View Full Version : Kitsch and Sin.

12-04-2003, 09:53 PM
I have often wondered what kitsch is. The dictionary describes it as vulgar or in bad taste. But this, I don't think answers the question.

Perhaps it is bit like pornography: "I can't define it but I know it when I see it".

So I can't define it but how do I make it?

That's simple: I make it by copying.

And why is kitsch so universal?

That's easy: we learn by copying. We all learn by copying, that is why kitsch is vulgar. It is the Vulgate. It is a copy of the original Greek.

The Ancient Greeks were original, while the Ancient Romans copied.

After the Second World War, the Japanese copied and copied and learnt and learnt and now they are doing some original work.

I can draw my idea of a chair and that is kitsch, or I can draw a chair and that is original.

I can draw what will sell or I can bring something to life.

I can listen to my own feelings with every breath. Or I can try to feel what is useful, what others would like me to feel, or what will bring me advantage over my fellows.

So is kitsch a sin or part of learning?


12-05-2003, 02:41 AM
a part of learning, if you go that route?

12-05-2003, 04:24 AM
Now I may also be wrong, but generally you don't hear the term kitsch used in that way. It's much more popularily used in terms of old styles and a strange appeal that they have.

Like an old dinette set from 1959 would be considered kitschy, or the combo of pink and light teal, etc.

It seems like the actual dictionary definition is almost becoming outdated.

12-05-2003, 11:17 AM
I agree with voodoolily. Perhaps the word you want is "cliche".


Keith Russell
12-05-2003, 05:45 PM
'Insincerity', perhaps?


12-06-2003, 06:01 AM
How about nostalgic, and dated. like bell bottoms or Vargas pinups.

Or Vargas pinups painted on bell bottoms.

Bakelite. Velvet Elvis paintings. Fake wood panelling. Pulp magazines. TV trays?

Eccentric things? Mild wierdness? The Very Outside Edge Of Cult Status?

Will Beanie Babies be kitsch 30 years from now? SUV's?


12-06-2003, 06:04 AM
A sin? Does it hurt someone else?

12-06-2003, 04:25 PM
This is kitsch:


It's the equivalent of chocolate or a marzipan that is so sweet that it makes your tongue and gums itchy. Yuck!
(Despite the fact that so many here admire Mr. Bouguereau.)

12-06-2003, 04:27 PM
Here is the same kitsch, only more of it:


Cathy Morgan
12-07-2003, 07:59 PM
I always thought kitsch meant "popular, lowest common denominator culture" - Thomas Kincaid prints as contrasted with Rembrandt, popular music as compared with classical, most bestselling novels contrasted with Shakespeare. Etc.

12-07-2003, 09:08 PM
The Vulgate is the Latin Bible. It was copied by St Jerome from the original Ancient Greek Bible.

The Vulgate is vulgar.

And although a local meaning of kitsch is the sentimental attachment to something from the immediate past, I prefer a wider meaning which is relevent to the creation of art. I prefer to see kitsch as vulgar. I prefer to see kitsch as copied.

For instance it is vulgar to read the English Bible. To understand Christianity it is necessary to read the Bible in Ancient Greek.

And so with art. It is not possible to create something new if all you can do is copy.

And so with your person. It is not possible to individuate if you are copying someone else. It is not possible to flower as your individual self if all you can do is conform.

After all, what is art but memorable and original?


Keith Russell
12-07-2003, 11:24 PM
pipi, I admire Bourgereau's technique...

...I don't care much for most of his subject matter...


12-08-2003, 05:32 PM
Originally posted by Torie

And so with art. It is not possible to create something new if all you can do is copy.

And so with your person. It is not possible to individuate if you are copying someone else. It is not possible to flower as your individual self if all you can do is conform.

After all, what is art but memorable and original?


