Keynote Event


“Prank Theory”

Beauvais Lyons, Chancellor’s Professor, School of Art, University of Tennessee, Knoxville


A prank is defined as “a trick of an amusing, playful, or sometimes malicious nature, or to dress or adorn in an ostentatious manner.” The prankster creates deceptions that reveal larger truths, while also calling attention to the relationship between creativity and mischief.  Pranksters can disrupt our normative experience and the status quo, and can rupture our preconceptions about the world.  As a form of creative rebellion, pranks can critique social, political, religious and institutional systems, and provide a tool for those who do not have access to systems of power.  In this paper, I will offer a case for the cultural and artistic importance of pranking, which has precedence in the trickster and the court jester, but also finds expression during the past century in Dada, Surrealism, and Fluxus. Essential to many pranks is the use of irony as an aesthetic, social and political strategy – which links pranking to both parody and satire. Pranking crosses all form of culture, both high brow and low brow, and has currency in fine art, academic and scientific contexts, as well as the popular arts, from Candid Camera and Improv Everywhere to the MTV series Jackass. Given this range forms, how might one develop a theory of pranks? Are pranks a means or an end? What are the ethical implications of pranks? Do pranks offer a case for play as a form of cultural or political resistance? Finally, do pranks offer a case for the importance of humor in art?

BEAUVAIS LYONS is a Chancellor’s Professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where he has taught printmaking since 1985. Lyons received his MFA degree from Arizona State University in 1983 and his BFA degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1980. See his web site ( for information on his mock-academic projects through the Hokes Archives. Lyons’ one-person exhibitions have been presented at over 60 museums and galleries in the United States and abroad. His prints are in numerous public collections including the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia. PA. In 2002 he received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach at the Fine Arts Academy in Poznañ, Poland.  In 2014 he received the Santo Foundation Artist Award.


Ansari Business (AB) room 106

Hors d’oeuvres served from 6-7 pm;

Keynote talk from 7-8 pm;

Desserts from 8-9 pm;


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