Recorded on November 14, 2009.
The market for humor expanded rapidly in the United States in the years following the Civil War. By the 1890s, this taste for comedy had erupted into a “plague of jocularity,” as one writer put it, and prompted art critics to try to contain it in the realm of so-called high art. But why was humor so threatening? What kinds of humor were out of bounds and for whom? Jennifer Greenhill, who teaches the history of American art at the University of Illinois, College of Fine and Applied Arts, will discuss the artists who walked the line between levity and gravity. Through techniques adopted from the platform comedians of the day—such as Mark Twain and Artemus Ward—these visual humorists struck the funny bone by playing it straight.
This annual lecture recognizes a generous multiyear grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art. The Terra Foundation is dedicated to fostering the exploration, understanding, and enjoyment of the visual arts in the United States for national and international audiences.
Pictured above, painting Enoch Wood Perry (Talking It Over) 1872.