A Brief Definition of Kitsch

The Widow

This post is brief, intended to give definition to a term to be used in later posts. The term “kitsch” is a widely-used artistic terminology, which is closer to an adequate definition of the effects of an Imperialist consumer society on artistic products & artifacts than any other term. It is, however, not entirely adequate. This is largely due to the lack of examination regarding how the term “kitsch” forms around an artwork & what the term denotes in terms of aesthetics. These constitue initial notes, to be expanded upon at a later date.

Kitsch is a term used to describe ‘low-brow style of mass-produced art or design using popular or cultural icons. Kitsch generally includes unsubstantial or gaudy works or decoration, or works that are calculated to have popular appeal.’ (Wikipedia.) According to Walter Benjamin, it is not a form of art, but a utilitarian object: ‘[kitsch] offers instantaneous emotional gratification without intellectual effort, without the requirement of distance, without sublimation.’ (Citation.)

There are obvious flaws with these definitions from the off. 1stly, they obscure the role of art in a Capitalist society in general – the role of a saleable commodity. However, for our purposes let us focus on kitsch specifically.

No artistic form has inherent qualities, that make it either understandable or obscure – removed to paraphrase Benjamin. All that 1 can say of any given artistic form, before that it is made concrete, is that it possess aesthetic limitations – ie poetry does not move, film is not interactive. Therefore, no form of art can be inherently ‘low-brow’, ‘unsubstantial’ or ‘gaudy’ characteristics, nor can it inherently ‘[offer] instantanaeous emotional gratification’. To posit otherwise bestows a memetic-quality to art – ie that it possess almost magical qualities, that are innate & not cultivated by human activity. Aesthetic descriptors like ‘low-brow’, ‘gaudy’ etc are societally condtioned; they arise from & are realised within material human activity.

Therefore, kitsch has been generated out of societal activity. The forms of art employed in creating kitsch are, as has been observed, mass-production. This is, equally, why the aesthetic forms adopted in a traditional consideration of kitsch are understandable to a vast majority – creating the impression that they give immediate emotional satisfaction: kitsch is available everywhere; we all have access to the forms it adopts &, therefore, they are not alien to us. The observation that must stem from this is that it is, in point of fact, mass-production which creates the concept of kitsch. Artwork becomes understandable & ultimately (as we shall discuss below) dillutted by its over-proliferatrion.

We, therefore, arrive at the aesthetics of kitsch. What is noticable in the proliferation of kitsch is that, generally speaking, it is the aesthetic form of artworks which is mass produced – bright colours, exagerration – rather than the content of said works. As the artistic form is dilluted from its mass-production, the form eventually realises ultimately inconsequential content. The effect of this is that the content of kitsch is left out of its consideration. In other words, kitsch places an aesthetic construct before content; in doing so, it makes the content of a work meaningless.


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