Artful Jesters: Innovations of Visual Wit and Humor, by Nicholas Rouse, is truly inspiring and delightful, whether you’re a collector or a mixed-media artist. In 157 glossy pages with high-quality photos, you’ll discover art you never new existed. It’s a weird, witty, wonderful book that’s sure to make you smile.
The cover image (at left) is an example, combining an actual iron with feathers in an assemblage that surprises and gives the viewer a fresh way to look at the world.
This is not a how-to guide, though many of the featured artists talk about their materials, techniques, and creative processes. Most of the work is based in parody and whimsy, though some pieces have underlying messages related to society and its most absurd aspects.
- A wide range of artwork. Something to delight — and offend — almost every reader.
- Photos are rich and accurately colored.
- Each artist is portrayed in depth, in text, so readers can get more meaning from the works.
- This kind of art can become boring in its eccentricity, after a few pages. Unlike the three-dimensional experience, the full depth just can’t convey in a two-dimensional book.
- About half of the book (a different half for every reader) is likely to evoke nothing more than a “Meh!” The author tried to cover a lot of territory, and between the extremes of delightful and offensive, there’s a lot of ho-hum.
- Some work is derivative. Maybe most of it. That will delight some readers and… well, back to the “meh!” for others. Chacun à son goût.
If you’re involved in assemblage or parody art (or both), or seek a new way to make a personal, political, or spiritual statement, this book can be a great starting point. Read it with low expectations and you’re certain to find things that delight you. Often, this is “art” at the fringes. Sometimes the cleverness overshadows the artistic presentation. Sometimes the message (and the bitter side of with and irony) dilute the delight.
I enjoyed this book, but would not recommend it, sight unseen, unless you can snag a copy at a comfortably low price. Fortunately, this 2003 book can be found at that kind of price.
You may absolutely love this book. In many cases, I do. Then, I keep flipping through the pages and the innovations start seeming forced.
While there are some magnificent and breathtaking fine crafts in this book, and they’re deliciously whimsical, this kind of art isn’t consistent, or consistently appealing to everyone.
Three stars (maybe four) for artists seeking inspiration. Four to five stars for art collectors and curators.