SchoolArts Room

SchoolArts and the Art of Humor

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Oct 19, 2010

Though my kindergartners are my toughest audience, they are the most fun.

pink rabbitIt’s hard not to smile when encountering folk art such as this at the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

“Humor is a rubber sword—it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.” —Mary Hirsch

They are up for anything and everything I ask them to do and are always excited when they walk in the door. And they allow me to be funny or silly or whatever it takes to get their attention (now if I could just keep them in their seats!).

We usually start the year off with toys and talk of Toy Story (now 3), establishing some common ground. Though they are sometimes surprised that I have seen Toy Story, (Is there an adult out there who doesn’t appreciate Pixar movies?), they are happy to talk about it, make toy collages, and design new toys. They have no problems seeing the humor in art.

Humor, like art, is a universal human language that everyone can understand. We may have different senses of humor, but we are all likely to find something to be funny. What  kind of art do you find humorous? How about your students? Do any artists come to mind? cartoonists? designers?

We have based the November issue of SchoolArts on Humor, inspired by PBS’ Art:21 series and its choice of the theme.


Happily available at no cost online, “Humor” explores how five contemporary artists—Charles Atlas, Eleanor Antin, Raymond Pettibon, Elizabeth Murray, and Walton Ford—use irony, satire, and sarcasm in their artwork. Though most of the videos and slide shows are better suited for secondary students (definitely review first), Raymond Pettibon and Elizabeth Murray will appeal to elementary students.

Play, a related theme to humor, is also the theme of a second Art:21. This “Play” explores the work of the artists Oliver Herring, Arturo Herrera, Jessica Stockholder, and Ellen Gallagher, Teresa Hubbard, and Alexander Birchler.

Another remarkable resource found online is Art and Play, a book and website by Caroline Rutledge Armijo that features six artists whose work can be traced back to their childhood interests and experiences. The artists are Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, Jean Tinguely, Claes Oldenburg, Elizabeth Murray (here she is again), and Joseph Cornell.

SchoolArts wishes you lots of laughter as you explore humor with your students. Please check out our November issue online.