Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Constructing the Modern Movement (H. Heynen)

"The phenomenon of the artistic avant-garde is historically linked to the rise of kitsch. Both avant-garde and kitsch can be seen as reactions to the experience of fissure that is typical of modernity. The accelerated changes in traditional values and living conditions that are brought about by modernity lead individuals to experience a split between their inner world and the behavior patterns required of them by society. Modern individuals experience themselves as “rootless”: they are not in harmony with themselves and they lack the self-evident frame of reference of norms and forms that one has in a society where tradition prevails. That at least is the diagnosis shared by a whole range of intellectuals writing on modernity.

At the beginning of the twentieth century it was clearly stated, by Adolf Loos among others, that it was the task of intellectuals and artists to face this fissure and to look for a new basis of culture, because culture could no longer be established on a self-evident continuation of tradition. The space left vacant by the decline of tradition was laid claim to by the avant-garde that regarded itself as “the only living culture we now have.” (C. Greenberg, 1939) As against the pseudo-values of kitsch, the avant-garde posited the ideals of purity and authenticity. Kitsch, they argued, is pleasant; it focuses on easy entertainment; it is mechanical, academic, and cliché-ridden. Because of this it glosses over the effects of the split character of modern life: kitsch maintains an illusion of wholeness by which individuals can painlessly forget their inner conflicts. The avant-garde, on the other hand, refuses to deny these conflicts by ignoring the fissures and ruptures that do exist—rather it combats them openly. The strategy of the avant-garde thus consisted of a direct attack: perceiving that outer forms no longer correspond to inner feelings, the avant-garde chooses to destroy these forms in order to expose their hollowness. Therefore, it is constantly engaged in an iconoclastic struggle. Marinetti’s appeal, “Let us kill the moonlight!” can serve as a model for the logic of negation that the avant-garde advocates: all norms, forms, and conventions have to be broken; everything that is stable must be rejected, every value negated.

In doing so the avant-garde radicalizes the basic principle of modernity—the urge toward continual change and development, the rejection of the old and the longing for what is new. In its historical manifestations—futurism, constructivism, dadaism, surrealism, and kindred movements—it represents a “spearhead” of aesthetic modernism, which in itself can be said to have a broader basis (not every modernist writer or artist belongs unquestionably to the avant-garde). Renato Poggioli characterized the avant-garde by four moments: activism, antagonism, nihilism, and agonism (Poggioli, 1982). The activist moment meant adventure and dynamism, an urge to action not necessarily linked to a positive goal. The antagonistic character of the avantgarde refers to its combativeness; the avant-garde is always complaining, it wages a continuous struggle—against tradition, against the public, and against the establishment. This antagonism goes hand in hand with an anarchistic aversion to all rules and norms, a revulsion against every institutionalized system. Activism and antagonism are pursued in a way that is so absolute that an avant-garde movement finally overtakes itself in a nihilistic quest, in an uninterrupted search for purity, ending up by dissolving into nothing. The avant-garde is indeed inclined to sacrifice itself on the altar of cultural advance—if the price of obtaining mastery over the future is one’s own destruction, it is fully prepared to pay it. It is in this masochism that what Poggioli calls the agonistic phase lies: it wallows pathetically in morbid pleasure at the prospect of its own downfall, in the conviction that it is there that it will find its supreme fulfillment. In so doing it also complies with the military metaphor implicit in its name: it is the fate of the avant-garde to be slaughtered so that others will have the opportunity to build after them."

Heynen, Hilde: Architecture and Modernity. A Critique. MIT Press, Cambridge. pp 26-28

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Camp Rules (P. Core)

CAMP depends on where you pitch it.

CAMP is character limited to context.
CAMP is in the eyes of the beholder, especially if the beholder is camp.
CAMP is a form of historicism viewed histrionically.
CAMP is not necessarily homosexual. Anyone or anything can be camp. But it takes one to know one.
CAMP was a prison for an illegal minority; now it is a holiday for consenting adults.
CAMP is first of all a second childhood.
CAMP is essential to military discipline.
CAMP is a biography written by the subject as if it were about another person.
CAMP is a disguise that fails.CAMP is free association; free thinking is not camp.
CAMP is a lifeboat for men at sea.
CAMP is Royalism, Diabolism and British Socialism.
CAMP is moral anarchy which makes room for the self without altering the attitudes of society.
CAMP is an ephemeral fundamental.
CAMP is cross-dressing in a Freudian slip.
CAMP is laughing at The Importance of Being Earnest without knowing why.
CAMP is laughing at The Importance of Being Earnest and knowing why.
CAMP is an art without artists.
CAMP is anti-art in the same way physical desire is anti-creative.
CAMP is a lie which tells the truth.
CAMP is behaving illegally with impunity; Hemingway defined it perfectly as 'grace under pressure.'
CAMP is embarrassment without cowardice.
CAMP is gender without genitals.

Core, Philip (1984) Camp. The Lie That Tells the Truth. Delilah Books, New York.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Pastiche (II)

"Literally, 'pasticcio', derived from Common Romance pasta denoted in early modern Italian a pâté of various ingredients - a hodgepodge of meat, vegetables, eggs, and a variety of other possible additions (Battaglia, 1984: 791). In the wake of the Renaissance, the art scene grabbed 'pasticcio' as a metaphor to describe a genre of painting of questionable quality that was the product of a 'pittore aclettico che dipinge con tecniche e stili diversi' (an eclectic paiter who drew upon diverse techniques and styles; Battaglia 1984: 790). Pasticcio was highly imitative painting that synthesized - 'stirred together' - the styles of major artists, often with seemingly fraudulent intention, i.e., to deceive viewers and patrons.

