Welcome to the blog for An Introduction to Architecture and Visual Communications.

Please use this blog to post your glosses.

post titles uncapitalized!!!


Wednesday, November 21, 2012


The word kitsch is used to characterize worthless and pretentious art[1]. The word originated from the German word kitsch, meaning gaudy and trash. It was first used in an English context by Brian Howard in 1926, a century after kitsch art appeared during the Industrial Revolution (1750-1850).

Prior to the revolution, there was only a market for formal culture for those who were literate, and had the wealth and leisure to invest in the fine arts and literature. However, during the industrial revolution, peasants from the countryside began to migrate to the city and learned to read and write for the sake of convenience[2]. In addition, books and paper became affordable during the revolution, creating a catalyst for universal literacy. The rising population of literate peasants who could not afford the exclusive culture in the city created a demand for a new culture, and kitsch filled the void.

Kitsch art is one dimensional and cliché in content, however it was preferred by the proletariat and has become the main culture of today’s society. A hypothetical situation of a Russian peasant faced with paintings Woman with a Fan by Picasso and Cossacks by Repin will attempt to explain the popularity behind kitsch.

The peasant interprets the Picasso as “a play of lines, colors and spaces that represent a woman”[3]. In Repin, “the peasant recognizes and sees things in the way in which he recognizes and sees things outside of pictures – there is no discontinuity between art and life”[4]. The hyper-realistic depiction simplifies the painting so there is only one interpretation that can be immediately identified without effort[5] and the melodramatic effects created by a cliché depiction of sunsets and explosions evoke Pathos in the spectator.

Not only did kitsch become popular in mainstream culture, it also became popular as the “main instrument for manipulation of masses”[6] in totalitarian societies. For instance, during Stalin Russia, the communist party “decreed art must serve the cause of revolution, and it could only do so with imagery that was universally and easily understandable”[7].  The shallowness of kitsch and the Pathos it creates is perfect for propaganda. The trend quickly spread among totalitarian governments, resulting works such as ‘Worker and a Kolkhoz Woman and ‘Hands of Victory’.

[1] "kitsch, n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://oed.com/view/Entry/103769?isAdvanced=false&result=2&rskey=YVmoXL& (accessed November 16, 2012).
[2] Greenbery, Clement. Avant Garde and Kitsch  ( Partisan Review 2005)
[6] Kulka, Tomáš. Kitsch and Art (Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002)
[7] Gibson, Eric. “Why Dictators Love Kitsch “ Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2009

No comments:

Post a Comment