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Kitsch ( // KITCH; loanword from German) is art or other objects that, generally speaking, appeal to popular rather than "high art" tastes. Such objects are sometimes appreciated in a knowingly ironic or humorous way. The word was first applied to artwork that was a response to certain divisions of 19th-century art with aesthetics that favored what later art critics would consider to be exaggerated sentimentality and melodrama. Hence, 'kitsch art' is closely associated with 'sentimental art'. Kitsch is also related to the concept of camp, because of its humorous and ironic nature.
Kitsch art may often contain palatable, pleasant and romantic themes and visuals that few would find disagreeable, shocking or otherwise objectionable; it generally attempts to appeal to the human condition and its natural standards of beauty on a superficial level. It may also be quaint or "quirky" without being controversial.
To brand visual art as "kitsch" is generally (but not exclusively) pejorative, as it implies that the work in question is gaudy, or that it serves a solely ornamental and decorative purpose rather than amounting to a work of what may be seen as true artistic merit. However, art deemed kitsch may be enjoyed in an entirely positive and sincere manner. The term is also sometimes applied to music or literature, or any work.
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As a descriptive term, "kitsch" originated in the art markets of Munich in the 1860s and the 1870s, describing cheap, popular, and marketable pictures and sketches.In Das Buch vom Kitsch (The Book of Kitsch), Hans Reimann defines it as a professional expression "born in a painter's studio".
The study of kitsch was done almost exclusively in German until the 1970s, with Walter Benjamin being an important scholar in the field.
Kitsch is regarded as a modern phenomenon, coinciding with social changes in recent centuries such as the Industrial Revolution, urbanization, mass production, modern materials and media such as plastics, radio and television, the rise of the middle class and public education —all of which have factored into a perception of oversaturation of art produced for the popular taste.
Modernist writer Hermann Broch argues that the essence of kitsch is imitation: kitsch mimics its immediate predecessor with no regard to ethics—it aims to copy the beautiful, not the good.According to Walter Benjamin, kitsch is, unlike art, a utilitarian object lacking all critical distance between object and observer; it "offers instantaneous emotional gratification without intellectual effort, without the requirement of distance, without sublimation".
Kitsch is less about the thing observed than about the observer.According to Roger Scruton, "Kitsch is fake art, expressing fake emotions, whose purpose is to deceive the consumer into thinking he feels something deep and serious."
Tomáš Kulka, in Kitsch and Art, starts from two basic facts that kitsch "has an undeniable mass-appeal" and "considered (by the art-educated elite) bad", and then proposes three essential conditions:
The concept of kitsch is a central motif in Milan Kundera's 1984 novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being . Towards the end of the novel, the book's narrator posits that the act of defecation (and specifically, the shame that surrounds it) poses a metaphysical challenge to the theory of divine creation: "Either/or: either shit is acceptable (in which case don't lock yourself in the bathroom!) or we are created in an unacceptable manner".Thus, in order for us to continue to believe in the essential propriety and rightness of the universe (what the narrator calls "the categorical agreement with being"), we live in a world "in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist". For Kundera's narrator, this is the definition of kitsch: an "aesthetic ideal" which "excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence".
The novel goes on to relate this definition of kitsch to politics, and specifically — given the novel's setting in Prague around the time of the 1968 invasion by the Soviet Union — to communism and totalitarianism. He gives the example of the Communist May Day ceremony, and of the sight of children running on the grass and the feeling this is supposed to provoke. This emphasis on feeling is fundamental to how kitsch operates:
Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.
According to the narrator, kitsch is "the aesthetic ideal of all politicians and all political parties and movements"; however, where a society is dominated by a single political movement, the result is "totalitarian kitsch":
When I say "totalitarian," what I mean is that everything that infringes on kitsch must be banished for life: every display of individualism (because a deviation from the collective is a spit in the eye of the smiling brotherhood); every doubt (because anyone who starts doubting details will end by doubting life itself); all irony (because in the realm of kitsch everything must be taken quite seriously).
Kundera's concept of "totalitarian kitsch" has since been invoked in the study of the art and culture of regimes such as Stalin's Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.Kundera's narrator ends up condemning kitsch for its "true function" as an ideological tool under such regimes, calling it "a folding screen set up to curtain off death".
