March 24th, 2006

Pictorial propaganda: Part III–Kitsch and politics

The last post of mine (number two in this series) generated so many exceptional comments that I was thinking of just reproducing a few of them and calling it a day.

Here‘s one by grackle:

One problem with Rockwell for the critics is that Rockwell’s works are obviously good, so obvious that the average viewer can see it. This detracts from the modern art critic’s jealously guarded power to arbitrate between artist & public. And in modern criticism popularity is despised. Thus the critics like Saltz vigilantly & vehemently defend the corner into which they’ve painted themselves.

Despite Saltz’s condescension it is evident to even the casual & unschooled observer that Rockwell’s work has nuance & layers of meaning. One of the particulars of Rockwell’s genius is that his art, although accessible, is also subtle. He’s like Mark Twain in that his art can be approached in a variety of ways.

Like they did with Twain, with Rockwell the critics confuse sentiment with sentimentality, sentiment being the honest presentation of emotion based in reality & sentimentality being that which cloys under thoughtful examination & imbues the viewer with a feeling of being cynically manipulated.

And commenter SB poses the following question:

I must ask (for the hundredth time) when and how art’s highest purpose became to “challenge us and question things?”

That segues into the topic for today’s post: kitsch. Kitsch is a term referring to aesthetics, but—as we shall see—it also has class and political overtones.

The definition of kitsch:

Kitsch is a German term meaning “trash” that has been used to categorize art that is considered an inferior copy of an existing style. The term is also used more loosely in referring to any art that is pretentious or in bad taste, and also commercially produced items that are considered trite or crass.

Because the word was brought into use as a response to a large amount of art in the 19th century where the aesthetic of art work was confused with a sense of exaggerated sentimentality or melodrama, kitsch is most closely associated with art that is sentimental, mawkish, or maudlin; however, it can be used to refer to any type of art which is deficient for similar reasons — whether it tries to appear sentimental, glamorous, theatrical, or creative, kitsch is said to be a gesture imitative of the superficial appearances of art. It is often said that kitsch relies on merely repeating convention and formula, lacking the sense of creativity and originality displayed in genuine art.

That’s the esthetic criticism of kitsch. The class and political elements of the objection to kitsch are apparent in this seminal article on the subject, written in 1939 by Clement Greenberg and published in the Partisan Review. I tried to wade through it just now, and I have to confess I didn’t have the patience to read it in its entirety. But the gist of the message seems to be “the masses ain’t got no taste, and those in power use kitsch to keep them dumb and happy.”

Kitsch is detested for its simplicity and its easy appeal to sentimentality, as well as its formulaic qualities. I personally don’t think Rockwell falls squarely into the category of kitsch—I’m with commenter grackle on that score—but many would disagree, and that’s part of their objection to his work.

The attitude bears some resemblance to the way a gourmet might regard a Big Mac—or a cultural elitist a Walmart (an attitude that was amply demonstrated in the comments section as well, here).

Greenberg’s analysis of kitsch positively oozes with socialist condescension and class consciousness:

The peasants who settled in the cities as proletariat and petty bourgeois learned to read and write for the sake of efficiency, but they did not win the leisure and comfort necessary for the enjoyment of the city’s traditional culture. Losing, nevertheless, their taste for the folk culture whose background was the countryside, and discovering a new capacity for boredom at the same time, the new urban masses set up a pressure on society to provide them with a kind of culture fit for their own consumption. To fill the demand of the new market, a new commodity was devised: ersatz culture, kitsch, destined for those who, insensible to the values of genuine culture, are hungry nevertheless for the diversion that only culture of some sort can provide.

Kitsch, using for raw material the debased and academicized simulacra of genuine culture, welcomes and cultivates this insensibility. It is the source of its profits. Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas…Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our times….

Sound familiar? Certain recent criticisms of Rockwell such as Saltz’s, discussed at some length here, partake of a similar quality of sneering condescension, although Saltz skips the socialism and the overt class consciousness. But there’s a common theme, and it is this: “we elites know better than to be suckered in by this stuff, like you common folk. Not for us your simple pleasures; we are far more complex and nuanced.”

Author Milan Kundera has expounded at some length on kitsch and its relation to politics, and why its simplicity is to be abhorred. My guess is that, growing up in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia, his exposure to the genre would have been mainly through the soulessness of Soviet art, and the inherent lie within it (what commenter grackle refers to as cynical manipulation).

Kundera states that kitsch is:

defined it as “the absolute denial of shit.” [Kundera's] argument was that kitsch functions by excluding from view everything that humans find difficult to come to terms with, offering instead a sanitised view of the world in which “all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions.”