The slippery quality associated with the pastiche genre is in part due to the dual structural profile that was there from the outset: imitation of a masterwork and the 'pâté' of components. Vagueness of image also continues to be part of the genre's discourse history, because certain qualities and features of the pastiche mode overlap with other aesthetic categories. We are dealing with a vast semantic field in which such superimpositions of genre and mode come about as a result of cultural perceptions and conceptual traditions." (pp 1, 9)

Hoesterey, Ingeborg (2001) Pastiche. Cultural Memory in Art, Film, Literature. Indiana University Press.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Notes on "Camp" II (S. Sontag)

26. Camp is art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is "too much." [...]

27. A work can come close to Camp, but not make it, because it succeeds. Eisenstein's films are seldom Camp because, despite all exaggeration, they do succeed (dramatically) without surplus. If they were a little more "off," they could be great Camp - particularly Ivan the Terrible I & II. The same for Blake's drawings and paintings, weird and mannered as they are. They aren't Camp; though Art Nouveau, influenced by Blake, is. What is extravagant in an inconsistent or an unpassionate way is not Camp. Neither can anything be Camp that does not seem to spring from an irrepressible, a virtually uncontrolled sensibility. Without passion, one gets pseudo-Camp -- what is merely decorative, safe, in a word, chic. On the barren edge of Camp lie a number of attractive things: the sleek fantasies of Dali, the haute couture preciosity of Albicocco's The Girl with the Golden Eyes. But the two things - Camp and preciosity - must not be confused.

28. Again, Camp is the attempt to do something extraordinary. But extraordinary in the sense, often, of being special, glamorous. (The curved line, the extravagant gesture.) Not extraordinary merely in the sense of effort. Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not items are rarely campy. These items [...] lack the visual reward - the glamour, the theatricality - that marks off certain extravagances as Camp.

30. Of course, the canon of Camp can change. Time has a great deal to do with it. Time may enhance what seems simply dogged or lacking in fantasy now because we are too close to it, because it resembles too closely our own everyday fantasies, the fantastic nature of which we don't perceive. We are better able to enjoy a fantasy as fantasy when it is not our own.

31. This is why so many of the objects prized by Camp taste are old-fashioned, out-of-date, démodé. It's not a love of the old as such. It's simply that the process of aging or deterioration provides the necessary detachment -- or arouses a necessary sympathy. When the theme is important, and contemporary, the failure of a work of art may make us indignant. Time can change that. Time liberates the work of art from moral relevance, delivering it over to the Camp sensibility... Another effect: time contracts the sphere of banality. (Banality is, strictly speaking, always a category of the contemporary.) What was banal can, with the passage of time, become fantastic. […] things are campy, not when they become old - but when we become less involved in them, and can enjoy, instead of be frustrated by, the failure of the attempt. But the effect of time is unpredictable.


34. Camp taste turns its back on the good-bad axis of ordinary aesthetic judgment. Camp doesn't reverse things. It doesn't argue that the good is bad, or the bad is good. What it does is to offer for art (and life) a different -- a supplementary -- set of standards.

35. Ordinarily we value a work of art because of the seriousness and dignity of what it achieves. We value it because it succeeds - in being what it is and, presumably, in fulfilling the intention that lies behind it. We assume a proper, that is to say, straightforward relation between intention and performance. By such standards, we appraise […] the pantheon of high culture: truth, beauty, and seriousness.

Camp deco (
36. But there are other creative sensibilities besides the seriousness (both tragic and comic) of high culture and of the high style of evaluating people. And one cheats oneself, as a human being, if one has respect only for the style of high culture, whatever else one may do or feel on the sly. For instance, there is the kind of seriousness whose trademark is anguish, cruelty, derangement. Here we do accept a disparity between intention and result. I am speaking, obviously, of a style of personal existence as well as of a style in art; but the examples had best come from art. Think of Bosch, Sade, Rimbaud, Jarry, Kafka, Artaud, think of most of the important works of art of the 20th century, that is, art whose goal is not that of creating harmonies but of overstraining the medium and introducing more and more violent, and unresolvable, subject-matter. This sensibility also insists on the principle that an oeuvre in the old sense (again, in art, but also in life) is not possible. Only "fragments" are possible... Clearly, different standards apply here than to traditional high culture. Something is good not because it is achieved, but because another kind of truth about the human situation, another experience of what it is to be human - in short, another valid sensibility -- is being revealed. And third among the great creative sensibilities is Camp: the sensibility of failed seriousness, of the theatricalization of experience. Camp refuses both the harmonies of traditional seriousness, and the risks of fully identifying with extreme states of feeling.

37. The first sensibility, that of high culture, is basically moralistic. The second sensibility, that of extreme states of feeling, represented in much contemporary "avant-garde" art, gains power by a tension between moral and aesthetic passion. The third, Camp, is wholly aesthetic.

38. Camp is the consistently aesthetic experience of the world. It incarnates a victory of "style" over "content," "aesthetics" over "morality," of irony over tragedy.


41. The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to "the serious." One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.

42. One is drawn to Camp when one realizes that "sincerity" is not enough. Sincerity can be simple philistinism, intellectual narrowness.

43. The traditional means for going beyond straight seriousness - irony, satire - seem feeble today, inadequate to the culturally oversaturated medium in which contemporary sensibility is schooled. Camp introduces a new standard: artifice as an ideal, theatricality.

44. Camp proposes a comic vision of the world. But not a bitter or polemical comedy. If tragedy is an experience of hyperinvolvement, comedy is an experience of underinvolvement, of detachment. "I adore simple pleasures, they are the last refuge of the complex." - A Woman of No Importance

45. Detachment is the prerogative of an elite; and as the dandy is the 19th century's surrogate for the aristocrat in matters of culture, so Camp is the modern dandyism. Camp is the answer to the problem: how to be a dandy in the age of mass culture.


