Hennessy Youngman, Jayson Musson, and art that makes fun of art
A few weeks ago, I went to an artist talk by Jayson Musson, the man behind the Internet sensation Hennessy Youngman. If you’re an artist or an art lover and you’ve never heard of Youngman’s Art Thoughtz before, treat yourself by heading over to the YouTube account.
While Youngman’s commentary may not have the widest audience, it is truly excellent stuff if you’re into the arts. For one thing, it’s a relief to hear someone say the things we’ve all been thinking. For another, it’s a pleasure to listen to someone doing it so eloquently.
In case I wasn’t making myself clear, I like Youngman’s Art Thoughtz, and I was excited to go see him live, as it were. Except that wasn’t what happened. I was going to see Musson, not Youngman. And where Youngman is dynamic, Musson is less so. I feel like I set out to see Superman play the electric guitar with his teeth while a fantastical light display sent half the audience into seizures, but ended up at a slide show presented by a mild mannered reporter. It wasn’t that I thought Clark Kent was a bad guy. Rather, I was hoping he would have a bit more of the man of steel in him.
I get that Musson created the Youngman character and Art Thoughtz as a body of work. I get that he means for it to be separate from him, but, as I walked out of the lecture well before it was over, I was full of questions that I didn’t think Musson could answer:
Do we need to use fiction to tell the truth?
Does Musson need Youngman to say the things he says?
Is it more fun that way? Or is it just a compartmentalization and a defense?
Maybe it’s all those things. After all, I’m the first to admit that the best artists are liars. Still, the Youngman persona must be part of Musson since he came from the artist’s brain, so why the total disconnect? It really seems like a way for Musson to say “o no, I don’t think that way: it was a performance piece. Please allow me to teach in your MFA program even though I so righteously critiqued it with this Art Thoughtz.”
And speaking of, tonight is Pedigree, a conversation about art, money, and art education. I don’t know what I’ll say, but I can promise to be myself—and by that I mean I might not be as funny as Youngman but I know I’ll be more entertaining than Musson.
Pedigree: tonight from 7 to 8 PM
3rd floor of Pioneer Place
SW 5th and Yamhill, Portland, Oregon