I 100% agree with you Torie, but I still don't think the term "kitsch" is the one to use. Yes, while you are using it in the correct sense, meaning that is the way it's displayed in the dictionary, the other ways kitsch are used (which all run along the same line as people have posted here) are much more commonly used. If you talked to somebody and said kitsch the way you are using it without describing it, I think there would be cross-communication, simply because these new definitions for kitsch aren't simply regional, I'd say they're pretty widely-used.

Keith Russell
12-08-2003, 07:59 PM
The dictionary definition of 'kitsch', which indicates how the word is commonly used, includes 'tawdry, cheap; intended for popular or undescriminating taste'.

Something can easily be 'original', and also 'kitsch'.


12-08-2003, 09:25 PM
Dear Kelly,

Your understanding of kitsch is the commonly accepted view.

My view is first of all correct, in the sense of being formally correct. On top of that I am making a distinction between kitsch and originality. And on top of that I am demonstrating the difference. I am not only telling; I am showing and telling.

Why am I doing this?

Because my present point of personal growth revolves around my personal authenticity and its expression on one hand and on the other hand: falseness, phoniness and conformity.

This is a dichotomy I haven't resolved. So I am exploring the bifurcation. It is experienced by me as a drama. It involves me as deeply as I can reach. I hope to reach further.

One of the techniques I use is to widen the horizen: from Canberra in 2003 AD to Rome in 100 BC to see if I can garner any insights.

I might say the drama of growth I am involved in is common to humanity. St Augustine wrote about this drama 2000 years ago. So while I feel its sharp fangs, I know I am not alone.

I am pleased to be able to share this drama with you and I invite you to join me.


12-08-2003, 10:03 PM
Dear Kelly,

You are perceptive, in particular, in warning me of cross communication in my use of 'kitsch'.

I am, though, deliberately using cross communication.

And I am always formally correct so that I will be understood.

The essence of drama is conflict. And cross communication is the essence of conflict.

And without conflict there can be no resolution.

And without resolution there is no growth, catharsis or learning.


Keith Russell
12-10-2003, 12:04 PM
Torie, what do you mean by 'formally correct'?

You have defined your terms, you have explained what you mean by the word 'kitsch'.

But, if the concept to which your use of the word 'kitsch' refers, is a concept that other people are far more likely to reference with a different word, then why insist on using 'kitsch' to refer to this concept, if it only creates not 'cross-communication', but plain and simple confusion and misunderstanding?


12-10-2003, 02:42 PM
I agree, debate can be brought about, and is better in my opinion, when both debating parties understand exactly what it is that is being discussed.

12-10-2003, 09:30 PM
Dear Keith,

I do like your replies. I feel understood. So I am loathe to proceed with this conflict.

But here goes: conflict is uncomfortable and confusion and misunderstanding can be expected.

Confusion is a sign that learning is taking place.

To learn we must first be ignorant.

When we meet someone we don't know who they are. But our minds are gestault building machines so we project onto them. Part of that projection is correct and part is mistaken. Part of getting to know someone is learning to distinguish our necessary first projections from the reality of the other person.

So misunderstanding is a normal part of getting to know someone. Misunderstanding is a sign that you are dealing with a person other than yourself.

I believe it is important to keep your good humour in the stressful process in getting to know someone. It is important to avoid narcissism on one hand and fascism on the other.

The price you pay for getting to know someone is confusion and misunderstanding.

Consider you and me. We both live in foreign countries to the other. We both live in different generations. I would guess the getault projection I make on you is ninety percent mistaken.

When I discover I have made a mistake, I change my mind.

Changing my mind is stressful and the reward is being closer in touch with reality, being closer in touch with you.

So, for me, it is important to know that not only where I have made a mistake but to know that I am ninety percent wrong about you. And that I cannot correct my mistakes alone. I rely on you to correct my mistakes.

To be wrong once is a mistake, but twice is careless.


12-10-2003, 09:53 PM
Dear Voodoolily,

If both parties understood exactly what is being discussed, there would be no debate.

If both parties understood exactly what is being discussed there would be no meeting of the Other.

A creative meeting requires misunderstanding and confusion.