47. Wilde himself is a transitional figure. The man who, when he first came to London, sported a velvet beret, lace shirts, velveteen knee-breeches and black silk stockings, could never depart too far in his life from the pleasures of the old-style dandy; this conservatism is reflected in The Picture of Dorian Gray. But many of his attitudes suggest something more modern. It was Wilde who formulated an important element of the Camp sensibility -- the equivalence of all objects -- when he announced his intention of "living up" to his blue-and-white china, or declared that a doorknob could be as admirable as a painting. When he proclaimed the importance of the necktie, the boutonniere, the chair, Wilde was anticipating the democratic esprit of Camp.

48. The old-style dandy hated vulgarity. The new-style dandy, the lover of Camp, appreciates vulgarity. Where the dandy would be continually offended or bored, the connoisseur of Camp is continually amused, delighted. The dandy held a perfumed handkerchief to his nostrils and was liable to swoon; the connoisseur of Camp sniffs the stink and prides himself on his strong nerves.

49. It is a feat, of course. A feat goaded on, in the last analysis, by the threat of boredom. The relation between boredom and Camp taste cannot be overestimated. Camp taste is by its nature possible only in affluent societies, in societies or circles capable of experiencing the psychopathology of affluence. "What is abnormal in Life stands in normal relations to Art. It is the only thing in Life that stands in normal relations to Art." - A Few Maxims for the Instruction of the Over-Educated


54. The experiences of Camp are based on the great discovery that the sensibility of high culture has no monopoly upon refinement. Camp asserts that good taste is not simply good taste; that there exists, indeed, a good taste of bad taste. (Genet talks about this in Our Lady of the Flowers.) The discovery of the good taste of bad taste can be very liberating. The man who insists on high and serious pleasures is depriving himself of pleasure; he continually restricts what he can enjoy; in the constant exercise of his good taste he will eventually price himself out of the market, so to speak. Here Camp taste supervenes upon good taste as a daring and witty hedonism. It makes the man of good taste cheerful, where before he ran the risk of being chronically frustrated. It is good for the digestion.

55. Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation - not judgment. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy. It only seems like malice, cynicism. (Or, if it is cynicism, it's not a ruthless but a sweet cynicism.) Camp taste doesn't propose that it is in bad taste to be serious; it doesn't sneer at someone who succeeds in being seriously dramatic. What it does is to find the success in certain passionate failures.

56. Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of "character."... Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as "a camp," they're enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling. (Here, one may compare Camp with much of Pop Art, which -- when it is not just Camp -- embodies an attitude that is related, but still very different. Pop Art is more flat and more dry, more serious, more detached, ultimately nihilistic.)

57. Camp taste nourishes itself on the love that has gone into certain objects and personal styles. The absence of this love is the reason why such kitsch items as Peyton Place (the book) and the Tishman Building aren't Camp.

58. The ultimate Camp statement: it's good because it's awful... Of course, one can't always say that. Only under certain conditions, those which I've tried to sketch in these notes.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Notes on "Camp" I (S. Sontag)

Published in 1964.

Many things in the world have not been named; and many things, even if they have been named, have never been described. One of these is the sensibility -- unmistakably modern, a variant of sophistication but hardly identical with it -- that goes by the cult name of "Camp."

A sensibility (as distinct from an idea) is one of the hardest things to talk about; but there are special reasons why Camp, in particular, has never been discussed. It is not a natural mode of sensibility, if there be any such. Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration. And Camp is esoteric -- something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques. Apart from a lazy two-page sketch in Christopher Isherwood's novel The World in the Evening (1954), it has hardly broken into print. To talk about Camp is therefore to betray it. If the betrayal can be defended, it will be for the edification it provides, or the dignity of the conflict it resolves. For myself, I plead the goal of self-edification, and the goad of a sharp conflict in my own sensibility. I am strongly drawn to Camp, and almost as strongly offended by it. That is why I want to talk about it, and why I can. For no one who wholeheartedly shares in a given sensibility can analyze it; he can only, whatever his intention, exhibit it. To name a sensibility, to draw its contours and to recount its history, requires a deep sympathy modified by revulsion.

Leonardo chairs (
Though I am speaking about sensibility only -- and about a sensibility that, among other things, converts the serious into the frivolous -- these are grave matters. Most people think of sensibility or taste as the realm of purely subjective preferences, those mysterious attractions, mainly sensual, that have not been brought under the sovereignty of reason. They allow that considerations of taste play a part in their reactions to people and to works of art. But this attitude is naïve. And even worse. To patronize the faculty of taste is to patronize oneself. For taste governs every free -- as opposed to rote -- human response. Nothing is more decisive. There is taste in people, visual taste, taste in emotion - and there is taste in acts, taste in morality. Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas. (One of the facts to be reckoned with is that taste tends to develop very unevenly. It's rare that the same person has good visual taste and good taste in people and taste in ideas.)

Taste has no system and no proofs. But there is something like a logic of taste: the consistent sensibility which underlies and gives rise to a certain taste. A sensibility is almost, but not quite, ineffable. Any sensibility which can be crammed into the mold of a system, or handled with the rough tools of proof, is no longer a sensibility at all. It has hardened into an idea...

1. To start very generally: Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization.

2. To emphasize style is to slight content, or to introduce an attitude which is neutral with respect to content. It goes without saying that the Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized -- or at least apolitical.

3. Not only is there a Camp vision, a Camp way of looking at things. Camp is as well a quality discoverable in objects and the behavior of persons. There are "campy" movies, clothes, furniture, popular songs, novels, people, buildings. . . . This distinction is important. True, the Camp eye has the power to transform experience. But not everything can be seen as Camp. It's not all in the eye of the beholder.


