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Kitsch

The meaning of «kitsch»

Kitsch (/kɪtʃ/ KITCH; loanword from German)[a][1] is art or other objects that, generally speaking, appeal to popular rather than "high art" tastes. Such objects are sometimes appreciated in a knowingly ironic or humorous way.[2][3][4] The word was first applied to artwork that was a response to certain divisions of 19th-century art with aesthetics that favored what later art critics would consider to be exaggerated sentimentality and melodrama. Hence, "kitsch art" is closely associated with "sentimental art". Kitsch is also related to the concept of camp, because of its humorous and ironic nature.

Kitsch art may often contain palatable, pleasant and romantic themes and visuals that few would find disagreeable, shocking or otherwise objectionable; it generally attempts to appeal to the human condition and its natural standards of beauty on a superficial level. It may also be quaint or "quirky" without being controversial.

To brand visual art as "kitsch" is generally (but not exclusively) pejorative, as it implies that the work in question is gaudy, or that it serves a solely ornamental and decorative purpose rather than amounting to a work of what may be seen as true artistic merit. However, art deemed kitsch may be enjoyed in an entirely positive and sincere manner. The term is also sometimes applied to music or literature, or any work.[5]

As a descriptive term, "kitsch" originated in the art markets of Munich in the 1860s and the 1870s, describing cheap, popular, and marketable pictures and sketches.[6] In Das Buch vom Kitsch (The Book of Kitsch), Hans Reimann defines it as a professional expression "born in a painter's studio".

The study of kitsch was done almost exclusively in German until the 1970s, with Walter Benjamin being an important scholar in the field.[7]

Kitsch is regarded as a modern phenomenon, coinciding with social changes in recent centuries such as the Industrial Revolution, urbanization, mass production, modern materials and media such as plastics, radio and television, the rise of the middle class and public education—all of which have factored into a perception of oversaturation of art produced for the popular taste.

Modernist writer Hermann Broch argues that the essence of kitsch is imitation: kitsch mimics its immediate predecessor with no regard to ethics—it aims to copy the beautiful, not the good.[8] According to Walter Benjamin, kitsch is, unlike art, a utilitarian object lacking all critical distance between object and observer; it "offers instantaneous emotional gratification without intellectual effort, without the requirement of distance, without sublimation".[7]

Kitsch is less about the thing observed than about the observer.[9] According to Roger Scruton, "Kitsch is fake art, expressing fake emotions, whose purpose is to deceive the consumer into thinking he feels something deep and serious."[10]

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