striving to please: the second tear

It always strives to please. Pleasing and self-congatulating as a ready-made. Kitsch. The inevitable feature of an art in which too much money and desire is chasing too little taste and knowledge. If Kitsch is like the common cold, impossible to cure, then we had better prepare ourselves for a facial tissue to blow the ooze of sentimental snotty trash into. After all, its existed since time immemorial. Perhaps Moses fell out of favor by calling the Pharoah’s taste “kitsch”. Not likely. But. We can get around it by somehow rendering the familiar as strange and the strange as the banal, unchallenging familiar.

To make a total freakout appear as a Norman Rockwell. Between the train wreck and the tracks is that in-between space between the two in which some kind of meaningfulness can arise. The i-thou dialog between low-brow and high-brow. The shattered splinters of the aura, glued back together in a new sort of dream, the aura’s demise and perhaps its redemption and salvation after all. The fallen angel in demise, that failed to deliver promises of a utopic future, but by the grace of the angel of coincidence’s pity, is given a second chance…

---but kitsch is still alive and it even seems that it has become stronger. But what is kitsch? “Kitsch is the beautiful minus its ugly counterpart. So Kitsch, the purified beauty, becomes vulnerable to an aesthetic taboo that in name of the beauty declares kitsch as ugly. Kitsch is a parody of this catharsis, where it becomes impossible to draw up a line between which it is true aesthetic fiction (art) and what is merely sentimental trash (kitsch).” Theodor Adorno---Read More: image:

Denis Dutton:In his 1757 essay, “Of the Standard of Taste,” David Hume remarks on “a species of beauty, which, as it is florid and superficial, pleases at first; but…soon palls upon the taste, and then is rejected with disdain, or at least rated at a much lower value.” Kitsch was a term unavailable to Hume, but he may have had something like it in mind. Clive Bell, in Art (1913), came closer to it when he denied that Sir Luke Fildes’s The Doctor (1891, London, Tate) was a work of art because its effect relies wholly on its sentimental subject-matter: the painting is “worse than nugatory because the emotion it suggests is false. What it suggests is not pity and admiration but a sense of complacency in our own pitifulness and generosity.” …

---European and American modernists, notably Fernand Léger and Stuart Davis, incorporated images of consumer advertisements and packaging into their paintings. Their industrialized abstract visual languages suggested a fundamental accordance between avant-garde art and mechanical production. Walter Benjamin believed that the masses could take advantage of new forms of artistic production made possible by modern technology to transform the existing power structure, using kitsch as a weapon against the self-alienation wrought by fascism. --- Read More: image:

…While Bell’s assessment of The Doctor is disputable, he makes a valid objection to art which, rather than demanding or even examining virtue, congratulates the viewer for already possessing it. This same idea is stressed by the novelist Milan Kundera in his meditation on the concept of kitsch in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984). Kundera characterises kitsch as calling forth “the second tear.” The first tear is shed out of pity; the second we shed in recognition of our own feeling of pity. It is essentially self-congratulatory. Read More:

---So, water in the garden is never kitsch, while the garden gnome turns out to be the key symbol above all others in the genre deemed to be kitsch. This research caused me to focus on the garden gnome phenomenon because it raised several questions: what is kitsch, does kitsch really exist, or is it only in the eye of the beholder, what existed prior to kitsch? The fact that so many of my informants seemed so absolutely sure of the existence of something objectively beautiful, judging other things as just kitsch, surprised me as an ethnologist in the era of modernity changing into the value relativism of postmodernity. The evening after my visit to Chelsea I received a telephone call from a colleague at the Regional Museum of Jönköping, Sweden, informing me that the part of the exhibition The Garden as Popular Art presenting the ten “top-of-the-pops” garden ornaments had been censored by the management just before the annual meeting of the Swedish Art Union. A golden roe deer, a red-painted windmill, the tractor tire with petunias and, of course, the grinning gnome were considered to disgrace the museum’s reputation of being an art institution of first class!--- Read More: image:

But to be fair, kitsch, and we know that the innocence is false, that it is a story we make for ourselves; yet it does contain an intangible ideal, namely the hope of childhood, and given the sense of enchantment, a kind of search for essence even if misty and inarticulate, may be preferable. That is, given a choice, better to place belief in the fiction to which we can perhaps weave our own narrative, than to cast away hope entirely being totally reasonable and sober. Maybe a little madness goes a long way.

….Kitsch includes what advertising blurbs might call “original hand-painted reproductions of fine works of art,” mass-produced tourist curios in imitation of honest folk styles, most cinematic versions of famous composers’ lives, much patriotic art, the funerary sculpture of California’s Forest Lawn Cemetery, and all manner of religious reproductions and souvenirs. The kitsch object declares itself “beautiful,” “profound,” “important,” or “moving,” but such values are not internally achieved; they derive merely from the kitsch object’s subject-matter or connotations. According to Tomas Kulka, 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.” Moreover, kitsch “does not substantially enrich our associations related to the depicted subject.” The impact of kitsch is limited to reminding the viewer of great works of art, deep emotions, or grand philosophic, religious, or patriotic sentiments. …