5. Camp taste has an affinity for certain arts rather than others. Clothes, furniture, all the elements of visual décor, for instance, make up a large part of Camp. For Camp art is often decorative art, emphasizing texture, sensuous surface, and style at the expense of content. Concert music, though, because it is contentless, is rarely Camp. It offers no opportunity, say, for a contrast between silly or extravagant content and rich form. . . . Sometimes whole art forms become saturated with Camp. Classical ballet, opera, movies have seemed so for a long time. In the last two years, popular music (post rock-'n'-roll, what the French call yé yé) has been annexed. And movie criticism (like lists of "The 10 Best Bad Movies I Have Seen") is probably the greatest popularizer of Camp taste today, because most people still go to the movies in a high-spirited and unpretentious way.

6. There is a sense in which it is correct to say: "It's too good to be Camp." Or "too important," not marginal enough. (More on this later.) Thus, the personality and many of the works of Jean Cocteau are Camp, but not those of André Gide; the operas of Richard Strauss, but not those of Wagner; concoctions of Tin Pan Alley and Liverpool, but not jazz.Many examples of Camp are things which, from a "serious" point of view, are either bad art or kitsch.


7. All Camp objects, and persons, contain a large element of artifice. Nothing in nature can be campy... Rural Camp is still man-made, and most campy objects are urban. (Yet, they often have a serenity -- or a naiveté -- which is the equivalent of pastoral. A great deal of Camp suggests Empson's phrase, "urban pastoral.")

8. Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style -- but a particular kind of style. It is the love of the exaggerated, the "off," of things-being-what-they-are-not. The best example is in Art Nouveau, the most typical and fully developed Camp style. Art Nouveau objects, typically, convert one thing into something else: the lighting fixtures in the form of flowering plants, the living room which is really a grotto. A remarkable example: the Paris Métro entrances designed by Hector Guimard in the late 1890s in the shape of cast-iron orchid stalks.


12. The question isn't, "Why travesty, impersonation, theatricality?" The question is, rather, "When does travesty, impersonation, theatricality acquire the special flavor of Camp?" Why is the atmosphere of Shakespeare's comedies (As You Like It, etc.) not epicene, while that of Der Rosenkavalier is?

13. The dividing line seems to fall in the 18th century; there the origins of Camp taste are to be found (Gothic novels, Chinoiserie, caricature, artificial ruins, and so forth.) But the relation to nature was quite different then. In the 18th century, people of taste either patronized nature (Strawberry Hill) or attempted to remake it into something artificial (Versailles). They also indefatigably patronized the past. Today's Camp taste effaces nature, or else contradicts it outright. And the relation of Camp taste to the past is extremely sentimental. 1

4. A pocket history of Camp might, of course, begin farther back -- with the mannerist artists like Pontormo, Rosso, and Caravaggio, or the extraordinarily theatrical painting of Georges de La Tour, or Euphuism (Lyly, etc.) in literature. Still, the soundest starting point seems to be the late 17th and early 18th century, because of that period's extraordinary feeling for artifice, for surface, for symmetry; its taste for the picturesque and the thrilling, its elegant conventions for representing instant feeling and the total presence of character -- the epigram and the rhymed couplet (in words), the flourish (in gesture and in music). [...]

16. Thus, the Camp sensibility is one that is alive to a double sense in which some things can be taken. But this is not the familiar split-level construction of a literal meaning, on the one hand, and a symbolic meaning, on the other. It is the difference, rather, between the thing as meaning something, anything, and the thing as pure artifice.

17. This comes out clearly in the vulgar use of the word Camp as a verb, "to camp," something that people do. To camp is a mode of seduction -- one which employs flamboyant mannerisms susceptible of a double interpretation; gestures full of duplicity, with a witty meaning for cognoscenti and another, more impersonal, for outsiders. Equally and by extension, when the word becomes a noun, when a person or a thing is "a camp," a duplicity is involved. Behind the "straight" public sense in which something can be taken, one has found a private zany experience of the thing. "To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up." - An Ideal Husband

18. One must distinguish between naïve and deliberate Camp. Pure Camp is always naive. Camp which knows itself to be Camp ("camping") is usually less satisfying.

19. The pure examples of Camp are unintentional; they are dead serious. The Art Nouveau craftsman who makes a lamp with a snake coiled around it is not kidding, nor is he trying to be charming. He is saying, in all earnestness: Voilà! the Orient! Genuine Camp does not mean to be funny. Camping does. [...]

20. Probably, intending to be campy is always harmful. [...]

21. So, again, Camp rests on innocence. That means Camp discloses innocence, but also, when it can, corrupts it. Objects, being objects, don't change when they are singled out by the Camp vision. Persons, however, respond to their audiences. [...]

22. Considered a little less strictly, Camp is either completely naive or else wholly conscious (when one plays at being campy). An example of the latter: Wilde's epigrams themselves. "It's absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious." - Lady Windemere's Fan

23. In naïve, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails. Of course, not all seriousness that fails can be redeemed as Camp. Only that which has the proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naïve.

24. When something is just bad (rather than Camp), it's often because it is too mediocre in its ambition. The artist hasn't attempted to do anything really outlandish. ("It's too much," "It's too fantastic," "It's not to be believed," are standard phrases of Camp enthusiasm.)

