Sunday, May 28, 2006

Give Kitsch A Chance?


Isn't it amazing how quick we are to be cynical?

This week I was Hungary at the European Leadership Conference. Excellent bible teaching. Fascinating peopel. Lots of pipes, chinos and bizarre facial furniture! One afternoon I got to talking with a Romanian lady about the kitsch landscape artist, Thomas Kincade. Kincade is a bit like the Starbucks of the Art world. He doesn't paint in isolation but employs an army of shop assistants, PR people, lawyers, sub-contracted atists and technicians to help pass on his vision of, as he puts it, 'hope, peace and harmony... salvation to all'.

I've always cringed away from this kind of work. It's so badly painted and Kincade's vision of hope is sentmental at best. He paints visions of a perfected world, the garden of Eden, but set sometime in the 1950s. Each painting is signed off with his signature (containing his own DNA for authenticity) and an appropriate bible verse. This is kitsch art at it's glorious worst. Hope is reduced to sentiment, heaven to fluffy clouds and transcendence to romanticised sunsets. In the absence of evil his paintings offer a false sense of hope. There is nothing to redeem from. His paintings are sentimental, utopian, ultimately hopeless...

... But then I met Ulga who really likes this kind of art. She recognised that the paintings are not great art but they give her "a sense of peace" that inspire her in a difficult world. So I was corrected (once again and long may it continue)... I should be more careful when judging the personal value someone puts on art. Hear me right on this: I still think Kincade's work is not great art. In fact, I think it's shallow, sentimental and should be turned into poetic performance art expressed through the medium of bonfire. I'll place judgement on Kincade as the artist but not on his audience.

In my flat I have a jar painted by my nephew, Jakob who is 10 months old. It might possibly be the worst rendering of pink vomit I have ever seen but it has more value to me than any other piece of art I have. Jakob is not a great artist (yet!!) but his art has tremendous value to me. In the same way, just as Kincade is not a great artist, Ulga finds great value in it.. and that is worthy of celebration.



This is the interesting thing about Kitsch. It tries to be perfect but fails. Those who enjoy it are looking for something perfect. They won't find it in Kincade... but at the very least kitsch art exposes that inner desire in all of us for something good, something perfect, something beautiful.

Kitsch is not the answer but it illustrates the longing.

8 comments:

-bb- said...

Brilliant, it's awesome to see your thought process at the beginning and seeing it continue...and for me too!It's so intersting and also just an extension of your question in your previous post, is a rock a piece of art? It all gets confusing to me though, what makes a piece of art good-what the viewer sees or how the artist creates? hmmm, worht thinking about! Thanks ulga for making us think!

pardeep said...

I think you write really well....

Ally G said...

Thanks for your comments guys and, Pod, good to see you finally defecting to da Blogger.

Rookmaaker used several criteria for attaching value to art. Technical proficiency and personal value were seperate but equally valid criteria for assessing art. Becs, your photos have technical strength because of the manner they are presented, it's much harder to evaluate what the viewer sees. Rooky thought it important to judge a piece of art both on what the viewer sees and on how the artist creates. I'm with him on that!... but it's hard to assess that when they are both subjective forms of evaluating art.

Rachel said...

Hey Ally,

doubt you know me, I found your blog through Beccy's, know you from some UCCF stuff anyway. Bottom line is I like your blog, am strangely attracted to kitsch art although not out of any genuine appreciation, more out of disgusted fascination, and am tempted to find a snail to paint, or multiple snails, cos one by itself would look lonely.

Re the rock-art: increasingly I think that art is in the experience of the creator even more than it's 'beauty' in the eye of the beholder. He/she presumably created it as an expression of something they couldn't otherwise articulate. And we will never be able to understand that or experience what they did in making it so can never understnad what the art really IS... is that a bit to philosophical? You're far more articulate than me.

Rachel said...

Oh wait, you sort of already wrote that... I should've read your comments first...

Andy said...

I agree - Kitsch expresses a longing but looks to an 'easy' resolution: it's disatisfying (I think) because it is located in a humanistic attempt to resolve/idealise aspirations that are only met with the coming of Justice and the pouring out of Mercy. The cross is far from Kitsch (though sadly, I've seen more cross inspired Kitsch and tat than I care to recount) but that is where the hope of reconciliation, justice and mercy is found.

Not sure that I agree that just because something makes someone feel better that it has value: idolatry works in the human heart, but it is still an offense to GOd. I'm not equating Kitsch with idolatry (though look at some idols!) - maybe I misunderstood your point.

One thing peaked my curiosity though - the thought process in your quote: "Fascinating peopel. Lots of pipes, chinos and bizarre facial furniture! One afternoon I got to talking with a Romanian lady..." are we met to conclude this Romanian lady sported all of the above?

I love you blog BTW - keep writing!

kenny said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kenny said...

hey ally,
thanks mate, a very helpful explanation of kitsch. it's beginning to make sense. we had a long discussion on the way back from interface when alex and liz tried to explain it to me! until last friday I just thought it was a new in-word that the kids use.
I think andy raises an interesting point - does art have more value if it makes someone feel better? aside from the idolatry issue (which I don't know the answer to) it sounds very postmodern. But then I guess that's the point of art - is it meant to be relative and not absolute?
looking forward to reading my shiny piquant kitsch book now!