I wrote this awhile back. With the recent controversy about comedy not being art or ineligible for government funding. I disagree. That is my simple answer. To convince others of my position should I be clever and list examples of people who have reached the highest heights in our world…?
I do know this : If Robin Williams could win an Academy award at acting then Comedy is art. That Jim Carrey should’ve won for Man in the Moon. Is everything Daniel Day-Lewis done art?…so good that we award him prizes regardless of his work? For how immersive he is and was in his roles? For work we were amazed by originally but now pales in some ways in comparison with himself? Jim Carrey did that for “Man in the Moon”…I would say that comedians are more ready to be film stars because they have integrated their tragedy and turned it on its head. Don’t they say that art is pain? Don’t they say Comedy is tragedy plus time?
Truthfully, some actors who are granted superstar status leave me cold and yet they still have a following. I ran to see every Robin William’s film. And yet I won’t get off the couch for some actors. Maybe that is a question of taste but empirically there is a way of measuring that. $. Other people agree with their feet. And what about Actors who get credit for the work of others, the period costuming or the DOP lights it beautifully. They break that down on awards shows, so why no comedy award? Or as we suspect, it is a boys and girls club that doesn’t let people in. Is it fixed?
What is Art: If we take the position that it isn’t art, then is Jackson Pollock? His visual rantings are genius. His prose of colour is like a Sam Kinison rant about Ethiopians. It was a style cultivated after he learned how to render perfect images from drawing to paintings to finally “unsettling” on his style…he evolved to a style that people laughed at and yet now we understand. Picasso did the same. I went to the Picasso Gallery in Paris and saw his evolution from rendering to art…single lines that he need not explain. A distillation of feelings, a precise choice and the editing of all that was extraneous. Choices of style, of brush, of canvas. He literally knew that one line was enough to make art! Ask Steven Wright about that. Steven Wright might be the Salvador Dali of his time. A different medium but just as precise and surreal, probably inspired by him as media blend from one style to another. Art inspiring another Art. I have long since held the belief that Shakespeare was really more like vaudeville than Stratford’s snobby stages. Accessible and precise in its cutting and aimed squarely at the class that now claims it as its own. If only they knew the joke was on them. Every other Artform shares the same pointedness or should. Is not Banksy not really just making a big joke? The confusion about Art is propelled by the validation by others by way of funding.
Should art be funded? Many people argue that it should be. I would argue that real Art will emerge regardless of the restrictions placed upon it. But I would also argue that all Art has a cost to producing the best version of it. Be it giant canvases or recording albums. I also think it has something to do with training. I do think that a BA or going to OCAD doesn’t guarantee you are an artist but I it might make you an educated critic. Looking at a piece and breaking it down to certain elements is important but it is usually taught by someone who is really straddling the art world and trying to pay bills. I watch the fuss over plays and paintings, sculpture and dance and I see a lot of pandering. Are they breaking new ground? Are they pushing the boundaries? Should some be crowned artists compared to Richard Pryor who lived it so much so that he destroyed himself. She gets grants, he pushes up daisies. In sports, the two most popular sports are soccer and basketball. They are that because they are accessible. The “all you need” type sports might be compared to standup. “All you need is a mic”. But the truth is I have worked the streets without a mic, improvising around my act as children came and went…rewriting jokes on the spot to match my crowd. Could Olivier do that? Chaplin probably could. I couldn’t do that on my first day but I could at the end of my last. Some guys are letter-perfect every night. So precise in the wording as to elicit a response at the same time every show. That takes time… Yes some guys are frantic, or cool, or mean, all to draw out laughter one of our favourite responses.
Simply put: Comedy is Art
Robert Trick Johnston, BA. BEd