25. The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers. Camp is the paintings of Carlo Crivelli, with their real jewels and trompe-l'oeil insects and cracks in the masonry. [...] In Camp there is often something démesuré in the quality of the ambition, not only in the style of the work itself. Gaudí's lurid and beautiful buildings in Barcelona are Camp not only because of their style but because they reveal -- most notably in the Cathedral of the Sagrada Familia -- the ambition on the part of one man to do what it takes a generation, a whole culture to accomplish.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Looking at Native Art through Western Art Categories: From the "Highest" to the "Lowest" Point of View (Emily Auger)

"Western categories of high art (such as architecture, sculpture, and painting) and of low art (such as prints and crafts) and the values associated with them were firmly established and promoted in Western art academies between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. [...] The greater value of the high arts was based throughout these centuries on the superior quality of their "artistic expression," which was generally identified according to classicist ideals of beauty. The academy upheld the belief that the representation of such ideals would improve society as a whole.

[...] All art, high and low, always serves the same basic functions. These functions include: 
- substitute imagery, or art made for the purpose of preserving the appearance of something or someone; 
- illustration, or art made for the purpose of recording stories or events; 
- conviction and persuasion, art made to articulate "the fundamental convictions or realized ideals of societies" or to convince people to embrace new convictions or ideals; 
- beautification, art made for the purpose of pleasing the eye and mind. 

Artistic expression is in itself another function of art, but according to Alan Gowans, is not and cannot be a "social function" of the same order as the preceding four. It is not something objectively identifiable that society cannot do without. Rather, it is a way of carrying out the other social functions, a particular skill or aptitude which becomes progressively more self-conscious as time and history moves on.

[...] Folk art, souvenirs, kitsch, camp, mass-produced art, and popular television and movies are some of the low arts which are popular today." (pp 89-92)

Retablo ayacuchano
Folk art: "Also called "naive" or "primitive" art, is a particular form of low art which thrives today as it has for centuries. It is often found on functional objects or made to be functional, as are rugs, quilts, clothes, storage boxes, jars, game boards, hunting decoys, and weather vanes.II The folk artist differs from the high or fine artist in that he or she does not use techniques associated with artistic expression in the academic tradition of art such as chiaroscuro, correct scale, perspective, or the placement of all elements in a unified and coherent space. Instead, the folk artist strives for a high degree of craftsmanship and artistic merit through the incorporation of as much detail as possible into his or her work." (p 93)

Popular arts: "Some kinds of folk art are marketed as souvenirs, especially those which possess a distinctive style associated with a region's tourist appeal. In this way folk art may become part of popular culture and art. Folk art, like all aspects of folk culture, is associated with small, local producers and audiences who know each other and who made what and when. In contrast, popular culture, particularly that of the twentieth century, frequently involves producers who are not named and an audience that is large and in search of entertainment or amusement, not moral or ethical edification, as is sometimes the objective of high art, or the cozy domestic context of folk culture. Popular arts include souvenirs, kitsch, and mass-produced art, as well
as popular television and movies." (pp 93-94)

Kitsch: "Often applied as a synonym for worthless art, artistic rubbish, or simply bad art... Kitsch is condemned by the world of fine art but it is also something that people like and are willing to pay for. For this reason it became the official carrier of ideology in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia and is flourishing in capitalistic advertising. How does one recognize today's kitsch? According to Kulka, kitsch is characterized by it subjects and its style:

(1) Kitsch depicts a subject which is generally considered beautiful or highly emotionally charged;
(2) The subject depicted by kitch is instantly and effortlessly identifiable;
(3) Kitsch does not substantially enrich our associations related to the depicted subject.

The usual style for rendering such subjects as kitsch is naturalistic or realistic, sometimes excessively so and to the point of sentimental artificiality. Artists of kitsch make no attempt to be innovative in any way." (pp 94-95).

Camp: "A sort of chic kitsch. [...] camp demonstrates an excess of aestheticism, an excess of style at the expense of content." (p 95)

Auger, Emily (2000) "Looking at Native Art through Western Art Categories: From the "Highest" to the "Lowest" Point of View". Journal of Aesthetic Education. Vol. 34, Nº 2. (pp 89-98).

Pastiche (I)

"Whether applied to part of a work, or to the whole, implies that it is made up largely of phrases, motifs, images, episodes, etc. borrowed more or less unchanged from the work(s) of other author(s). The term is often used in a loosely derogatory way to describe the kind of helpless borrowing that makes an immature or unoriginal work read like a mosaic of quotations. More precisely, it has two main meanings, corresponding to two different deliberate uses of pastiche as a technique.

There is a kind of pastiche which seeks to recreate in a more extreme and accessible form the manner of major writers. It tends to eliminate tensions, to produce a more highly coloured and polished effect, picking out and reiterating favourite stylistic mannerisms, and welding them into a new whole which has a superficial coherence and order. Unlike plagiarism, pastiche of this kind is not intended to deceive: it is literature frankly inspired by literature frankly inspired by literature (as in Akenside's poem 'The pleasures of imagination', 1744).

The second main use of pastiche is not reverential or appreciative, but disrespectful and sometimes deflationary. Instead of ironing out ambiguities in its source(s) it highlights them. It cannot be distinguished absolutely from parody, but whereas the parodists need only allude to the original intermittently, the writer of pastiche industriously recreates it, often concocting a medley of borrowed styles [...]. A closely synonymous term, nearly obsolete, 'cento' or 'centoism', is relevant here: in its original Latin form it meant a garment of patchwork and, applied to literature, a poem made up by joining scraps from various authors. Many of the specialized uses of pastiche are reminiscent of this literary game: it may give encyclopaedic scope to a work, including all the previous styles (Joyce's Ulysses); it is used by writers who wish to exemplify their ironic sense that language comes to the secondhand and stylized (George Herbert's 'Jordan I'). And a general air of pastiche is created by many writers who, for various reasons, refuse to evolve a style of their own, and who [...] employ other's cast-off phrases with conscious scepticism.

