10 March 2024

Kitsch and other strange art


Kitsch and other strange art


Topic by Norma

Essay by Lawrence



Please search the internet for the meaning and examples of kitsch art, modern art and strange art.



There are many words and adjectives to describe kitsch (kitch) art. Such words would include eccentric, naïve and, early in the twentieth century, cheap as in mass produced cheap. In a way, kitsch art is not really a school or movement of art, but rather a disparaging term to describe some forms of art expression that would not be considered as real art in the best art salons, academies or auction houses. Off course, in the twenty first century the mentality has changed from cheap-and-cheerful art form to if-it-makes-money it must be art.



The term kitsch is of German origin dating back to the 1860s and 1870s and for a long period of time it was regarded as a German form of commercial “art” form. Kitsch art as we know it, paintings were/are just another feature in this genre of expression, which also included ceramics, sculptures and house hold items such as teapots (see Wikipedia). We might add to the list such things as souvenirs and Christmas decorations. The fundamental basis of kitsch is that it is beautiful and accessible for people to buy by virtue that it is mass produced.



The key idea of beautiful art we have today is that it makes us feel good; today art is primarily about emotions and feeling good about a work of art. But if art is associated with feeling good, then surely we reduce art to a subjective experience and this is where we find our first philosophical issue.



If art is subjective, then surely this will take away the authority and status of those who proclaim to be the guardians of what is good and what is objective. Those in power, be it political or economic power, are usually not too keen in giving up this power and status they have over others.



Dictatorships, including religious ideologies, are very keen to control what is acceptable regarding what is good, what is objective, what is art and, by implication, what is language. For our purposes, we might call this as the “official” form of art: if the regime approves of a work of “art” then it is good and objective art. Kitsch art took away the authority of what is art and what is beautiful from an “official” status of art to a subjective definition of art. People were allowed to feel good about what they saw without being told what they were seeing.



However, as in most things ideological or belief, maybe kitsch art was just a matter of time before it became established in society. Maybe a precursor to kitsch art, is Caspar David Friedrich who painted rather romantic art and sometimes sombre paintings taking full advantage of emotional and full-of-feeling art. Even today, some people would still regard Friedrich’s paintings as glorified chocolate box images.



If kitsch art was art for the subjective feelings of people, surely modern art (strange art in our topic) is the equivalent of subjective feelings and mass production of artists. For the first time in history someone can put brush to canvas add a bit of colour and call it art and they are the artist.



Except that modern art was a “revolt” to break away from the “official” dogma of art. I am using modern art to cover a number of genres of schools and movements in 19th and twentieth century art, see below.



At the same time that kitsch art was being developed in Germany, in France of the 1860s the impressionists started their revolution in paintings. The impressionists were criticised for painting in the open air and not in the studio, and employed free hand brush strokes away from lines and clear shapes. But the impressionists were definitely the first “photographers” (maybe the camera obscura was an expression of the future yet to come) because they literally studied light and colours and shadows. Once again the impressionist tried to move away from dogma towards subjectivity of the artist but relying at the same time by the new theory of light. (see for example Michel Eugène Chevreul https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Eug%C3%A8ne_Chevreul)



Hence, whilst the Germans exploited their prowess in manufacturing kitsch art, the French impressionists employed the scientific theory of light to develop what is, basically, emotional and beautiful art for subjective pleasure.



Kitsch art maybe criticised for being “mass produced” art for the masses, and the impressionist maybe criticised for producing works of art depicting real life with haphazard brush strokes and mixtures of colour.  Unfortunately, impressionist art does not work in a museum; we just do not have the real light the artists saw for us to experience what the artist experienced: and no museum will show their impressionist art on the beaches of north France or the wet street of Paris. Indeed, we can marvel at the Spanish master, Joaquín Sorolla Bastida, but unless you can see his summer seaside scenes of Valencia in Valencia, you are missing a good ninety percent of the aesthetic magic of these paintings.



This break from the “official” doctrine of art coupled with a scientific approach to art (perspective painting not withstanding) has given rise to other movements that might be regarded as modern art or strange art. Cubism, of the likes by Picasso, in a way turned straight lines on their head; a charge the Paris establishment claimed the impressionists lacked in their paintings. And kitsch art morphed into art deco of the 1920 which was anything but art for the masses.



What is clear is that kitsch art and modern art broke the dogma of authority; it became acceptable to deviate from the official dogma of art. Is art in the Tate Modern or even the Reina Sofía official art, or revolutionary art? And has kitsch and modern art evolved into establishment art?



Art and beauty might, at the end, be subjective and emotional, but we still cannot give up the idea “official art” in museums like the Prado and the National Gallery, and “modern art” from the Reina Sofía and Tate Modern. What is clear is that there is no such thing as art for art’s sake but rather art for human expression sake.



Best and take care




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