An Opinion Piece: Humour In Art Is Never Funny

As someone who has some kind of interest in contemporary art, I’m dismayed again and again and again at the utterly terrible sort of supposed humour displayed by the average conceptual artist. (And there are a lot of very average conceptual artists about.) Just take a look at this description from a recent series of uploads over at

Conceptual artist Ceal Floyer is celebrated for her deft manoeuvres in everyday situations, testing the slippage between function and implication, the literal and the imagined. Working in film and installation, she reconfigures familiar objects as sources of surprise and humour. In Light (1994), for example, a solitary unconnected bulb is lit up from four sides by slide projectors; in Stable (2008), the ubiquitous folded beer mat, often found wedging a dodgy table leg, is called on fourfold, to bear the load of all four table legs.

The former example of those “deft manoeuvres”, and to an extent the latter, just ends up reminding me of this exchange between the music critics David Quantick and Stuart Maconie on Radio 1 in 1995, while discussing those fateful Blur and Oasis singles from that August:

Quantick: …The Blur record at best is like mid-period Wings in quality, and the Oasis record at possible best is better than ‘Je Suis Un Rock Star’ or a Mick Jagger solo record. They’re okay records, they’re good records I grant you, but it’s not like a great moment in world history. They’re not even as good as a Smiths record. They’re both quite nice.

Maconie: No, I think they’re both top notch records! People are saying that the Oasis record is clichéd and run-of-the-mill, but I think that it’s in a deceptive way one of the cleverest things they’ve done because there are a lot of intricate things going on in the background.

Quantick: Not to be entirely derisive, but it’s clever and arty in the way some bricklayers making a birdhouse out of bricks is clever and arty.

And that’s really what “Light” is – a birdhouse made out of bricks. Conceptual art seems to mostly be nothing but an endless array of cute jokes about stuff that doesn’t matter. I did use to go to bat for this kind of thing, but after a while it just wears you down and you want to read a comic book or play a video game or even listen to bloody “Country House” for the first time in over two decades instead of subjecting yourself to tedious arse-ache like this.

Incidentally, I’ve lost count of the amount of times some gallery or online magazine type site describes this kind of shit as “wry” or”playful”. How about aiming for “interesting” and maybe even “good”? Also, if anyone who writes for The Wire (the magazine) comes across this, how about making your publication not feel like you’re doing homework when you read it?