Can Non-Representational Art Be Funny?

Not in the sense of ‘Oh my God, this looks like a two-year old’s work.’

Nor in the sense ‘I can’t believe these guys don’t realize ‘Two polar bears wrestling in a blizzard’ is just a blank canvas!’

Can one communicate the equivalent of a joke via non-representational art? Can an “abstract” make one laugh with it?

I’m genuinely curious, and would love to see any affirmative examples.

Can you provide some examples first, to get the ball rolling? I’m not fully sure what you mean.

There’s this lovely cartoon, Warner Brothers, I think, where a Mondrian becomes a traffic pattern in a city. Then again, there’s a few fugues with both jokes and in-jokes in them… and anything can be an in-joke. If technical musical pieces can have jokes, why not non-representational art? (I don’t know if Beethoven’s 5th pre or post dates Morse Code. One of them is a joke, either the number 5, or the first few notes of the symphony.

That’s more ‘using’ non-representational art in humor, though. Wouldn’t be funny if the context didn’t let us know what was going on. The joke’s only complte when the images become recognizable as a traffic pattern.

Anaamika - I’m talking about art that doesn’t try to depict specific objects as they appear. I used to use the term ‘abstract’, but some abstracts actually have recognizable symbols or items. Try a Google Image Search for Piet Mondrian and look at the pretty color-square pictures that look like Partridge Family wallpaper, for instance.

Sorry, Sab - got distracted and didn’t address the rest. As big a fan as I am of referential humor, not all references are humorous. When I’m feeling down in the dumps, I don’t curl up with a good bibliography. :wink:

How ‘non-representational’ does it have to be? If it is deliberately divorced completely from meaning, how can the meaning contain a joke, when there is none?

After looking at some of Mondrian’s stuff, and thinking about it for a while, I would say no.

You can’t just present me with something that seems to have no meaning and represent nothing and think I will find it funny.

I could either put my own meaning to it, but then does that count? And if I see the author’s meaning, isn’t it representing something then?

If I am to laugh at it, I would need to know what it is supposed to represent. Jokes have meaning.

That’s where I’m coming from **Anaamika **; in order to contain a joke, it must represent the joke, mustn’t it?

Otherwise the humour isn’t in the piece, but in the mind of the beholder.

For example, you could have a piece consisting of nine bronze discs standing on their edges, with the tenth lying flat; one person may find it funny that the tenth disc appears to have tried to stand up like the others, but has fallen over; another person might find it sad; another might not perceive it as meaning that the tenth disc was trying to do anything at all (and they might find this funny, sad, inspiring, thought-provoking, meaningless or whatever).

Well, now, non-representational art can convey mood, perhaps. Certainly, thanks to long color associations, a messy mixtures of black and reds and browns looks ‘angry’.

But what I want to know is does anyone claim it can express something more complex than simple mood?

It can’t really relate a narrative - but neither can a still photo or normal painting by itself. It may be able to suggest an object but it can’t really describe that object - that would be representational. So I’m looking at concepts a step above simple emotions. Humor is a good one. Representational paintings can be humorous. Their subjects can be positioned in such a way as to defy our expectations, which is a good portion of what humor is about.

So is the entire communicative capacity of abstract art limited to the same capabilities as a set of emoticons? I’m hoping that some of the art aficionados on the board will speak up.

I suspect this is not universal (white being the colour of mourning [somewhere in the world] etc) - it may even be quite personal (i.e. not uniform) within a single culture.

You may not be the best person to respond, Mangetout. :slight_smile: It was repeatedly asserted to me that non-representational art has meaning, in a Pit Thread, oh so long ago. At least, that’s what I’m recalling.

And certainly, I believe the purpose of art is to communicate or decorate. I’m just not sure that non-representational art is fit for the former, and this is part of my exploration into the issue.

…and without wanting to be disrespectful to the experts, I would have thought this would be entirely the wrong set of people to ask; given that they will be steeped in the conventions, idiosyncrasies and symbols of the art world at large (and so it’s more likely that they will see representation of something in the piece).

Children would be better test subjects, IMO; if we had something to test them with, that is.

Oops. Did we fall out over something? I honestly can’t remember it.

No, I’m saying that you seem to be agreeing with my suspicion, so it’s not going to help me refine the position any. :slight_smile:

I don’t recall a lot of the folks who were of the opposition in that thread.

Can arts discussions be posted in Great Debates?

Yes, but they will then be moved to Cafe Society.

Oops. Thanks, tom. I sometimes forget about the all-encompassing juggernaut that is Cafe Society.

Interesting question.

If by “art” you’re referring strictly to visual art, I can’t think of how it could be funny, but if someone else can come up with an example, I’d be interested.

But if you include music, the answer is yes. A number of composers have introduced humor into their abstract compositions, whether by throwing in incongruous surprises, or playing things “wrong,” or parodying some other serious composition. For a really unsophisticated example, consider the razzberry at the end of the Liberty Bell March that introduces Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Humour in music…hmmm…I’m of the opinion that where it is present (deliberately or otherwise), it’s entirely contextual. There’s nothing inherently humourous about any ‘funny’ music, and in most cases it relies on external cultural reference-points.

Perhaps, but I’m not sure that effect is ruled out by the OP.

I’ve often laughed out loud at the musical “jokes” in the music my friends are playing but, yes, you’d have to more or less know Irish traditional music to get the jokes which are mainly odd ornaments, rhythmical quirks etc., though someone who doesn’t know the style might still catch the playfulness.

I don’t know enough about visual art to google for examples but I can see it being funny without it being representive. Say you had a series of Mondriaan style squares and then suddenly the fifth picture in the series had a really wobbly line.*

Or I could imagine a picture of with lots of austere grey lines and then suddenly a shape of a big purple blob. Just something I’m making up.

Another vaguely artsy are is design. For instance, this cup makes me smile.

Okay, I know this sort of thing is probably not going to have anyone in hysterics but I do think non representative art can be witty.
I’m not saying the “joke” is that it is a piss take on the fame of Mondriaan here. It would work IMO even if the paintings weren’t famous.

I peed on myself just from reading about it.

Seriously, I have been to art shows where non-representational works were part of a joke. The other part of the joke was the title. Mangetout’s bronze discs for example might be entitled “D’oh!”