We united a whole Continent by creative meeting. And we became Independent through creative discussion. We did not kill anyone. Let me say that again, we did not kill anyone.

As I write we have restored law and order to a foreign country, the Solomons, and as I write we are rebuilding their institutions.

We are getting good at this have completed the same task in East Timor.

So we created our own country through creative conflict, and just recently, East Timor, and as I speak, the Solomons.
And we killed no one.

To insist on exact understanding is careless.


12-11-2003, 09:38 AM

I took the effort to check the definition of the German word kitsch for you:

Here comes the translation:

Cheap imitation art or craft , origin of the word is not clear, possibly coming from slang expression verb "kitschen" which means to brush together some dirt.
The expression came up about 1870 in the art trade in Munich (Bavaria)

Today the expression is used for works which pretend some deepness which is not there. They just fake beauty

Kitsch often is connected to art which is serving popular ,uncritical views...
Kitsch is always subjectiv..."

Kitsch for me is :

The roaring deer, The pipe smoking farmer, the little angels with gold wings etc..... quite a few of my landscape paintings
May be the olympic games are already Kitsch in view of doping...
The governor of California .....ähem...


12-11-2003, 11:32 AM
Martin.... ..thanks for the research; very interesting!

I first encountered the word in a big and beautiful coffeetable book called KITSCH when I was in high school. Then I came across a little shop in San Francisco called KITSCH, ETC. Wow. Loved it. I was hooked.

Ever since then, I've been attracted to kitsch.... ...the forms it takes, and what it means.

...there were these little dolls... ...Andy, Aunt Bee, Barney....
I'd LOVE to have them! ...but I was too cheap at the time.

Kitsch. (imo) is simply commercially made "art" , memorabilia , and even furniture or accessories made for the masses.

It's true, you have your Kincaid's, which don't really deserve to be considered kitsch, and then you have the ceramic salt and pepper shakers (which I DID buy) shaped like black King Kong (holding an airplane) (pepper), and the white Empire State Building (salt).

Kitsch tells where we have been as a culture. It is historical....both culturally, and sylistically. It is often quaint and nostalgicand even (often!) howlingly trashy, and endearing even then in that it tells something about our artistic senses as a culture.... ...as lamentable as they may be...lol

Anyway, my two cents worth. ...and if you ever see those Mayberry dolls somewhere, drop me an email.


12-11-2003, 10:21 PM
Dear Martin,

It is very nice to hear from somebody from Spatzle County. And I like your definitions of kitsch:

# an obvious lie,
# the sweeping together of dirt,
# pretending to deepness,
# pandering to popular, uncritical views
# fake beauty.

All these describe Popular Culture.

America produces the best high culture in the world and it produces the worst low culture. Unfortunately it only exports the low culture.

I would like America to export its excellent high culture. Americans are the best marketeers and the best salesmen and women in the world.
Why not sell us your best culture?

Or is it that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the public?

Or is it that a sucker is born every minute?

Popular Culture is a sh*t sandwich.


Postscript: I am forced to write "sh*t". This is compulsory kitsch.
Good heavens, haven't you heard of our Prime Minister speak of "the sh*t sandwich gambit"?

12-12-2003, 02:58 AM
Good morning,

it is fun to read through all the ideas in this thread. I didn`t want to revive the chliche of the U.S. as country with "no" culture and europe with the "good" culture. I consider such a debate as kitsch on grounds of own experience and reflection of whats been said until here. Please do not forget the German garden dwarf who is the true grandgrandfather of Frodo !

Please do not forget that almost everything can become kitsch.
Van Gogh paintings have become kitsch as his whole bitter biography has become kitsch. I remember a painting of Joni Mitchel ,she has painted herself as Van Gogh...

Probably you are right: everything that get`s very popular is in danger to become kitsch.

Usually Kitsch doesn`t make me sad, the only exception is christmas and this makes me not only sad but sometimes even angry.

best regards

12-12-2003, 11:21 AM

I disagree with you a bit. Sure, real art (i.e. Van Gogh) can be mass produced and mass marketed onto everything from coasters to eyeglass cases.

