“Kitsch” is a word that’s tossed around in art communities. It’s best to explain what kitsch is using an example: a painting of a beautiful woman next to a rainbow. It’s important to note that the painting wouldn’t even have to be particularly well executed—it could rely merely on women and rainbows being lovely.
Here’s what the philosopher Denis Dutton says about kitsch:
“The kitsch object declares itself “beautiful,” “profound,” “important,” or “moving,” but such values are not achieved; they derive merely from the kitsch object’s subject-matter or connotations. The standard kitsch work must be instantly identifiable as depicting “an object or theme which is generally considered to be beautiful or highly charged with stock emotions.” The impact of kitsch is limited to *reminding* the viewer of great works of art, deep emotions, or grand philosophic, religious, or patriotic sentiments.”
This is a pretty good definition. But I disagree with the sentiment behind it. You can tell Dutton doesn’t like kitsch.
We should be much more tolerant of kitsch. Trying to achieve greatness and merely arriving at “reminding us of greatness” is better than not trying to achieve greatness at all. All things being equal, a painting of a battlefield will tend to be greater than a painting of a pencil. Themes of death and courage and sacrifice and horror just resonate with humans more than the themes conjured up by a lonely pencil.
Classic art, i.e., art that stands the test of time both tends to be about important themes and tends to be well executed. You need both. If a painting depicting important themes is poorly executed, it will often be called kitsch. Well not every painting of a battlefield or love or death or beauty or the mystery of human existence will be well made. It’s still vital that people try to make art about these subjects! The more you shame kitsch art, the less people will try to make art about important things.
A community that tolerates kitsch is a community that incentivizes greatness.
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One Response to Kitsch

  1. Gabriel Duquette says:

    “You can tell Rosen likes kitsch.”


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