Saturday, 10 December 2011

Kitsch I (K. M. Higgins)

"Kitsch is a category term referring to a type of aesthetically impoverished art, artifact, performance, or practice that commonly relies on banal subject matter and stock emotional responses. The term, however, is used more or less loosely, sometimes in reference to a wide variety of somewhat incongruous items made in a slapdash manner, sometimes making no reference to absurdity or poor technique but instead to a particular type of emotional appeal. 

Kitsch souvenir
Given the cluster of associations that has grown around the term, a precise definition of “kitsch” is difficult to formulate. The term was originally used in connection with sketchy tourist art that became popular in Germany in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Such sketches were cheap and produced in large quantity. (Indeed, the German verb verkitschen means “to make cheaply.”) Kitsch has accordingly become associated with consumer society and mass production, although being produced on a mass scale is not a necessary criterion. Early kitsch products appealed to middle class sensibilities, and the term has acquired the association of pandering to those who seek easy gratification and are not very selective about the style or quality of what they buy. In light of the fact that souvenir art was the initial paradigm of kitsch, moreover, the association of emotional appeal is a basic connotation of the term. 

Kitsch always involves some kind of deficiency, but a variety of particular inadequacies are associated with it, and this adds to the difficulty of defining it. Among its alleged faults are insincerity, bad taste, tackiness, a formulaic and facile character, incongruous juxtaposition, vagueness, incompatibility between form and function, overly simplistic presentation, and false representation of reality. The label has been applied to objects and performances on the basis of some but not all of these characterizations. 

A further complication for a definition of kitsch is that while the term is commonly used to identify certain objects, the nature of the appeals that kitsch makes is typically a basis for considering them to be kitsch. This being the case, it is possible that objects that are not themselves kitsch might be employed in a manner that yields kitschy results. An example might be the use of the image of the American flag on neckties or suspenders. The American flag itself is not kitsch, nor is an image of the flag. Serious historical paintings and works by Jasper Johns can utilize the flag in a way that is not kitsch. But by virtue of the incompatibility of form (the image of a banner celebrating a nation state) and function (to accessorize an outfit of clothing or to hold up a pair of pants) the flag on these items of clothing may well be kitsch."

2nd part

Davies, Stephen; Higgins, Kathleen Marie; Hopkins, Robert; Stecker, Robert; Cooper, David E. (2009) A Companion to Aesthetics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. pp 393-394.

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