In her treatise The Artificial Kingdom, cultural historian Celeste Olalquiaga develops a theory of kitsch that situates its emergence as a specifically nineteenth-century phenomenon, relating it to the feelings of loss elicited by a world transformed by science and industry.Focusing on examples such as paperweights, aquariums, mermaids and the Crystal Palace, Olalquiaga uses Benjamin’s concept of the "dialectical image" to argue for the utopian potential of "melancholic kitsch", which she differentiates from the more commonly discussed "nostalgic kitsch".
These two types of kitsch correspond to two different forms of memory. Nostalgic kitsch functions through "reminiscence", which "sacrifices the intensity of experience for a conscious or fabricated sense of continuity":
Incapable of tolerating the intensity of the moment, reminiscence selects and consolidates an event’s acceptable parts into a memory perceived as complete. […] This reconstructed experience is frozen as an emblem of itself, becoming a cultural fossil.
In contrast, melancholic kitsch functions through "remembrance", a form of memory that Olalquiaga links to the "souvenir", which attempts "to repossess the experience of intensity and immediacy through an object".While reminiscence translates a remembered event to the realm of the symbolic ("deprived of immediacy in favour of representational meaning"), remembrance is "the memory of the unconscious", which "sacrific[es] the continuity of time for the intensity of the experience". Far from denying death, melancholic kitsch can only functions through a recognition of its multiple "deaths" as a fragmentary remembrance that is subsequently commodified and reproduced. It "glorifies the perishable aspect of events, seeking in their partial and decaying memory the confirmation of its own temporal dislocation".
Thus, for Olalquiaga, melancholic kitsch is able to function as a Benjaminian dialectical image: "an object whose decayed state exposes and reflects its utopian possibilities, a remnant constantly reliving its own death, a ruin".
The Kitsch movement is an international movement of classical painters, founded[ clarification needed ] in 1998 upon a philosophy proposed by Odd Nerdrum and later clarified in his book On Kitsch in cooperation with Jan-Ove Tuv and others, incorporating the techniques of the Old Masters with narrative, romanticism, and emotionally charged imagery.
Aesthetics, or esthetics, is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty and taste, as well as the philosophy of art. It examines subjective and sensori-emotional values, or sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste.
Milan Kundera is a Czech writer who went into exile in France in 1975, becoming a naturalised French citizen in 1981. Kundera's Czechoslovak citizenship was revoked in 1979. He was given a Czech citizenship in 2019. He "sees himself as a French writer and insists his work should be studied as French literature and classified as such in book stores".
The Bloomsbury Group—or Bloomsbury Set—was a group of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists in the first half of the 20th century, including Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey. This loose collective of friends and relatives was closely associated with the University of Cambridge for the men and King's College London for the women, and they lived, worked or studied together near Bloomsbury, London. According to Ian Ousby, "although its members denied being a group in any formal sense, they were united by an abiding belief in the importance of the arts." Their works and outlook deeply influenced literature, aesthetics, criticism, and economics as well as modern attitudes towards feminism, pacifism, and sexuality. A well-known quote, attributed to Dorothy Parker, is "they lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles".
The avant-garde are people or works that are experimental, radical, or unorthodox with respect to art, culture, or society. It is frequently characterized by aesthetic innovation and initial unacceptability.
Roger Eliot Fry was an English painter and critic, and a member of the Bloomsbury Group. Establishing his reputation as a scholar of the Old Masters, he became an advocate of more recent developments in French painting, to which he gave the name Post-Impressionism. He was the first figure to raise public awareness of modern art in Britain, and emphasised the formal properties of paintings over the "associated ideas" conjured in the viewer by their representational content. He was described by the art historian Kenneth Clark as "incomparably the greatest influence on taste since Ruskin ... In so far as taste can be changed by one man, it was changed by Roger Fry". The taste Fry influenced was primarily that of the Anglophone world, and his success lay largely in alerting an educated public to a compelling version of recent artistic developments of the Parisian avant-garde.