Frederic Jameson argues that parody has been replaced by pastiche in postmodernism, where all the cultural styles of the past are open to cannibalization and appropriation: 'Pastiche is, like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language. But is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter'."

Childs, Peter; Fowler, Roger (2006): The Routledge dictionary of literary terms. (p 167-168)
Taylor & Francis. London.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Kitsch Architecture (D. Guimaraens & L. Cavalcanti)

"The survey of Kitsch architecture has been a matter of our interest since 1973, when we started studying at the school of architecture. In juxtaposition to academic teaching, which focused only in official architectural production - and among that, only in maximum examples such as the MEC building and Brasilia -, confronting our own previous experiences as occasional dwellers of the carioca suburbia. Here we had detected a sort of architectural manifestation quite rich and original, which, besides its potential to throw at us new sources of discussion on the parameters of contemporary Brazilian architecture, remained unknown at a more systemic level of research, being disregarded as a cultural phenomena without importance. We confirm that the main relevance of this work states in an attempt of a deep analysis of those manifestations, in order to establish a base for the study of architecture without architects in Brazil.

As we started said analysis, we found that a basic mistake would be to classify as bad taste the cultural productions inherent to other social classes. In this train of thought, one of the main issues was about the general denominations that we should adopt for these architectural manifestations. We chose to call them Kitsch architecture taking into account two aspects. Firstly, the fact that the analysed constructions represented special and aesthetic characteristics that could perfectly be framed between the general definition of Kitsch. Secondly, because of the verification that the concept was already reasonable known and clarified, so we could use it as a starting point for the discussion of basic elements which we intended to approach, such as taste, for example.

Until then, Kitsch had been established in relation to a rampant consumption of objects, which never occurs in the examples that we will focus on, where the inhabitant creates his or hers space of residence working as a creator of architectural signs. It was necessary thus to establish a basic division between passive Kitsch and creative Kitsch. We classify Kitsch architecture of the ascending lower classes as creative, because we understand that those manifestations differ from the ones found in the new-money groups, where the consumer lacks of interference in the elaboration of his or hers surrounding objects.

[...] we organised the subdivision of Kitsch architecture into some representative items of the various found types: Kitsch as a vision of the world (houses that aim to "talk" about the vision of their owners through their spacial structure); Kitsch as a poetic vision (which has as a dominant element the poetic aspect expressed in the architectonic space); visionary Kitsch (included in this subdivision those houses which extrapolate any rational interpretation, covering also another classifications); religious Kitsch (considering housing in which iconic references to protective Saints are given in their façades, to those constructions made under the protection of certain entities, in which all the structure gains a symbolic sense); Kitsch with influence of modern architecture (including a considerable group of Kitsch architecture, which takes from Brazilian modern architecture a variety of constructive-spatial elements, adapting them to its constructors and inhabitants own repertoire)".

Guimaraens, D. & Cavalcanti, L. (1979) Arquitetura Kitsch suburbana e rural. Mec/Funarte: Rio de Janeiro. pp 5-6.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Kitsch (T. Kulka)

"There is no consensus among scholars as to the etymology of the word 'kitsch'. Some believe that it derives from the English 'sketch', while others link it to the German: 'etwas verkitschen' (to knock off cheaply). The experts do, however, agree that ever since the word was coined in the second half of the nineteenth century, it has borne distinctly negative connotations. The epithet 'kitsch' has been used as a synonym for worthless art, artistic rubbish, or simply bad art. [...] Kitsch isn't simply an artistic failure-a work which has somehow gone wrong. There is something special about kitsch which sets it apart from the rest of bad' art. Kitsch has a definite appeal. People like it, at least many do. Commercially, kitsch successfully competes with serious art. The mass-appeal of kitsch is being exploited by advertising agencies. to promote commodities, as well as by political parties to promote their ideologies. (The official art in Hitler's Germany or Soviet Russia may illustrate this point.) But what is it about kitsch that creates this appeal? Can we deny that the appeal is of an aesthetic nature? seems that we are in no position to do so: judging by all the obvious indications, people who like kitsch derive from it the same kind of pleasure we typically derive from works of art. But if we concede that kitsch has an aesthetic appeal and cling to a rather plausible assumption that art is appreciated for its aesthetic qualities, we will have to face the following problem: if the appeal of kitsch is of an aesthetic nature, and if aesthetic qualities serve as a measure of artistic excellence, why is kitsch considered worthless?"

British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 28, No. 1, Winter 1988.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The intoxication of modernity (C. Olalquiaga)

"19th century witnessed the multiplication of visual reproduction techniques which transformed western cultures's optical unconscious. Mechanical reproduction not only altered the possibilities for proliferation and affordability of images, but made it possible the apparition of a specific sensibility, a modern one, based in the supremacy of sight and accumulation. Although remainders of this kind of sensibility can be found in previous centuries, what emerges in this particular moment is the unprecedented democratisation of the act of looking and collect. This is widely shown with the proliferation of photography and the reorganisation of the street as a place for mercantile and spectacular exchange for the mid class. [...]

Instead of being rejected, the serial and mechanical aspects of the industrial culture were valued as signs of a modern and cosmopolitan spirit which traded antiquity and authenticity for novelty and quantity. [...]

Yearned by many and despised by few, abundant for some and unattainable for others, new one day for everybody and for nobody the next day, mass consume articles rode on the opulence and the comfort of the emerging mid class and of the apparition of places such as passages, which rapidly flowed the culture of tradition and maintenance. The new soon became dated of itself - "the intoxication of modernity" -, identified with a notion of progress for which the consume speed was an equivalent to the progress in time. Thrusting on novelty the main charge of modernity - leaving behind a dark past and moving towards and luminous future - consumer's goods assured themselves a place in the temple of fetishism. Consumer's goods were "dream images" or "desire images": more than objects, they represented utopic desires."

