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?

When Writers Refuse To Understand Music That Is Even Just Slightly Weird For Unexplained Reasons, Part 3968236 In An Ongoing Series

I began reading this article on writing and publishing things online. It begins with some good advice:

Please, if you ever want anyone to read your work or become a successful writer in the commercial sense, let this next sentence sink deep beneath your skull and into the core of your being:

Your blog is not your personal journal.

If you want to document your personal life online, that’s fine, but don’t expect it to resonate with other people.

Yes, you need to tell stories. Yes, you need to share your personality. But if you make it all about you, nobody will care.

Okay, fair enough. Except… what do I see coming in the very next paragraph?

The same can be said for the topics you write about. There’s an audience for many types of writing, but don’t be shocked if people aren’t racing to read your underground heavy metal band review blog (this is an actual blog I’ve come across).

Okay, fucking hold up here. In what way is a review blog of obscure metal bands anything like a personal journal? How would a quick rundown of, say, a cassette released by some grindcore band from Brazil be equivalent to an awkward confession about your porn addiction, which is what the writer gives as an example of an overly personal and pointless thing to write about? (Yeah, yeah, you can probably write a joke about that, but I’m avoiding it.) I can practically smell the condescension through my desktop monitor. “Oh my god, can you believe that someone took the time to write actual reviews on a bunch of people who just scream instead of sing and they’re not even well known?” Well, yeah, I can imagine that. And I’m happy that that stuff exists.

There are those who do appreciate having somewhere to read up on their favourite new bands who are resolutely not pop / big-room-EDM / ukelele-based-advert-music. There are also those who read such blogs in the hope of finding out something new in their genre of choice. Nobody who writes these things is under the impression that they’re going to have a million readers by the end of the month, they do it as a service to people who aren’t interested in music that is deemed acceptable by the criteria of wankers. And I say all this as someone who isn’t the hugest expert on metal or anything, but does respect the genre and happens to enjoy some of it. It may be far from “commercial writing”, but it provides a valuable service to some.

I’ll end this by pointing out that the second quote above contradicts something that comes a bit later in that same post:

Share what you know about a certain subject people want to learn about.

I don’t think I need to spell it out any more at this point.