However, the original painting retains its integrity. Period.

The Starry Nights coasters aren't kitsch.
They are junk.
Well, no. They ARE coasters! ;)


Keith Russell
12-12-2003, 06:56 PM
Originally posted by Torie
Dear Martin,

It is very nice to hear from somebody from Spatzle County. And I like your definitions of kitsch:

# an obvious lie,
# the sweeping together of dirt,
# pretending to deepness,
# pandering to popular, uncritical views
# fake beauty.

All these describe Popular Culture.

America produces the best high culture in the world and it produces the worst low culture. Unfortunately it only exports the low culture.

I think this is the first time I've ever heard anyone claim that America even has what could be considered 'high' culture.

I've lived in the US my whole life, and I've never seen what I would consider 'high' culture here. The music I enjoy most comes from Europe and Iceland, the art I most enjoy comes from Germany and Switzerland, the books are read are written by Brits.

Most of my favourite film directors are foreign, too.

What would you consider America's 'high' culture?


12-12-2003, 08:13 PM
Keith Mate,

You are America's high culture. You have the music, the art and the philosophy. That is why it is such a pleasure to talk to you.

East Coast dinner parties I am told are the best in world. Your cultural institutions are second to none.

You are an Electronic Puritan and so make the distinction between phoney and authentic. We are the sons and daughters of the English and Scottish Enlightenment and make the same distinction between boring and amusing. This leads us to constant misunderstandings, just as there is between Puritanism and the Enlightenment.

At your dinner table the parents do the listening and the children do the entertaining. At our dinner table the parents to the entertaining and the children do the listening.

So we see those who play the entertaining role as dominant. And those who play the listening role as dependent. And for you it is the other way around.

So when an American wants to show he is no threat and indeed, wants to be lovable, he talks and becomes entertaining. He is showing by his behavior that he is allowing you to play the dominent role. He is showing he trusts you and wants to be your friend.

Unfortunately he is seen by us as showing he is highly dominent. And rather than wanting to be your friend, he wants to dominate you.

And so more endless misunderstandings.

We perceive by making distinctions. And as we make two different moral distinctions, we see the world differently. Unfortunately we think we see the whole world when all we see is one particular world.

In Italy I pretend I am Italian and so shed my British reserve. In America I pretend I am a playful labrador. And in Austalia I pretend I am not pretending because the only sin you can commit in Australia is to be pretentious.

So Digger, if the only sin you can commit in Austalia is to be pretentious, is kitsch the only sin you can commit in Art?


12-13-2003, 03:04 AM

sorry I have to interfere. Keith you are having a discussion that`s
usually our part in Europe. Do you want to take all from us ??:D

I read Sherwood Anderson "Winesburg Ohio"
Saul Bellow ...Philip Roth ....

Painters I like

Lee Krasner, Richard Diebenkorn, David Kapp.....

Have a nice Weekend
I have to quit and read the New Yorker now !

Keith Russell
12-14-2003, 11:09 PM
I've never been East of St. Louis, and I've never been further West than a hundred feet into the Pacific Ocean.

I've lived most of my life in Kansas City, some in Topeka, Kansas, and a tiny portion near Dallas, Texas.

I have no idea what a 'European' conversation is, though if this is one, I'd love to have more...


12-15-2003, 04:04 AM
In todays "modern art" world, the word kitsch has little meaning.
Just as the word art it'self has little meaning....Ask yourself is this art??? Or...is this kitsch??? Is a genetically engineered glow in the dark bunny rabbit kitsch? Is it even art? It seems like the word has been used to detract from certain styles of art.
Labeling certain styles of art seems as wrong (today) as labeling certain cultures...In my experience( which is'nt much) certain artists tend to either bash a different style, treat it as if it were below them... Or give it praise and idle worship...For example I was at an opening of the new #@%#%Gallery where the artist (A well known painter of dolphins and half submerged landscapes)
was giving a demonstration. As I walked around I heard several of his fans say things like "blah blah...he's the greatest American painter Blah !! But all I saw was a room full of kitsch...So am I to try to explain to these star struck fans, they all were misguided followers of kitsch??....I didn't............................I went home and ate a sandwich...And wondered if it was art....or kitsch...Then I tore up all my coloring books that I had planned on submitting to the local art gallery....because I thought they may be kitsch..:crying:.........then I photographed myself taking a crap!!

