Around the year 2011 Jayson Musson, an artist from New York invented Hennessy Youngman — a persona one could describe as the homie of the art world.
On his YouTube channel, that has been dormant for several years now — called ART THOUGHTZ — one can now find a few dozen videos of Hennessy talking about art; focusing especially on a wonderful satire of the institutionalised world of art and what role ethnicity plays inside it.
Witty, sometimes blunt and fully immersed in his persona, Jayson’s character became quite famous in the art world. And, while such practices are far from being something new, I did question the utility of a personality while watching this gem I had just discovered.
We artists tend to come across as weird, quirky and just plain confusing to many people, who aren’t really part of the art world’s broader, less rigid idea of how a person should look and behave. So even by just being ourselves, we might sometimes come off as “playing a role” rather than appearing genuine to the people we meet.
But at the same time, many people almost expect of us to be these weird personalities; they delight in being in our presence because it animates them, it makes them feel as though they have something going on in their own lives.
I find that many people actually hunt for an artist friend, a really quirky one to have in their circle of acquaintances, only to be able to invite them when they feel like showing everyone else at the party that they know some funky people.
But are we really just the extra spice you add to a nice diner party?
Or should we actually embrace this position and emphasise our irregular characteristics? Not as clowns or people pleasers, but as a way to have fun. To go out and be able to get away with being a bit more ludicrous than a lawyer or banker could, to say or do a thing or two that we actually always wanted to, but felt constrained by the unspoken rules of society?
By no means am I suggesting one becomes the jester at the party, but instead to harness this leeway society obviously gives us and really make use of it.
They say artists put up mirrors to society and aren’t afraid to speak up when they encounter inequalities or inconsistencies in the stories we tell ourselves.
Oscar Wilde said: ”The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.” So why not try to see how far this permission to be quirky really stretches and add a bit of flair to our role?
Worst case, we have a bit more fun when socialising. Best case, we have a blast!