Olalquiaga, C. (2007) El reino artificial. Sobre la experiencia kitsch. Barcelona: Gustavo Gili. (pp 15-21)

Façades (II)

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The true, the good and the beautiful (R. Scruton)

"There is an appealing idea about beauty which goes back to Plato and Plotinus, and which became incorporated by various routes into Christian Theological Thinking. According to this idea beauty is an ultimate value - something that we pursue for its own sake, and for the pursuit of which no further reason need to be given. Beauty should therefore be compared to truth and goodness, one member of a trio of ultimate values which justify our rational inclinations. Why believe p? Because it is true. Why want x? Because it is good. Why look at y? Because it is beautiful. In some was, philosophers have argued, those answers are on a par: each brings a state of mind into the ambit of reason, by connecting it to something that it is in our nature, as rational beings, to pursue. Someone who asked 'why believe what is true?' or 'why want what is good?' has failed to understand the nature of reasoning. He doesn't see that, if we are to justify our beliefs and desires at all, then our reasons must be anchored in the true and the good.

Does the same go for beauty? If someone asks me 'why are you interested in x?' is 'because it is beautiful' a final answer - one that is immune to counter-argument, like the answers 'because it is good', and 'because it is true'? To say as much is to overlook the subversive nature of beauty. Someone charmed by a myth mat be tempted to believe it: and in this case beauty is the enemy of truth. (Cf. Pindar: 'Beauty, which gives the myths acceptance, renders the incredible credible', First Olympian Ode.) A man attracted to a woman may be tempted to condone her vices: and in this case beauty is the enemy of goodness (Cf. L'Abbé Prévost, Manon Lescaut, which describes the moral ruin of the Chevalier des Grieux by the beautiful Manon.) Goodness and truth never compete, and the pursuit of the one is always compatible with a proper respect for the other. The pursuit of beauty, however, is far more questionable [...].

The status of beauty as an ultimate values is questionable, in the way that the status of truth and goodness are not. Let us at least say that this particular path to the understanding of beauty is not easily available to a modern thinker. The confidence with which philosophers once trod it is due to an assumption, made explicit already in the Enneads of Plotinus, that truth, beauty and goodness are attributes of the deity, ways in which the divine unity makes itself known to the human soul. That theological vision was edited for Christian use by St Thomas Aquinas, and embedded in the subtle and comprehensive reasoning for which that philosopher is justly famous. But it is not a vision that we can assume, and I propose for the time being to set it to one side, considering the concept of beauty without making any theological claims."

Scruton, Roger. Beauty. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009 (pp2-4).

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Kitsch (C. Greenberg)

"Kitsch is a product of the industrial revolution which urbanized the masses of Western Europe and America and established what is called universal literacy.

Prior to this the only market for formal culture, as distinguished from folk culture, had been among those who, in addition to being able to read and write, could command the leisure and comfort that always goes hand in hand with cultivation of some sort. This until then had been inextricably associated with literacy. Bur with the introduction of universal literacy, the ability to read and write became almost a minor skill like driving a car, and it no longer served to distinguish an individual's cultural inclinations, since it was no longer the exclusive concomitant of refined tastes.

The peasants who settled in the cities as proletariat and perry bourgeois learned to read and write for the sake of efficiency, but they did not win the leisure and comfort necessary for the enjoyment of the city's traditional culture. Losing, nevertheless, their taste for the folk culture whose background was the countryside, and discovering a new capacity for boredom at the same time, the new urban masses set up a pressure on society to provide them with a kind of culture fit for their own consumption. To fill the demand of the new market, a new commodity was devised: ersatz culture, kitsch, destined for those who, insensible to the values of genuine culture, are hungry nevertheless for the diversion that only culture of some sort can provide.

Kitsch, using for raw material the debased and academicized simulacra of genuine culture, welcomes and cultivates this insensibility. It is the source of its profits. Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas. Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations. Kitsch changes according to style, but remains always the same. Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of out times. Kitsch pretends to demand nothing of its costumers except their money - not even their time."

Greenberg, C. (1965 [1946]). Avant-Garde and Kitsch. In: B. Rosenberg & D. M. White, Mass Culture. The Popular Arts in America (págs. 98-110). New York: The Free Press.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Kitsch (M. Calinescu)

"[...] It is not difficult to realize that kitsch technologically as well as aesthetically, is one of the most typical products of modernity. The link between kitsch (whose dependence on fads and rapid obsolescence makes it the major form of expendable "art") and economic development is indeed so close that one may take the presence of kitsch in countries od the "Second or "Third" world as an unmistakable sign of "modernization".

[...] many social and cultural critics, conservatives and revolutionaries alike, agreed that artistic standards were rapidly deteriorating and attributed the main cause of the widespread corruption of taste to status-seeking and display. First the plutocrats and the nouveaux riches, then the petty bourgeois and certain segments of the populace were seen as trying to imitate the old aristocracy and its patters of consumption, including the consumption of beauty.


Surely art and even modern commercialized pseudoart cannot be explained merely by status seeking. Although true aesthetic experience may be rare to the point of being statistically irrelevant, and although it may be aided or impeded by various social factors, the need for art and the desire for prestige are different psychological entities. [...] Lovers of kitsch may look for prestige - or the enjoyable illusion of prestige - but their pleasure does not stop there. What constitutes the essence of kitsch is probably its open-ended indeterminacy, its vague "hallucinatory" power, its spurious dreaminess, its promise on an easy "catharsis".