12-15-2003, 08:31 PM
Dear Mr Squiggles,

We perceive by making distinctions.

When we abolish distinctions we loose our ability to see, hear and feel.

You make it clear that distincions or, at least some selective distinctions, have been abolished in modern art.

You also make the result only too plain: narcissistic crap.

However I believe the price of abolishing distinctions is to make us blind, deaf and unfeeling.

We are much more easy to control when we can't see what is going on; when we can't speak to each other and when fine feeling is uncool.

I believe we should stop taking pictures of ourselves on the toilet and open the door and look at the world, listen to our fellows and share our feelings.

This agenda would seem to be suitable for fine art.


Keith Russell
12-15-2003, 11:58 PM
Torie, I don't quite agree.

We perceive, not by making (creating) distinctions, but by recognizing the distinctions that already exist.

You say we should 'stop taking pictures of ourselves on the toilet, and (instead) look at the world'.

But, 'sitting on the toilet' is part of the world. Not all of the world, certainly, and I agree that artists should not focus solely on the banal, the negative, or the ugly. But, neither should these things necessarily be neglected by artists, either.

Do you really believe that there is any aspect of our lives that ought not to be treated by artists?

And, if so, why?


12-16-2003, 12:55 AM
Dear Keith,

I am glad you disagree with me; the only thing worse than disagreement is agreement.

English is composed of only twenty six distinctions and out of that Shakespeare created "Julius Caesar".

The playwright didn't discover "Julius Caesar"; he created it. And he created English as you and I are speaking it now.

And to boot, the twenty six distinctions, the alphabet, is arbitary. No one discovered them; they were quite arbitarily created.

Shakespeare took the metaphor and make it the engine of English. Metaphors, it seems to me, are not discovered but they are created; there is no finite number of metaphors in English; the more metaphors we create, the more there are.

Metaphors are, of course, also distinctions. And the finer our distinctions, the finer we are; the richer our distinctions, the richer we are.

We are told Shakespeare is a dead, white male. This is verbal patricide. After patricide comes fratricide; the American War of Independence was patricide naturally followed by the American Civil War, the war of fratricide. Once you start killing it is hard to stop.

So let's start creating; we have a wonderful tradition.


Keith Russell
12-27-2003, 12:33 PM
Torie, you didn't answer my question. (And I was greatly looking foward to your answer.)

Do you really believe that there is any aspect of our lives that ought not to be treated by artists?

And, if so, why?


12-27-2003, 09:15 PM
Dear Keith,

I am writing from the Intensive Care Ward
And just as Napoleon wanted lucky Generals, I want lucky doctors.

You ask, is there anything an artist should not treat?

Yes artists should not treat patients.


Keith Russell
12-28-2003, 12:19 AM
Torie, get well soon!

(Best of luck to your doctors, as well...)


12-29-2003, 07:46 PM
Dear Keith,

Thanks for your good wishes. Apparently I have lost two thirds of my kidney function due to ultra high blood pressure. But I feel OK.

I was thinking, there is no reason you couldn't paint patients. There's quite a feeling of cameraderie among the patients, some of whom are very sick. A painter in the ward would go down well.

However in my ward they really don't like modern art and are sometimes quite funny about it. So how about something figurative. Ultra realism would be too much. We want them to say, ooh and ah, and look at the detail, and how talented! Really we want to know which is the right way to hang the picture up.

Really all we want to know is, which way is up?


Keith Russell
12-30-2003, 12:20 AM
'Up' is easy.

