With the release of a new book that purportedly teaches people to be wittier, Gretel Killeen can’t help but wonder: is wit something that can be learned?
OMG. I’ve just heard of a book that teaches people to be wittier. That’s so weird, because I’m currently creating a dance about how to be an ophthalmologist.
Wit is an art form. Wit is a skill. Wit is a weird kind of brain mutation in which an individual sees and hears the same stimuli as others but connects those stimuli in an unpredictable yet relatable conflation. So why the hell does anyone think that it can be taught i.e. that everyone can do it? Well, I will tell you why: because wit is an art form and we live in a time when everyone thinks they’re creative.
Oh yes, indeedy-do, we’re all just three macramé classes away from Michelangelo!
It seems to me we don’t apply this “anyone can do it” measure to any pursuit other than the “creative” world. We don’t say it of brain surgeons. Oh, actually we do say it about politicians. But we don’t say it about electricians or accountants or even abseiling window washers. We respect that all of these arenas must require some sort of innate ability, which is then developed with study and practise. But when it comes to “the arts” we apparently all consider ourselves to be potential artistic savants, and the only challenge in our path to glory is deciding whether we want to pursue it or not.
Society hasn’t always seen art this way. There was a time when artists were revered, not just for their great parties and fabulous sex lives, but for their rare and God-given gifts. So what made society’s attitude change? Well, personally I think it all came a cropper a few years ago when my local council installed a sculpture featuring large round lumpy brown balls attached to tall poles… and neighbours nicknamed it “Poohs on Sticks”.
Yes, what is loosely referred to as “contemporary art” has a great deal to answer for. Firstly, its “appropriation” of the word “art”. I went to a gallery recently and I still don’t know if the discarded vacuum cleaner in the corner was part of the exhibition. But it’s not just the visual arts. A man I know died while attending an artistic installation and everybody cheered.
And last week I went to a contemporary dance performance that was performed in the dark. In the dark! I could not see a thing. All I heard was shuffling, which for all know was just a geriatric couple arriving late and trying to find their seats… in the dark!
These “artists” get invited to great parties, have sex and end up breeding! And the truly creative are at home alone… quietly becoming extinct. It’s like the opposite of The Survival of The Fittest.
I know, I know. I don’t know, I don’t know. Is it my fault that I don’t have a clue what the “creators” were trying to say? Well, I tell you what I do know. That a “witty” person would be boo’d if they stood on stage and delivered the set up to a joke and left it up to the audience to not only interpret the setup… but then also create their own punchline.
Of course everyone should have creative outlets, humans need creativity to survive. But the future of humankind is at stake if we blur the lines between “aspirational” and “inspirational”.
See the problem is that Inspirational often comes with low self-esteem. While Aspirational can be very, very cocky. And what we’re seeing today is the cocky Aspirationals shoving the shy Inspirationals out of the way to put their own crap on display. And this in turn makes other cocky Aspirationals think, “hey I could create crap like that.” And so they do!
They create even more crap. Maybe even a bit crappier! So crappy, in fact, that no one can understand it at all… which society then blames itself for… in the belief we’re not smart enough to understand, for example, an invisible box made with government funding. And as a result society calls the crap creators “brilliant artists”. And then these “artists” get invited to great parties, have sex and end up breeding! And the truly creative are at home alone… quietly becoming extinct. It’s like the opposite of The Survival of The Fittest.
So do I support the notion that you can learn to be witty via a book? No I do not. But please do go and buy the book… and then do something creative. Like eat it.