Comedy and Contemporary Art

Comedy is increasingly a tool used by contemporary artists two of my favorite artists who use humor in their work are Cory Archangel and Eric Yahnker.  These young artist blend comedy and art together seamlessly, knocking down the barriers between the two and pioneering the way for a fusion of the two creative arts.  As a student of both comedy and art I find these artists hugely inspirational and love their work and I’m excited by the growing acceptance of comedy in fine art and the use of humor as another way to discuss ideas.

The artist Eric Yahnker explains his interest in comedy as a desire to “…nail something so smart and effective, with just one line…” and goes on to say that he finds comedians to be “…the philosophers of our time.”  Yahnker uses humor in his work, both deep thought-provoking humor but also more immediate laugh-out-loud comedy.  Describing his work as “humor-based” and a kind of “glorified political cartooning” Yahnker creates hybrid or warped imagery using popular source imagery primarily in large-scale graphite or charcoal drawings.  The artwork serves as a humorous commentary on modern life that Yahnker describes as being constructed in the same way a stand-up comedy act would be.  Yahnker is sometimes accused of making “one-liners” he responds in an interview:

Guilty as charged. But, I can also draw a straight philosophical line from Confucius to Rodney Dangerfield. I don’t know how clarity got such a bum rap, but I personally get a kick out of the cable guy who can appreciate my work on his own terms, while the academic art critic can excavate further and appreciate it on theirs.

As technology and the internet advance they change the way art is made, Yahnker summarizes his feelings;  “Jasper Johns (circa 1965): “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.” Current: “Google something. Google something else. Photoshop it.”

Cory Archangel is an artist who has risen in the contemporary scene making art using similar cultural touchstones and comedy elements.  Archangel isolates a topic, as broad as video gaming or as specific as waiting for a Guns ’N Roses album, and then undercuts the seriousness of it.  Archangel creates humor in one of two ways but either introducing an enormous amount of work and making the practice absurd or simplifying and automating the activity to undermine its legitimacy.  Inside jokes are a growing part of internet culture that fascinates Archangel who creates a lot of his work on, for, and with the internet.  Archangel responds to the problem of inside jokes by widening his definition of “inside” and trying to cover many different niche groups.  Archangel also stresses the need for an artist to respond to his audience, Archangel changes the subject and style of his humor to suit his audience:

It all depends on who the audience is or what the context is. At one level comedy is for the masses whereas art…well it’s difficult to say because now with the internet, the internet is like a line-drive right down the fairway of context.

I am inspired by both of these artists and their works.  These artist are both tackling the world around them with the visual tools that same world provides.  I also admire their use of humor and pursuit of comedy as a forum for communicating philosophy.  Archangel and Yahnker both spoke about being inspired by various stand-up comedians which is something I really connect with.  Both of these artists use a variety of mediums and techniques to communicate their ideas, additionally these artists use the processes to create subversive humor in their artwork.  I push myself to explore new media and was inspired by how both artists and especially Archangel’s choices of media created additional layers of meaning and humor.   I resonated with these artist’s use of popular culture as a universal visual language as something I do in my own work.  Yahnker’s words about “one-liners” we’re really inspiring as I’ve found myself making so-called “one-liners.”  I feel like saying a piece of art work is a “one-liner” is like saying “make this more confusing” and I loved Yahnker’s defense of “one-liners” as being the result of clarity.  I find Archangel’s blurring of stand-up comedy and art brilliantly inspiring.  Archangel gets on stage at stand-up clubs and presents stand-up routines in art museums.  I’ve been toying with the idea of art stand-up myself lately and seeing an emerging artist doing that very thing is amazing to me.   Both Yahnker and Archangel seemed to be interested in talking both to “low” and “high art” and I resonated with their desire to connect with a larger audience.

A studio visit with Yahnker;

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