'Away from the planet', is up.

Now, 'right' and 'left', those are much more difficult...


12-30-2003, 12:42 PM
An interesting tidbit ... In one of Picasso's biographies, I read he loved kitsch. He has several, and I'm not sure which one. If anyone is interested to know, I can find out.

07-15-2004, 03:36 PM
I agree with voodoolily. Perhaps the word you want is "cliche".


no he's using the word correctly i believe... but it is one of those words that gets used and used in partially correct contexts until the meaning gets *******ised or even takes on a whole new meaning.

07-15-2004, 03:40 PM
Torie how are you feeling today?

07-15-2004, 04:09 PM
i know everyone in here has been talking about kitsch and art, but may i bring the discussion back to the more general aspect of the word: kitsch in respect to culture. is there any part of human culture that is not kitsch? can there be culture without kitsch....my main contention is marriage. is the process of marriage kitsch? i mean marriage as we know it...either that which is a little more secular and done in a legal fashion or the more religious sort accompanied by a wedding. is marriage something feigning more depth than there really is? can there be more depth attained from it than can be attained by living in love (or in sin as some might put it) or is the process just something we blindly do when we are "in love" so as to fit with the conformities of culture. which brings me back to my original question: is culture kitsch?

07-15-2004, 04:39 PM
The term "Kitsch" used in it's Greenbergian sense did a lot to destroy great art along with the silly stuff. Unfortunately that won't be the story told in art history. If one can praise the work of Modrian, Rothko or Twombly and attempt to categorize it in the halls of art with Caravaggio,
Artemesia Gentileschi or Rembrandt, I seriously question the motives and the usage of the word kitsch. The word later granted permission to destroy all we know about art while demonizing the turn of the century artists like Bouguereau, Alma Tadema or Waterhouse. Why are we afraid to like their work? I know I was for a while. Aside from the commercialization of a few images on umbrellas, coffee mugs etc... why do we not like him or his contemporaries? Not that I enjoy bad art. I think it still exists but I believe that the supposed "freedom" the word kitsch allowed in the progression of modern art did more to damage "Art" than it helped. Look at how bad the art is for the past 100 years. Do we even have the ability, as students taught in an academic environment where we're taught that anything is art, to discern what is good art and what is bad? In all of the theory classes I had in college, never once did this come up.

Look up Odd Nerdrum. He wrote a rather funny play on the word in describing his own artwork.

07-15-2004, 05:40 PM
There was original Japanese art long before World War 2.

07-15-2004, 10:31 PM
Dear Debbi,

Thanks for asking how I am. I am being treated for ultra high blood pressure and I feel OK.

I am taking my artist on a date and next we are going to have pasta in the Refectory, sitting up one end, surrounded by glass and bathed in sunlight. And I will be reading "The Arist's Way". What a wonderful book!

Then I will walk down the peninsula to the lake and lie in a wallaby hide and look across the water of Lake Burley Griffin to the Brindabella Mountains.

I discovered the wallaby hide by accident when I startled a wallaby hiding there during the heat of the day. Cunning animals the wallabies. The hide is well concealed and safe and has a wonderful prospect of the lake. It would be a wonderful place to camp, right in the heart of a Capital City of a Continent.

It's lovely to hear from you.


PS: a wallaby is like a small kangaroo, very shy and inclined to be nocturnal and sleep and doze in the bush during the day.

Torie how are you feeling today?

Keith Russell
07-16-2004, 11:02 PM
Look at how bad the art is for the past 100 years.


Dali, Wyeth (both of them), Chirico, Frazetta, Parrish, the Symbolists, the Pre-Raphealites, some of the Ashcan painters, etc.


I don't think so.

Do we even have the ability, as students taught in an academic environment where we're taught that anything is art, to discern what is good art and what is bad?

One always retains the ability to transcend (or, simply disagree with) what one is taught. Abilities, barring physical trauma, cannot be unlearned, they can simply grow stale due to lack of practice, intentional avoidance.