private meanings and public purpose

It is almost unfathomable to comprehend the workings and the processes of what could be considered average human imagination in all its glory of striving through a thought process littered with reason and the irrational, the real and the netherworld of obscurity. However, an unusual imagination of brilliant, creative innovation is even further removed from the elusive strands of understanding. It often places us in the realm of private meanings and public purposes and in terms of art confronts the viewer with a visual language often not easily decoded as the futile efforts with the Mona Lisa and the Ghent altarpiece are witness to; in which cases certain peculiarities are construed to have multiple meanings or an absence of meaning. Could these masters have harbored such vague and ambiguous designs? hardly.But how to understand this phenomenon of personal comedy coexisting with personal tragedies from the minor to the epic.? We become fascinated by a work of art, and then become fascinated by our own fascination…

---Chantry:This Year’s Model completely flabbergasted me. It actually took me a long time to figure out it wasn’t a misprint. And, when I realised it was a joke, I never looked at graphic design in the same way again. I firmly believe that “contrary thinking” was his biggest contribution to graphic design. His ability to step outside of the accepted conventions and poke them with a stick endeared him to an entire generation of designers desperately trying to re-invent the language of design. And that’s why punks loved him. click image for more...

Spruill: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.” …the much neglected Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, where Freud found similarities between jokes and works of art, it would be worthwhile to draw a sketch of the “love-child.” That child was the product of breaking the rules which purport to separate science from art, rules which would dictate conformity and submission to authority rather than revolution, and rules which call only for conventional solutions to oedipal dilemmas.

---Maurizio Catalan uses humour as a tool of transgression. In 1994 he persuaded his famously promiscuous Paris art dealer Emmanuel Perrotin to spend a month dressed as a giant pink phallus. The history of twenetieth century avant-gardism is one in which gallerists have had to be increasingly more than reasonable in accommodating transgressive art practice. Cattelan is a trickster who uses his artistic licence to the full. And there can be a more serious side to his actions, as one commentator notes: the comic and the abject are not dissimilar: the feelings they evoke, pity or disgust, often hide behind the mask of the joke: a technique which Freud considered as a form of pleasure, loosening inhibitions within a socially acceptable framework. (Janus 1997) This particular commentary continues noting Cattalan’s use of ‘situational aesthetics’, an evident reference to the Situationist movement headed by Guy Debord. This reference indicates an attempt by the commentator to imbue Cattalan’s work with social significance.--- Read More:

Art Chantry:The first time I saw a real punk poster on a telephone pole, I was stopped dead in my tracks. I peeled off that poster and hung it in my little apartment and stared at it for weeks. It took me a long time to process what I was looking at. When I ran into Barney Bubbles’ work shortly thereafter in a record store, it was like looking at messages from Mars, utterly alien to everything I had learned about design and art. Even after the initial impact of punk, it was still an intensely foreign language to me….But the really contrasting aspect was his thinking. Whatever was going on, he did the opposite. It may not have seemed that way in his mind but to the general pop culture trend at large around him, it was coming from an alternate position. It even seemed contrary to punk.

Chantry:That stepping outside the printing process and then throwing in a spanner will forever be part of my thinking as a designer. I’ve also used the “wear-ring” idea, the “off register’ ideas, the primary color overlapping humor, the retro-revival of lost styles idea… All of these quirks and jokes have been morphed into a base-level part of my particular graphic dialogue. I NEVER grow tired of that sort of thinking. click image for more...

…The other major factor which grabbed my attention – more than all of the other designers working in the period – was his wondrous sense of humour. He must have been a wonderful guy to hang out with.
Every one of his covers is a carefully rendered inside joke. To me he is at his most marvelous when he references the very process of design itself – through intentional MISTAKES!

---As a self-taught artist with a humble background, Cattelan uses wit and humor to force us to reconsider the accepted ‘canonization’ of art. Like many Cattelan works, the current Untitled piece deals with the authority of law; the artist is portrayed as a burglar tunneling into the museum, taking the viewer with him on the quest to liberate art from the confines of the institution. As the figure emerges into the grand gallery with a quizzical expression, Cattelan challenges and subverts the usual process of enshrining art.--- click image for more


Spruill:Similarly, in 1905 he published the “Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria,” Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, and Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious — and two minor papers as well. In fact, Freud wrote the books on jokes and sexuality side by side. He kept the manuscripts by each other, and worked on one or the other as it pleased him. Among their common attributes is the view they give of Freud’s imagination operating at different levels simultaneously. The two books, seemingly so different, are integrally related. During the next three years, he followed up certain of the motifs in these works with psychoanalytic applications to the fields of drama, literature, religion, sexual morality, and character….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….

---In the event, the board narrowly voted not to show Fountain, and, according to one account, it was hidden behind a screen. Duchamp must have been pleased with his work, quite apart from the satisfactory ruckus it caused, because shortly afterwards he arranged to have it photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, taking a good deal of trouble over the result. This image is the only remaining record of the original object. It was reproduced with an anonymous manifesto the following May in an avant-garde magazine called The Blind Man. The accompanying text made a claim crucial to much later modern art: "Whether Mr Mutt made the fountain with his own hands or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view - created a new thought for that object." It was this publication as much as the initial scandal which made Fountain famous. And what happened to the original?

best guess, according to Calvin Tomkins in his biography of Duchamp, is that it was thrown out as rubbish by Stieglitz shortly afterwards (a common fate of Duchamp's early ready-mades). By a delicious irony that the artist must have enjoyed, all the versions of Fountain now extant - including the one in the Tate show - are not ready-made at all, but carefully crafted hand-made facsimiles of that "Bedfordshire" urinal.--- click image for more...

…But who makes up jokes? What impels them to do it? What are the dynamics of the creation of a work of art? Freud did not know, nor do we. In 1930, he remarked: “Even the best and fullest of them [biographies of great men] could not answer the two questions which alone seem worth knowing about. It would not throw any light on the riddle of the miraculous gift that makes an artist, and it could not help us to comprehend any better the value and effect of his works” Read More:

---However, it is also worth noting that at this point Michelangelo had caught on to the Vulgate Bible's mistranslation, that Moses did not have horns and--perhaps most importantly--that Pope Julius II was a douchebag. As such, good ol' Mike became one of the first artists we know about to deliberately reinforce this error, not to preserve the artistic style, but simply because he knew his sculpture would decorate the tomb of a Pope who really was that big an asshole. --- click image for more...

So, we can see that humor can be independent of aesthetic beauty, and properly used does permit a social commentary to pass embedded in the artwork with detracting or negating an important consideration that art possess complexity and skill of execution, with the humor/irony acting as a sub narrative within an elaborate visual language.

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---Keith Martin-Smith:It is using irony as the main criteria for judging art that is leading so many cutting-edge artistic institutions to cope with falling membership and declining interest — art has become an inside joke about an inside joke that fewer and fewer people are interested in hearing. Pynchon and DeDillo write primarily for postmodern critics and for lovers of postmodernism, but the rest of us, who think creative work should aspire beyond irony, find it flat, boring, and trite. click image for more...

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