Colorado Art RanchPhoto: David Peterson

Denver Artposium October 4, 2008

What’s So Funny About Art?
By Darlene Morse

No one had ever asked me the question, “What’s so funny about art?”  But if someone ever does, I now have an answer.  I attended the Colorado Art Ranch’s Artposium in October of 2008, in Denver to explore that issue. 

I knew something hilarious would happen as I climbed the steps of the former St. Cajetan’s Catholic Church on the Auraria campus and was immediately handed a huge yellow smiley face button with my name on it. I also knew it wasn’t “Fantasy Island” with “smiles, everyone, smiles” I had entered. It was going into a space occupied by bona fide poets, musicians, writers, artists, curators, laughter yoga leaders, cartoonists and other people not generally known as funny people but who knew what humor was and how to use it.

It was a fortuitous thing that the venue was decommissioned because we filled it with laughter built upon knowing nods and recognitions of the absurdities of life. Colorado Poet Laureate Chris Ransick and Colorado Art Ranch Poet “Lariat” Marj Hahne kicked off with dueling poetry reading, each working off the other’s topic.  Both were excellent, evocative and, yes, humorous.  It was a draw.

The evening’s highlight came next with Roz Chast of The New Yorker magazine regaling us of how hard it is in truth to be funny. She said that for every one of her cartoons that make it into print, fifty or so do not.  She illustrated this with a photo of a crammed metal file cabinet filled with unused cartoons. We were all impressed. I had her sign my program. When I suggested a small cartoon, she laughed. Uproariously.

The next morning we stood in a group circle (this was, for some, before the morning coffee) and were told to laugh. I was in no mood for this nonsense until I took off my shoes, peeked around to see who else was laughing and then decided that it really was dreadfully funny to see some of these people looking silly. Meredith and David Vaughn, Certified Laughter Yoga Leaders, had us literally rolling on the floor. We learned how laughing can cause our bodies to be healthier by relieving stress and getting oxygenated.  And now, for some odd reason, I always laugh at my windshield wipers.

From there we heard Adam Lerner give us his irreverent but scholarly review of humor in the arts.  He was dressed in a black suit and tie with a white shirt. The reason was not funny (he was to attend a funeral later) but the absurdity of it was. He discussed that sort of incongruence with the programs that the former LAB (The Laboratory of Art and Ideas at Belmar) presented such as pairing two disparate speakers on one evening – “Quilting using the Star Patch Method” & “Discussion of the Geothermal Dynamics Maori New Zealand.”

Patty Marx, a columnist for The New Yorker, spoke on the topic of “It’s Not Easy Writing Humor.” What she showed us was that the process of creating humor is wonderfully humorous in an odd sort of way. But good. Growing up in a warped world doesn’t hurt, either.

During the lunch hour, participants took plates of food, loads of it, in fact, outside to the plaza. Students from Metro State College were scattered about, sprawled on sunny sidewalks, drawing the edifice of St. Cajetan’s. When we told one artist that we were learning about humor in the inside, she added a smiley face on her drawing of the outside.

Brady Udall, someone who, at first glance, looks decidedly non-humorous, gave us an enthralling and light-hearted glimpse into his inimitable world of writing. He was a former resident of the Colorado Art Ranch and read from his work from that period. His novel, The Lonely Polygamist, will be released soon.

Libby Rowe, an installation artist, showed us that there is a wealth of humor to be found in art, especially in her art. By taking common conceptions and playing them out, her audiences got to laugh at themselves which is the best kind of humor.

Saving the best for last, humorist, writer, artist and comedian-about-town Bill Amundson had us wondering how we had missed so much when it was right in front of us as seen through the windshield of our cars. Amundson began with a slide show. Yes, using a real slide projector and slides, he epitomized the middle-aged guy down the street who always made you look at his family vacation slides. Except that these slides were worth watching. He gave us an idea of what it was to see life through his eyes and understand why it was all so gall-darn funny.

During the wine and dessert conclusion, we had the chance to meet the current crop of Art Ranch residents. Gregory Carideo, Katie Kingston, Susannah Mira, Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, and Ebony Rose Scalf gave us a visual tour of their extensive and varied talents.

What I realized through this Artposium was that there are ribbons of humor rippling through all artistic expressions. The smirks, guffaws, gut-busting laughter, or slow curling up of the corners of one’s mouth all can be elicited through art. Some of it comes in the processes involved in making the art. Some comes even unintentionally during the appreciation of that art. And some comes right out and smacks us in the face demanding us to laugh. And we do.

Sked Schedule  
Matthew Moore Bill Amundson, Denver artist and one-time stand-up comedian, appreciates the spread of tan-colored housing developments along the Front Range. It’s all material for his series of works entitled I (heart) the Burbs.
Chast Roz Chast, cartoonist for The New Yorker, uses her Theories of Everything to help us understand guilt, anxiety, aging, families, friends, money, and real estate.
Periodic Table Marj Hahne, Colorado Art Ranch Poet Laureate. Marj is currently working on a series of poems that fit in the periodic table of elements.
record Adam Lerner, a funny guy with a PhD and the Executive Director of The Laboratory of Art and Ideas at Belmar, will give us his irreverent (but scholarly) review of Art, Humor & the Human Condition. He is probably best knownas the youngest member of the Brooklyn Squares, Square Dance Club, at age 9
Marx Patricia Marx, columnist for The New Yorker, novelist, and comedy writer, will  provide insight into why It’s Not Easy Writing Humor.
Ransick Chris Ransick, City of Denver Poet Laureate. A lover of all things literary, Chris has 27 years of professional experience with college-level courses and community workshops.
Womb worries Libby Rowe uses humor in her photography and installations to help understand this wacky, angst-ridden world. She will take us on a whirlwind tour of her observations and reflections during In the Pink.
Spayde Jon Spayde, a writer, Utne journalist, and performance artist from Minnesota, is the Eminent Emcee for What’s so Funny About Art?
Udall Brady Udall, a creative writing teacher at Boise State University, grew up in a big Mormon family in Arizona. He’ll give us a preview of his upcoming novel, The Lonely Polygamist.
  Meredith and David Vaughn are Certified Laughter Yoga Leaders based in Denver. They will entice the audience to take a spoonful of Laughter Medicine.





Keep update on the program. Join our news list.