Thursday, 15 January 2015

Art, Kitsch and Art History (A. Brzyski)

The Widow, Frederick Dielman
(Boston Public Library,
"On the most basic level kitsch is not art. Our ability to distinguish between the two terms - even in those instances when kitsch approximates the appearance and logic of art and art that of kitsch - marks us as members of the cultural elite. Precisely because we are aware of their crucial dissimilarity, we can identify, discuss, and diagnose a wide range of phenomena usually associated with popular or mass culture as kitsch. We can even indulge in kitsch as camp, because unlike the actual consumers of kitsch, who lack the necessary critical distance and therefore fail to recognize kitsch for what it is, we know better. As Susan Sontag noted in the 1960s, our eager willingness to watch the very best "bad movies" or to relish with a hint of revulsion the extravagantly "awful" reveals our membership in the hip inner circle. Kitsch is therefore our term for their lack of taste and as such always a value judgement made from a position absolute cultural superiority.

But what exactly is that we mean when we identify something as kitsch? At different times, different authors have used this label to denigrate nineteenth century academic paintings, anything made by Salvador Dalí, various "inappropriate" forms of art reproduction, decorative bric-a-brac, political propaganda, votive objects, erotic images, advertisements, and Hollywood movies. The diversity of this list and the seeming lack of consensus among those disparate phenomena under the same rubric may be based on external considerations rather than any qualities shared among them. The pertinent question with regards to kitsch appears to be, therefore, not what is kitsch, but rather what exactly is meant when that label is applied to something.

Brzyski, Anna (2013) Art, Kitsch and Art History. In: Kjellman-Chapin, Monica, Kitsch. History, Theory, Practice. Newcastle upon Thyne: Cambridge Scholars. p 1.
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