --- Read More:http://www.learnbodylanguage.org/mona_lisa_smile.html

Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905) was stimulated, according to Jones (1955, p. 335), by complaints by Fliess that Freud relayed so many bad jokes, and was so intrigued by plays on words. …

…The Joke book, one of Freud’s most important, has been neglected in English for several reasons. Jokes are even harder to translate than poems. Freud did not revise this book, as he repeatedly revised the ones on dreams and sexuality. Further, there has been a general coarsening of taste in the Western World. Many jokes that would have been adjudged daring, funny, or risqué in 1905 have become “bad jokes” today. Finally, Der Witz does not have quite the meaning of either “joke” in English, which has a wider meaning, or “wit,” which has a narrower meaning. Nevertheless, it is a pity that the work is so ignored. The Joke book bubbles with ideas, many not further elaborated to this day. And it is both ground to figure, and figure to ground to its companion, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.

Freud wanted to explain the pleasure obtained from jokes. He thought it depended on their techniques as well as their tendencies. Techniques involve condensation, displacement, indirect presentation by means of allusion, plays on words, the breaking of ordinary burdensome rules of logic, and the establishment of unexpected connections between disparate ideas. It is this latter that Koestler (1964) calls “bisociation,” the coming together of lines of thought from different levels of the mind. The same process was depicted by Freud in 1900 in his “nodal points” of crossing lines of associations. These techniques are like those that operate in sexual foreplay. Foreplay derives from the diverse infantile roots of sexuality, the “component instincts.” In “harmless” jokes, the pleasure is like the “harmless” play with words in childhood and the more obvious forms of “harmlessness,” i.e., the supposedly non-sexual play of older children and adolescence. In “tendentious” jokes, which always have to do with more genitally organized erotic and aggressive sources, there is a sudden organization of the pregenital components into foreplay, with a surprising, even shocking, climax, an orgastic-like discharge. Such jokes allow access to ordinarily suppressed unconscious fantasies, and combine them with preconscious fantasies on other levels. The result is a discharge and a saving of energy equivalent, Freud thought, to the forces ordinarily maintaining the repression. “Harmless jokes,” according to Freud, resemble the non-orgastic play of children more directly. Read More:http://www.analysis.com/vs/vs85.html
Because this unconscious substructure, the ‘hidden order’, ‘rises from deeper levels than those that shape the manifest dream and the joke’, psychoanalytic aesthetics has been largely unsuccessful in probing it. To a much greater extent than Kris, Ehrenzweig explores from a variety of perspectives the way id-processes are implicated in the creation and our perception of artistic form, and this is the main thesis of The Hidden Order of Art.

But although he praises Freud’s ‘brilliant analysis of the joke’, he thinks it strange that it could not ‘act as a pacemaker for the analysis of art’ when ‘the stage seemed set for Freud’s triumphant entry into the core of aesthetics’.. This failure to develop into a coherent psychoanalytic aesthetic ‘should have warned us that something was amiss, or even wrong, in the current concepts’. The ‘missing concept’, says Ehrenzweig, was the

… undifferentiated matrix below the more superficial condensations, displacements and other so-called primary process forms. These more superficial forms may be irrational in content, but are not so in their formal gestalt structure. I have suggested that their structure is a secondary revision imposed on the truly unconscious undifferentiated matrix below them.Read More:http://www.psychoanalysis-and-therapy.com/human_nature/glover/chap1.html

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