What Fun Is That?

Intensive Care, by Lee Puffer Ceramic and mixed media.
Intensive Care, by Lee Puffer Ceramic and mixed media.

Is there any room for humor in the arts, among artists? Why are we so reluctant to laugh at ourselves? Here we are, a group of people who, if given the choice, would spend all day playing in the mud or slathering paint, yet we seem to take ourselves so seriously.

Ceramic artists, WE know how to have fun. Right? We drink good beer and bourbon and host pot-luck dinners. We love to watch things burn. Ceramic art itself can be hilarious, but the artists have a serious (pun intended) problem. We, as a group, are not funny.

Just the other night at a gallery opening for a beloved colleague, amid albeit serious work, successful artists gathered to exchange pleasantries and to eye one-another suspiciously. No laughter, just somber, guarded chitchat.

Everyone agrees that art world is very competitive. It seems that there exists a finite amount of opportunities, glaze recipes, letters of recommendations, web-site designers – whatever it is we decide we need. Not enough to share. We must be afraid that if we let down our guard, we may loose our edge. I’m not sure I agree.

Money is another consideration. If we are lucky we are teaching. Even in these coveted jobs we are underpaid, our programs underfunded and often undervalued by administrators. Maybe money has never been a priority for us. Yet we need it. So is it financial insecurity that keeps us cranky?

Ceramic art still resides in a ghetto of the larger art world, something that irks many of us, but not all (remember the tired art v/s craft debate?) Maybe we have a chip on our shoulder or an inferiority complex because of all this. Even within our ranks we are divided.

Competition, money problems, inferiority complexes, and vulnerability all cause stress. Laughter is a proven stress reliever. Even my very minor research into this topic provided claim from various sources that laughter reduces stress, relives pain, strengthens immune function, aids in overcoming fear and (!) triggers creativity.

My work as an artist has always been based on my own experiences; self-referential. I criticize social conventions through the lens of my own experience. More often than not, I am criticizing myself in the process. I try not to shy away from difficult or unpopular concepts. Hopefully there is enough pathos and humor in the work for viewers to empathize with what they see. During an exhibition, I am delighted if my work provokes laughter.  It is supposed to be funny, but only the bold dare to laugh. Because my work is personal, I do feel somewhat exposed and vulnerable when it is on display. Laughter diffuses that.

I think many of us would consider our work to be personal, even private manifestations of our most essential selves. Is it because we are so exposed that we are so serious? Are we so afraid of being laughed at, that we will not laugh at ourselves?

Many of us do not take conscious inventory of how our thinking habits affect our happiness and success. When we inhabit a world we perceive as competitive and with limited resources, “we become defensive, self-serving, short sighted and simplistic.  We react rather than create as our better aspirations give way to survival behavior.  Stress accentuates our natural biases.” *

Obviously, if we keep thinking and behaving the same way (a negative response to the stresses of our lives) things will not improve. I think we need to evaluate our thinking.

We should open ourselves to the possibility that it is not a threat to share fun and information. We could laugh together and help each other out. If we change the way we think about ourselves, our peers, and the availability of resources, we might be able to improve our lives and our world. We can start by laughing.

* http://www.workingwider.com/systems_and_processes/how-to-encourage-expansive-thinking/