Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Denis Dutton on Kitsch

In The Dictionary of Art, Macmillan, London, 1998:

Kitsch (from German, pretentious trash, kitschen, to smear, verkitschen, to make cheaply, to cheapen).

“Kitsch” has sometimes been used (for example, by Harold Rosenberg) to refer to virtually any form of popular art or entertainment, especially when sentimental. But though much popular art is cheap and crude, it is at least direct and unpretentious. On the other hand, a persistent theme in the history of the usage of “kitsch,” going back to the word’s mid-European origins, is pretentiousness, especially in reference to objects that ape whatever is conventionally viewed as high art. As Arnold Hauser has remarked, kitsch differs from merely popular forms in its insistence on being taken seriously as art. Kitsch can thus be defined as a kind of pseudo-art which has an essential attribute of borrowing or parasitism, and whose essential function is to flatter, soothe, and reassure its viewer and consumer.

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