Class 8: Kitsch

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.George Smith Patton



We will be working on this tutorial in class tonight:




Discussion: Kitsch

I consider confronting low brow sentimentality to be one of the more serious artistic challenges of the age, and also, notcoincidentally, a prime argument for a deep knowledge of art history. What are some of the characteristics of kitsch, and how should it be confronted, supported, embraced, identified, avoided or consumed? Discuss sequential art, pop art and their historic connection with kitsch, is the medium the message?

“In the French version of Hermann Broch’s celebrated essay, the word ‘kitsch’ is translated as ‘junk art’ (art de pacotille). A misinterpretation, for Broch demonstrates that kitsch is something other than simply a work in poor taste. There is a kitsch attitude. Kitsch behavior. The kitsch-man’s (Kitschmensc) need for kitsch: it is the need to gaze into the mirror of the beautifying lie and to be moved to tears of gratification at one’s own reflection. For Broch, kitsch is historically bound to the sentimental romanticism of the nineteenth century. Because in Germany and Central Europe the nineteenth century was far more romantic (and far less realistic) than elsewhere, it was there that kitsch flowered to excess, it was there that the word ‘kitsch’ was born, there that it is still in common use. In Prague, we saw kitsch as art’s prime enemy. Not in France. For the French, the opposite of real art is entertainment. The opposite of serious art is light, minor art. But for my part, I never minded Agatha Christie’s detective novels. Whereas Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Horowitz at the piano, the big Hollywood films like Kramer vs. Kramer, Doctor Zhivago (poor Pasternak!)—those I detest, deeply, sincerely. And I am more and more irritated by the kitsch spirit in certain works whose form pretends to modernism. (I add: Nietzsche’s hatred for Victor Hugo’s ‘pretty words’ and ‘ceremonial dress’ was a disgust for kitsch avant la lettre” (135-36).” – Milan Kundera

What are some of the characteristics of sentimental art, or kitsch and how should it be confronted, embraced, avoided or consumed?

Possible solutions:
Narrative, typography, shock, micromacro, Content based, Formal, Ironic, Poetic, Activist/ agenda driven.

  1. Spend some time playing with gamesalad and seeing if you can’t build something fun with it.
  2. Download a TON of gamesalad templates.
  3. Download a few really good templates.
  4. Make a game.  Make it DISTINCTIVELY YOU.

Any survey of how electronic art has affected our culture must confront some of the questions Walter Benjamin put forth.

Below are two simplistic and I think not wholly inadequate summaries of Walter Benjamin’s work and life. The second is done by students your age, so it may be put in a way you can engage. Following these videos is the two paragraphs I would like you to read. If it makes your head explode just clean up the mess and we will chat about it in class.

“Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art. The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie. The progressive reaction is characterized by the direct, intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment with the orientation of the expert. Such fusion is of great social significance. The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public. The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, and the truly new is criticized with aversion. With regard to the screen, the critical and the receptive attitudes of the public coincide. The decisive reason for this is that individual reactions are predetermined by the mass audience response they are about to produce, and this is nowhere more pronounced than in the film. The moment these responses become manifest they control each other. Again, the comparison with painting is fruitful. A painting has always had an excellent chance to be viewed by one person or by a few. The simultaneous contemplation of paintings by a large public, such as developed in the nineteenth century, is an early symptom of the crisis of painting, a crisis which was by no means occasioned exclusively by photography but rather in a relatively independent manner by the appeal of art works to the masses.

Painting simply is in no position to present an object for simultaneous collective experience, as it was possible for architecture at all times, for the epic poem in the past, and for the movie today. Although this circumstance in itself should not lead one to conclusions about the social role of painting, it does constitute a serious threat as soon as painting, under special conditions and, as it were, against its nature, is confronted directly by the masses. In the churches and monasteries of the Middle Ages and at the princely courts up to the end of the eighteenth century, a collective reception of paintings did not occur simultaneously, but by graduated and hierarchized mediation. The change that has come about is an expression of the particular conflict in which painting was implicated by the mechanical reproducibility of paintings. Although paintings began to be publicly exhibited in galleries and salons, there was no way for the masses to organize and control themselves in their reception. Thus the same public which responds in a progressive manner toward a grotesque film is bound to respond in a reactionary manner to surrealism.”

Read the rest: http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm

Paula Scher: done in a second, after many years

Homework Assignment #2: Elizabeth Owens