Binjamin Wilkomirski (Pseudonym), real name Bruno Dössekker, is a musician and writer who claimed to be a Holocaust survivor. His fictional 1995 memoir, published in English as Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood, was debunked by Swiss journalist and writer Daniel Ganzfried in August 1998. The subsequent disclosure of Wilkomirski's fabrications sparked heated debate in the German and English-speaking world. Many critics argued that Fragments no longer had any literary value. Swiss historian and anti-Semitism expert Stefan Maechler later wrote, "Once the professed interrelationship between the first-person narrator, the death-camp story he narrates, and historical reality are proved palpably false, what was a masterpiece becomes kitsch."
Being and Time is the 1927 magnum opus of German philosopher Martin Heidegger and a key document of existentialism. Being and Time had a notable impact on the subsequent history of philosophy, literary theory and many other fields. Its controversial stature in intellectual history has been favorably compared with several works by Kant and Hegel.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a 1984 novel by Milan Kundera, about two women, two men, a dog and their lives in the 1968 Prague Spring period of Czechoslovak history. Although written in 1982, the novel was not published until two years later, in a French translation. The original Czech text was published the following year.
Sir Roger Vernon Scruton was an English philosopher and writer who specialised in aesthetics and political philosophy, particularly in the furtherance of traditionalist conservative views.
Aesthetics of music is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of art, beauty and taste in music, and with the creation or appreciation of beauty in music. In the pre-modern tradition, the aesthetics of music or musical aesthetics explored the mathematical and cosmological dimensions of rhythmic and harmonic organization. In the eighteenth century, focus shifted to the experience of hearing music, and thus to questions about its beauty and human enjoyment of music. The origin of this philosophic shift is sometimes attributed to Baumgarten in the 18th century, followed by Kant.
Lev Manovich is an author of books on new media theory, professor of Computer Science at the City University of New York, Graduate Center, U.S. and visiting professor at European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. Manovich's research and teaching focuses on digital humanities, social computing, new media art and theory, and software studies.
This is an alphabetical index of articles about aesthetics.
Ivan BlatnýCzech: [ˈɪvan ˈblatniː](
Le Marteau sans maître is a composition by French composer Pierre Boulez. First performed in 1955, it sets the surrealist poetry of René Char for contralto and six instrumentalists.
Decadentism or the Decadent movement was a late 19th century artistic, literary and philosophical movement originated in Western Europe; poets and writers of the time conceived literature and art as the only true power and followed an aesthetic ideology. The movement was characterised by feelings of disgust and sickness towards the society of the time, artists used a crude humor to express their emotions and strongly believed in the superiority of human creativity over the logic and natural world. This revolution of resistance represented the transition between romanticism and modernism as it tried to recover the traditional elements of medieval Europe in the face of a more industrialised one. "After an initial period, aestheticism slowly degenerated into what, between 1880 and 1890, was better known as Decadentism and after 1890, in France, it was replaced by the term 'Symbolism’
Musical expression is the art of playing or singing with a personal response to the music.
Michael Pearce is an English, California-based figurative painter and author.
The Land of Green Plums is a novel by Herta Müller, published in 1994 by Rowohlt Verlag. Perhaps Müller's best-known work, the story portrays four young people living in a totalitarian police state in Communist Romania, ending with their emigration to Germany. The narrator is an unidentified young woman belonging to the ethnic German minority. Müller said the novel was written "in memory of my Romanian friends who were killed under the Ceauşescu regime".
Experimental aesthetics is a field of psychology founded by Gustav Theodor Fechner in the 19th century. According to Fechner, aesthetics is an experiential perception which is empirically comprehensible in light of the characteristics of the subject undergoing the experience and those of the object. Experimental aesthetics is the second oldest research area in psychology, psychophysics being the only field which is older. In his central work Vorschule der Ästhetik Fechner describes his empirical approach extensively and in detail. Experimental aesthetics is characterized by a subject-based, inductive approach.
Celeste Olalquiaga is a Venezuelan-born independent scholar. She is the author of The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury of the Kitsch Experience and Megalopolis: Contemporary Cultural Sensibilities. She received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1994 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1996. She writes the column "Object Lesson" for the publication Cabinet.
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