John Currin art. ---Ideology no longer takes the form of a rationalizing theory, but, according to Adorno, presents itself in the everyday praxis of society: "There are no more ideologies in the authentic sense of false consciousness, only advertisements for the world through its duplication and the provocative lie which does not seek belief but commands silence” . The complementarity of the liberal and fascist techniques of control—the stultifying plugging of the status quo which suffocates any transcending image and the arrogant assertion of power which casts off all pretext to rationality—becomes transparent in times of crisis. Even Time Magazine (Nov. 5, 1973) revealed something of the affirmative character of mass culture as diversion: From his out-of-town retreat, "Nixon watched the Washington Redskins defeat the St. Louis Cardinals on television and telephoned his congratulations to Coach George Allen. If he had listened closely, Nixon could have heard automobile horns honking outside the White House in response to the signs of protesters: Honk for impeachment.'' Professional sports are ideological—not so much for any message they may indoctrinate, but precisely because of their intellectual insignificance, because they fill the TV screen with exciting emptiness and the viewer's mind with information of no personal relevance. Subtle ideological biases of movie producers have consequently become insignificant, dwarfed by the role of the gossip Hollywood fabricates for the nation. Working under the demands of mass culture—that the product be entertaining but non-demanding, distracting but not stimulating,...Read More: image:

…A major function of kitsch in the present century is to reassure its consumers of their status and position, hence its association with the ever-nervous middle classes. Just as an ostentatious set of “great works of literature bound in hand-crafted buckram” is not intended to be read, but to confirm the literacy and wealth of its owner, so works of self-consciously “fine” art may appear in domestic surroundings as emblems of status and good taste. Straightforward reproductions are not in themselves kitsch, but objects which incorporate high art images to proclaim refinement and opulence are paradigmatically kitsch, especially if they alter or re-work an original piece in another medium—for instance, sculptural renderings of Dürer’s Praying Hands, Leonardo’s Last Supper in tapestry, or repainted versions of historical masterpieces which are adapted to the aesthetic expectations of the modern eye (a Mona Lisa copyist once told an interviewer that his paintings were always precisely true to the original, except that he improved on it by “taking a bit of the chill out of her expression.”) Solemnity and a complete absence of irony also mark kitsch: this distinguishes sharply the presentation of a bear

Mona Lisa in Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q (1919) from the kitsch appearance of Leonardo’s painting on the top of a jewelry box. By poking fun at high art idolatry, Duchamp and the Dadaists pitted themselves against kitsch and intiated a modern tradition which has continued through Pop Art and the irreverent strains of Postmodernism….Read More:

Howard Jacobson:I take my seat at Mel Brooks's The Producers and am immediately won back to the joys of making fun of absolutely everything. And if "Springtime for Hitler" were to upset some upright German burgher, if the goose-stepping dancers in swastika formation, and the semi-naked showgirls with Bavarian sausages on their heads and baskets of pretzels on their master-race-bearing hips, were to hurt him where his heimat is - what then? I would remind him that the Third Reich was itself a choreographed musical festival of high-kicking kitsch, and then I would apprise him of John Stuart Mill's distinction. It's just offence - deal with it. Heil Hitler. Read More: image:

The artificial imagery, fantasy and the idealization of desire, into which objects, commodities are transformed, creates a sort of system of the deity which pre-dates religion, which is wholly personal and cannot be expressed in terms of economic and marketing theory, or even Veblen’s analysis of status and distinction. It means that the the idea of show, or the spectacle, is more, elevated, than a simple false corralling of energy, time and money. It many cases it represents something that appears to be universal- something to which Disney grotesquely manipulates- , that is, the whole mechanism and process of casting off inertia and summoning into reality, ideas which cannot be monetized or exchanged…


Although the term has been used for many years, it was Adorno that officially opened the debate on the philosophical analysis of kitsch. His definition continues to be used: kitsch is the beautiful minus its ugly part. Under that same principle it was in recent time that Milan Kundera wrote:

Behind all the European faiths, religious and political, we find the first chapter of Genesis, which tells us that the world was created properly, that human existence is good, and that we are therefore entitled to multiply. Let us call this basic faith a categorical agreement with being.
The fact that until recently the word “shit” appeared in print as s— has nothing to do with moral considerations. You can’t claim that shit is immoral, after all! The objection to shit is a metaphysical one. The daily defecation session is daily proof of the unacceptability of 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.

It follows, then, that the aesthetic ideal of the categorical agreement with being is a world in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist. This aesthetic ideal is called kitsch. “Kitsch” is a German word born in the middle of the sentimental nineteenth century, and from German it entered all Western languages. Repeated use, however, has obliterated its original metaphysical meaning: kitsch is the
absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence. Milan Kundera, 1984 Read More:

---Conceived by Saddam Hussein himself and carried out by the Iraqi sculptor Mohammed Ghani Hikmat using casts of Saddam's own arms, it is such an outstanding example of totalitarian kitsch that I used it as a lens through which to view the degradation of culture in Iraq under the Baathist regime in my 1991 book The Monument. --- Read More:

Dadaist Hannah Höch and Surrealist André Breton were among a handful of aesthetic rebels in the 1920s to first explore the implications of such
juxtapositions exemplified by the qualities of instability and spontaneity, where a dialectic between accident and intention reigned. And German theorist Walter Benjamin (using a collage-like literary strategy) expostulated on the phantasmagoric aspects of the material world under capitalism, examining the impact of mass reproduction and media, factors that increasingly turned our world into fragments. This, our social world, has been described in The Society of the Spectacle (1967) by French Situationist, Guy Debord thus: “Under the shimmering diversions of the spectacle, banalization dominates modern society the world over and at every point where the developed consumption of commodities has seemingly multiplied the roles and objects to choose from. . . .

…The celebrity, the spectacular representation of a living human being, embodies this banality by embodying the image of a possible role. Being a star means specializing in the seemingly lived; the star is the object of identification with the shallow seeming life that has to compensate for the fragmented productive specialization which are actually lived.” Society has, indeed, become wholly absurd, surreal, or “hyperreal,” is Jean Baudrillard’s take on our postmodern condition, where objects and images become empty signs circulating with ever greater intensity. This process of disintegration and reintegration … has now become a defining characteristic of our age. Read More:

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