Wit is the theme of the latest exhibition on Paddle8, a new online destination for admiring and acquiring art. It’s curated by Glenn O’Brien, culture commentator and author of the new book How to Be a Man. Here’s what he has to say on the subject…
“Wit is understanding, intelligence. In Old English witt = knowledge. It is the power to perceive analogies, and relationships between incongruous ideas. It is the ultimate non-violent weapon, and the whoopee cushion on the throne. Wit was the daemon of Socrates, and the muse of satire on the ancient stage, and today it remains the most significant means of intellectual initiation. Wit is the great catalyst of unprecedented combinations.
As civilization enters its post-civilized phase, being funny, once the job of the servant class – jesters, clowns, fools – has become more and more the job of fine artists. As culture fragments into subcultures, and as wealth and power are reallocated, there is still a place for broad comedy, but we now require luxury forms of humor that provide the elite with comedy they can own, with speculative jokes. The artist possessed of wit holds the passkey to the billionaires’ locker room.
Today we see the emergence of a haute schtick that combines the palliative efficacy of, say, Milton Berle with the consumer exclusivity of, say, Joan Mitchell or a Kelly Bag. We can combine the feel-good accessibility of a Henny Youngman with the impressive prices of an Andrew Wyeth.
But seriously, folks, funny is the new serious. With romanticism all but discredited and the sublime unavailable until further notice, art as wit has stepped in to fill the void. Modernism has always been, at its essence, something that you have to ‘get.’ Today’s elites are almost entirely demarcated by symbolism. It’s insider meaning-trading. You need the passcode to enter the club. In a nominally democratic society, cultural initiation is how society is apportioned into groups of shared sensibility.
Wit is surprise and revelation. Initially we may not know exactly why we are laughing, but the fierce baring of our teeth, the involuntary rhythms of our diaphragms and the howls that may occur spontaneously present living proof of the power of wit to rearrange the world.”