Thursday, 14 June 2012

Kitsch As Only Kitsch Can (C. F. Brown)

"After All, If Kitsch Isn't a Pleasure, Why Bother?

Bonjour, pardner, and a real warm wlcome to a wunnerful world of charm and elegance, heart-warming adorableness, and delightfully perverse American ingenuity.

Like it or not, kitsch is the daily, everywhere art of our time, and because we are surrounded by it - in stores and shoppes, in mail-order catalogs, in public events and popular entertainment - we accept it, decry it, or try, probably futilely, to ignore it. If you're a snob, kitsch is the stuff the neighbors collect, not the lovely things that add to the joy and richness of living in your gracious home.

First, a ground rule before we begin our Gradus ad Parnassum to the dizzying heights of kitsch at its most flamboyant, most outrageous, and - Heaven help us all - its most lovable. Don't think of kitsch as either "good" art or "bad" art. Most of it hasn't the least idea of being the first, so why should it be labeled, by default, the other? Certainly, kitsch has its grandiose pretensions, its pomposities, its megalomania, even; but its aspirations are not toward what the collective opinion of critics calls Art. Kitsch objects are not more the "opposite" of art than kitsch social phenomena are the counterpart of "nice" norms of behavior or "acceptable" attitudes. Instead, kitsch fills another kind of bill: it feeds the mass appetite for the slick, the sentimental, the sensational, and the supercolossal.

Kitsch need not mean the fall of Western civilization through cultural selft-abasement. Like Archbald MacLeish's rationale for a poem, kitsch doesn't mean, only is.

Let's begin our Stairway to Paradise with a simple example, a sweat shirt emblazoned with a printed likeness of Leonardo's Mona Lisa. Few people are likely to mistake that combination of art and apparel for Art. The buyer is perfectly aware that the decorated shirt is not unique, but a widely available commodity. However, even a sweat shirt, if it bears a picture of a Timeless Masterpiece, not a campy or trendy one of Bugs Bunny or Mick Jagger, can transcend the utilitarian and spell Class.

That is what much of kitsch art generally is, a mass-produced item that its purchaser believes endows him with an air of richness, elegance or sophistication. (The American art critic Meyer Schapiro wryly defines kitsch as "chic spelled backwards")."

Brown, Curtis F. (1975) Star-Spangled Kitsch. New York: Universe Books. p 9.

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