Reflecting on my Constellation lectures (Understanding Humour in the Context of art and Design by Theo Humphries) and research into Illustration Theory .

Personal Development Plan (Part 1)

Starting the first term of Theo Humphries’ ‘Understanding Humour in the Context of Art and Design’ Constellation module, I expected to learn how to craft Humour into Art, or what the balance between art and humour was. I believe I had that anticipation installed by a Simon Munnery stand-up routine in which he quotes a review of his show “The closest Comedy can get to being Modern Art” recognizing it for the back-handed compliment that it is.

I learnt the sciences, history and modern contexts of humour (only a little of this was confined to being through the context of Art and Design). Learning early in the lectures about Hippocrates’ wetness-balance theory gives some gravitas to the study of humour/laughter; as an indicator of good health. We discussed similarities and distinctions between Tragedy and Comedy; one begs empathy, whilst the other suspends it.

This respect for the health of the mind was emphasized in our looking at the effects of Brutalism, and living in a one-size-fits-all, mass-produced environment. People like to personalise their habitats. Being forced to live life according to production-conveniences leads to some natural dysfunction, as shown to us in the Chaplin movie ‘Modern Times’ (1936).

We were shown the strict rules that create Chindogu (un-useless inventions) and asked to create some of our own. It was quite a challenge and it became a self-conscious task, cursing ourselves for thinking of an invention which succeeded in being worth using. I enjoyed presenting my designs for ‘The Human-flap’; a human-sized cat-flap on your front door for when you’ve forgot your keys). Concerning Chindogu; with the information I have now gathered on comedy theory I’m particularly impressed with two of the strict rules that the inventor supplies,

6) Humour must not be the sole reason for creating a Chindogu

8) Chindogu are never taboo

The details of rule 8 explain that it’s intentions is to prevent offense or exclusion of anyone from it’s enjoyment. I understand now through research that this kind of control over comedy shows is common but unspoken, especially as offense becomes a more prominent tool of mainstream comedy. Rule 6, most likely designed to keep the functional element of the invention realistically usable, (but inconvenient) helps keep the Shindogu concept in a strictly surreal world, farcical but not too whacky. The result of this is that Shindogu is less gimmicky, and more of an Art. Confusingly; forcing this concept to take itself seriously would obviously seem humorous to most.

Some of the visual representation of theories have stuck more prominently in my mind than the worded information. Mcgraw’s Venn diagram in his presentation of the Benign Violation theory sits comfortably as an explanation for many jokes, possibly because it is so visually neat. Kant’s quote on the Incongruity theory is also memorable to me through the imagination of stimulated senses (sounds suggested):

“The sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing” – Kant

The Superiority theory sits uncomfortably with my experience of humour. It would suggest that humour comes only from finding individuals to be inferior (even f only for a moment). I find the idea has some more appeal if it is applied to the temporary seeming inferiorities of an idea rather than personalities.

The information I’ve been given which I struggle to come to terms with is the concepts and ideas that cannot be proved/disproved or realistically theorised in the humour world. Because humour relies so much on context, and personal preference for types of humour; it is difficult to delve deeply into what and why things might be funny. What I have learnt is that laughter is the result of surprise, so a new ‘thing’ has to be introduced in order to create humour. However, the contradiction is that the four main theories of humour cover all humour throughout history. So I’ve learnt with effort, that the study of humour (apart from the science) is always a study of the new artefact, culture, morality, and ‘why it was found funny, and when?’.

Pesronal Development Plan: Part 2

For our second term’s lectures , the focus was shifted to preparing for our dissertation. I was confident that my area of study would be humour-based, that it would include and be heavily involved with much of the content of the first term. The first term had covered many topics, but I remembered our seminar on jokes that were considered in bad taste, and that more disagreements came about from this in the class than many others. I felt that this because there was no objective answer to give, since it was a morality question, and the common morality is constantly in a state of flux. The only theorizing done on the subject was concerning when and where supposedly inappropriate humour was inappropriate. I thought more than most that highly insensitive subject matters for jokes should be confined to a place where you can take it or leave it, rather than on public transport or on the street. But I have since seen Youtube footage of comedienne Josie Long performing her act on a bus. The breaking down of the performer/audience barrier is acceptable/ suitable to Josie Long’s comedy because she usually makes herself the fool of her performance. This makes a clear distinction between offensive comedy and a ‘fool’ act which I can more fully appreciate after getting through some of the suggested reading.

After a conversation on my academic interests my lecturer Theo specifically suggested I read ‘A cultural History of Humour’ Bremmer, Herman (1997) which has helped me understand the functions of humour and more interestingly; Carnival. This has heavily informed my dissertation writing, of which I am now at the proposal-completion stage.
I’ve found searching for proposal angles/thesis/questions to be a difficult task as I dig into different theories and move on, rather than getting an urge to explore, prove or disprove a single topic.
As I’m uncertain whether it can be proved or disproved, I’m currently settling on questioning humour as an indicator or a component of shifts in morality or popular interests.


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