Kitsch may be conveniently defined as a specifically aesthetic form of lying. As such, it obviously has a lot to do with the modern illusion that beauty may be bought and sold. Kitsch, then, is a recent phenomenon. It appears at the moment in history when beauty in its various forms is socially distributed like any other commodity subject to the essential market law of supply and demand."

Calinescu, Matei (1995). Five Faces of Modernity. Modernism, Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism. Durham: Duke University Press. (pp 225-229)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Popular Culture (B. Munari)

"Popular Culture is a continuous manifestation of fantasy, creativity and inventive. The objective values of these activities are joined together in tradition, technical or artistic, or whichever. And, usually, these values are verified by other acts or fantasy and creativity and, therefore, those are substituted whenever they become surpassed. This way, tradition is the continuous mutable addition of objective values, useful to people. To predictable repeat a value, without fantasy, means not to continue with tradition but to stop it, to make it die. Tradition is the sum of the collectivity's objective values and collectivity must continuously renew if it doesn't wish to die."

MUNARI, B. (2007). Fantasia. Bari: Laterza. pp. 37.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Kitsch and Tendentious Art (H. Broch)

"The essence of kitsch is the confusion of ethical and esthetic categories; kitsch wants to produce not the "good" but the "beautiful". And if this means that the kitsch novel, even while often using quite naturalistic language, i.e., the vocabulary of reality, describes the world not as it really is but as it is hoped and feared to be, and if quite analogous tendencies turn up in the fine arts as well, if kitsch in music depends exclusively on effect - one need only think of the so-called bourgeois salon music, remembering that in many respects the music industry of today is its overbred offspring - still one must concede that no art can work without some effect, without a smattering of kitsch. In the dramatic arts, kitsch becomes a structural bourgeois one, namely, opera, in which effect is the principal structuring element; and one should not forget that opera by its very nature is distinctly "historical", and that that relationship between artwork and public where the "effect" is actually revealed is a matter of the empirical, the earthbound. The means employed for effect are always "proven", and they can hardly be increased any more that the number of possible dramatic situations could be increased: that which is past and proven appears over and over again in kitsch; in other words (a troll through any art exhibit will confirm this), kitsch is always subject to the dogmatic influence of the past - it will never take its vocabulary of reality from the world directly but will apply pre-used vocabularies, which in its hands rigidify into cliché, and here is the nolitio, the rejecting of goodwill, the turning away from the divine cosmic creation of values." (pp 32,33)

Broch, Hermann. "Kitsch and Tendentious Art (1955). In: Geist and Zeitgeist. The Spirit in an Unspiritual Age, Hermann Broch, 31-39. New York: Counterpoint, 2002.

Vehicles (I)

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Kitsch (A. Moles)

"Universal concept, familiar, important [the word Kitsch] corresponds, firstly, to the epoch of the aesthetic genesis, to a style of absence of style, to a function of comfort, superposed to the traditional functions, to a "nothing is too much" of progress.

The word Kitsch appears, in its modern conception, in Munich circa 1869; it is a well-known word from southern German: kitschen, to make new furniture out of old one; it is a familiar expression; verkitschen means to sell something in the place of that one specifically asked for: it implies aesthetic thought, and a denial of the authentic. Kitsch is trash, is an artistic secretion conceived by prizing the products of a society inside its department stores, which, just like the stations, turn into the real temples. Kitsch is linked with art in a dissoluble way, just as non-authentic is linked to authentic. "There is a Kitsch taste in every art", says Broch, since in every art there is a minimum of convention, of acceptance of giving pleasure to the costumer, from which no Master is exempt.

Even though Kitsch is eternal, it has periods of prosperity linked, among other things, to a social situation, to the access to wealth: bad taste is the previous step towards good taste, since it is [...] a desire of aesthetic promotion that does not reach its goal.

The spectrum of aesthetic values is no longer dichotomised between "beauty" and "ugly": between art and conformism extents the vast plague of Kitsch. Kitsch reveals itself with strength during the promotion of bourgeois civilisation, when it gets the possibility of access to wealth, of excess of means in relation with its needs, [...] and from a certain moment in which this bourgeois class imposes its rules to an artistic production.

Kitsch is then a universal social phenomenon, permanent, grand, but also a latent phenomenon to the concious of Latin tongues, at a loss of an accurate word to define it.

It is not a semantic and explicit phenomenon, it is an intuitive and subtle phenomenon; it is a type of relationship between being and things, a way of being more than an object or even a style. Even though we will frequently talk about "Kitsch style", it will be referring to a supportive idea of Kitsch attitude, and we will see that this style will formalise inside an artistic epoch. It will become a category that will allow it to access anthologies and even art collections. However, Kitsch precedes and surpasses its supports, it is a state of the spirit that, eventually, crystallises in objects."

Moles, Abraham A.: Le Kitsch. L’art du bonheur (pp 5 -7). Paris, Maison Mame. 1971.

Signs (I)

Kitsch Architecture

Kitsch is a generally used word whose complex meaning tends to be linked with "bad taste", "cheap", "popular culture" or "mass culture". It is funny how there is no exact translation of this word but, at the same time, there are several local equivalents: in Spain one might talk about hortera, cutre or cursi; in english-spoken regions, corny o trash.

In Peru, the local version of kitsch is huachafo. And, as with every other equivalent to the word, it does not mean quite the same.

I will not struggle with establishing differences between huachafo and kitsch, for I have another virtual space to dwell on that subject ( However, just as I do in that brother-blog, I will try to define some concepts that will help to establish a link between kitsch - popular taste, everydayness, non-academic art - and architecture. And I intend to take the spontaneous architecture in Lima as a case study, even though examples from other locations will be as well used.

This is what this blog is about.
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