Know what you hate, it might be your humor

In his article How to be an artist art critic Jerry Saltz presented 33 lessons for artists. Lesson 12 read like this: “Know What You Hate. It is probably you. Exercise: Make a list of three artists whose work you despise. Make a list of five things about each artist that you do not like; be as specific as possible. Often there’s something about what these artists do that you share. Really think about this.”

There are a lot of great tips in the article, and many that I found easily applicable or possible to translate to my field (music/lyrics) rather than the visual arts. Yet,lesson number 12 always struck me as enigmatic. What did I hate? And why? In music? In art?

At this stage/age in life I don’t really hate anything. Maybe my youthful acids have mellowed and turned sweet? I have my taste, but I don’t really see the connection that the music I’m less attracted to (“KIDS, TURN IT OFF!!”) is provoking me because of something I share with it.

Yet, I imagined that Jerry Saltz might have written this article with younger artists in mind. So I realized it might be more interesting to think about what I “hated” when I was younger. In my early 20s I studied comparative literature at college (the international canon of novels/poetry/drama). I was young and determined. Serious, wanting to make my mark, have an opinion. Achieve status. = young male.

I recalled there was a Swedish poet, Werner Aspenström whose poems sometimes annoyed me. And the reason was – they had humor. Not haha-funny, but a mild humorous view of the world that I took as smug, self-celebratory for being clever, having wit. Or even slightly silly, like dad jokes.

At the time, I wanted my poetry Icarian and grand, elevated and pretentious. Dealing with serious matters, angst and agony, rather than gentle, humorous observations of the animals and insects in somebody’s backyard.

Checking back in with that particular poet nowadays, I can see that the younger me might have failed to see or appreciate the modesty and friendliness in his writing. He wasn’t trying to show-off with his humor, but generously sharing something that amused him. Inviting other people to smile with him.

In my dayjob as a copywriter I have quite a few opportunities to work with humor. But I have always kept my sense of humor separate from my art.

I think I have some untapped potential there, that I’d like to put in some work to discover. Maybe even give myself permission of some kind. My conclusion is simply that I now believe myself to have a lot more in common with Werner Aspenström than my yester-me understood.

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