Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Misunderstood World of Kitsch

Image Alex Drake Vintage

Last week I was fortunate enough to be a part of the IFB Links à La Mode Weekly Round-up, where one of the bloggers, the lovely Kimmie of KPfusion,  pondered about whether or not fashion is subjective. My personal answer was: "everything in life is subjective".

Today I've been attempting to rationalise the anarchy of my desk. Unsuccessfully. But during the attempt I came across some old photos of my previous furniture shop in the UK. At first glance the photos scream "Kitsch!". I gave them a second look, however, and an inner voice protested: "It's not kitsch, it's colourful and cool!".

Image Alex Drake Vintage, Shop stock 2006
As a vintage goods trader, I've never really put my foot down and 'educated' clients who would make a point of saying "Hey your things are Kitsch". It's not my style – I don't usually like to impose. And the absolute pared-down truth is, if I make a sale, especially to the person insisting on it, then I'd be a fool to challenge them. I'm in business. I'm not a crowd of demonstrators trying to put the world to rights.

❤ What exactly is Kitsch?
I'm guessing you've heard and read the word 'kitsch' at some point. In my case, I often hear it. Worse, people have pointed at my stuff and openly verbalised the word, with a palpable mockery in their tone. Often, I have the last laugh when they buy the item in question.
On Wikipedia, kitsch is dissected and analysed by artists, academics and theorists. For all its worth my understanding is that it's just a word made up by the upper classes in late 1800s, to taunt the 'newly moneyed bourgeois' and label the latter's taste as 'crass, cheap, worthless' imitation of high art. It was deemed as a 'threat to culture' and was 'evil'. It was also a willful forgetting that the old money of 1800s Western Europe was the new money of 100 years before.

Ducks via; clock & Tretchikoff Alex Drake Vintage; tv boat lamp CDianneZweig
❤ Avante-Garde vs. Kitsch
American essayist and art critic Clement Greenberg is known for his 1939 essay 'Avante-Garde and Kitsch'. Wikipedia states that he believed "Avante-Garde was the product of Enlightenment's revolution of critical thinking...while Kitsch on the other hand was the product of industrialization and urbanization of the working class...a populace hungry for culture, but without the education to enjoy cutting edge avant-garde culture".

Exactly a week ago, the American artist Cy Twombly - cited by the BBC as the 'original graffiti artist' - died in Rome, his home since the late 50's. I couldn't help but notice the echoes of the great divide between High Art and Kitsch and Cy Twombly vs. Banksy (I like all four by the way). For your reading pleasure, check out the controversial article from the Guardian cited at the end of this post.

Image via Cy Twombly Info
❤ Revenge of the Kitsch
In the 1950s, Kitsch wasn't just in paintings anymore. It established itself, more than ever, by occupying homes in the form of ceramic flying ducks, Vladimir Tretchikoff's green lady prints, starburst clocks, etc. Although Tretchikoff's work has always been blackballed by art critics - something that caused him huge distress - a month ago he had his first major retrospective (four years after his death in Capetown, South Africa). In 2008, one of his paintings sold for a record $559,000. And yes, his artworks are now on coasters, fabrics and wallpaper, gracing self-consciously chic homes all over the world.
Image via Retro-Luxe Blog
❤ What it means to me
If I were to ask you right now "What is art?", we could well start a discussion that rages for decades. As with everything else, it all comes down to personal preferences. For me, Kitsch is art - a product of creative energy and intention, whatever one thinks of the end-product. I can't draw or paint but I react to visually stimulating images. Art is art. No amount of scholastic interpretation can or will persuade me to like something which I don't understand, which doesn't trigger my pupils to dilate in awe. I believe artists and designers today are very fortunate, as we live in a highly tolerant, bohemian world. Where art and style are concerned nowadays, it's anything goes. I believe that therein lies the secret to contentment, satisfaction, and maybe even self-actualization. Life is relatively short – if Kitsch is your thing, enjoy it. I do.

Image via
Happy Tuesday everyone!

How about you? Does the word Kitsch offend you? Do you believe that Kitsch has killed high art? Do you own a Kitsch item?
Looking forward to hearing from you.




  1. When I think about kitsch, snow globes, gnomes, rows of various sized owls and things of that nature come to mind. I always associated the word with tchotskies so thank you for breaking it down. I never knew the real history behind it.

    Honestly, I feel like the art world thumbs its nose up at anything colorful that's not either abstract or avante-garde. Art really is subjective-you won't always be moved by a piece but at its core, it is supposed to be about self-expression. Regardless of the medium it's created in, it doesn't always have to be "high-brow". If what is created falls under "kitsch" that doesn't make it invalid or unworthy of appreciation.

  2. Well said, Kimmie. I couldn't agree more :)
    J xx

  3. For me the kitsch is a aesthetic category that has nothing to do with a systematization of bad taste, but with an exacerbation of the artificial and exaggerated...and I like that.

    (if i say something wrong, is because i speak spanish :)

  4. I think you made your point clearly.
    Thanks for visiting! :)
    Joy x

  5. Was just reading about how the spring summer collection is kitsch-inspired, and what should i see but the LV campaign photo on your post. Brought a smile to my face....

  6. Thanks. Glad you like. Did you read the 'Grauniad' link? Bonkers! :)

  7. This is a good post. My house is full of kitsch!

  8. Hi Dee,
    That makes the two of us. Ha!ha!
    Thanks for dropping by :)
    Joy x

  9. I love this post. I don't really have anything kitsch but I have always admired it.


    Carmen Vogue

  10. Thanks Lynn.
    Have a good week :)
    Joy xx

  11. cute cupcakes, and im starving for cakes now :)


  12. Ah, such an interesting topic. Loved reading the history of Kitsch, I have never found it to be offensive, but endearing and quirky.

  13. Thanks HS! Have one for me too :)
    Joy x

  14. Thanks Katie. It's always good to know I'm not the only one. :)
    Joy x

  15. Hi, Joy! If you're interested in Tretchikoff, you might like to visit my blog about his art:


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