In its desire to paper over the complexities and contradictions of real life, kitsch, Kundera suggested, is intimately linked with totalitarianism. In a healthy democracy, diverse interest groups compete and negotiate with one another to produce a generally acceptable consensus; by contrast, “everything that infringes on kitsch,” including individualism, doubt, and irony, “must be banished for life” in order for kitsch to survive. Therefore, Kundera wrote, “Whenever a single political movement corners power we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch.”

So here we have the germ of an answer to commenter SB’s question above: kitschy simplicity in art is often used in the service of a totalitarian society in which doubt and questions are not allowed. In response to that, art and artists feel a need to “challenge and question”—or at least, to be part of a society that allows challenge and questions. Kundera objects to kitsch for this reason: he feels that its lack of complexity and denial of darkness is somehow allied with the totalitarian impulse, which he rejects utterly.

A similar sort of thinking may underlie some of the objections of those such as Saltz to the paintings of Rockwell. It’s not just elitism, although that is most definitely part of it. They reject the paintings on esthetic grounds, defining them as inferior art designed to appeal to the masses (kitsch). But many also see them as insidious and seductive propaganda in the cause of a jingoistic, nationalistic, power-mad America.

We have become so sophisticated as a society that it is very difficult to use art as a rallying cry for a cause, as was done so effectively during World War II. Whether it be posters such as Rockwell’s, or movies and songs (see Armed Liberal’s recent discussion of the film “Yankee Doodle Dandy”), even our popular culture has become imbued with a darker and more critical tone. I don’t think Kundera need be concerned about any “absolute denial of shit” in today’s America.

The impulse to reject facile and simplistic propaganda is not necessarily a bad one. It’s a good thing to be aware of how easily opinion can be influenced, and to guard against skillful manipulation in an unjust cause, especially when the medium of that manipulation is the stirring up of hatred (which is never the function of kitsch anyway). But when all propaganda—including everything simplistic, sentimental, or feel-good—is rejected, then one of the most effective tools in rallying the public to that cause is eliminated. This can be especially hazardous when the enemy is not the least bit reluctant to use every propaganda tool that the modern world can offer, and to use them skillfully and well.

70 Responses to “Pictorial propaganda: Part III–Kitsch and politics”

  1. douglas Says:

    The funny thing about “All in the Family” is that it’s supposed to show Archie as the typical rigid conservative moron, but who’s the one putting food on the table and a roof overhead? Sure wasn’t Meathead. I think he was entitled to every complaint that issued forth from his mouth, and was right pretty often too.

  2. Ben-David Says:

    Milan Kundera’s definition of kitsch as hiding/denying the sh*t of reality doesn’t just apply to totalitarian propaganda.

    It applies perfectly to the airbrushed reality used by media and advertisers to stimulate envy and consumption in the West.

    There is no doubt that this sort of “kitsch”-based communication has been used to mold society – which until recently was in the captive thrall of one-way mass media such as TV and print.

    I speak as a member of the American generation trained to hold liberal opinions by the TV shows like:

    Courtship of Eddie’s Father
    Julia
    All in the Family
    Maude
    One Day at A Time
    Kate and Allie
    Three’s Company

    … and the beat goes one with Ellen DeGeneris and that new show about polygamy…

    So: obviously totalitarian regimes do not in any way have an exclusive claim on politically motivated kitsch (although it’s interesting that American political kitsch has been largely the product of the Left).

  3. douglas Says:

    oh, and again about this- “…and my Jewishness has luckily never come into contact with the masses of ‘Red America’ who claim to love Israel and have never met a Jew.”
    Funny how you despise those you admit not having interacted with, at least they claim to love your heritage without having met a jew.

  4. douglas Says:

    “President Bush, who had an argument with his mother that Jews could never get into heaven and called Billy Graham to back him up?”
    You have Bush’s phones tapped? And does it affect you if someone believes you can’t get into heaven, so long as they act in a civilized fashion (or better) towards you? Ultimatly, that’s God’s call, no? Some believe one thing some another, I don’t care so long as they don’t want to kill me, imprison me, or be a second class citizen for it.

    “As for my own ‘suffering’ I wouldn’t claim it’s anything worth talking about.”
    Thanks. Then why did you bring it up?

    “My political beliefs never cost me anything…”
    We already knew that, didn’t we.

    “…and my Jewishness has luckily never come into contact with the masses of ‘Red America’ who claim to love Israel and have never met a Jew.”
    Thank God for that. Please stay safely ensconced in Manhattan, or West L.A. or whichever liberal enclave you are in. I’d hate to have those lowly red staters think you represented all Jews.

    “I guess people tend to get riled up so much by these internet discussion because there’s nothing at stake.”
    ???If there’s nothing at stake, what is there to get riled up about? And exactly who is it that’s riled up? Seems to be you mainly.
    I think there’s a great deal at stake, debate of ideas is everything we are, in the end. We are not animals only interested in a meal and a safe place to rest.

  5. Bezuhov Says:

    “Billy Graham might be an exception – I think he has a bit more integrity than some of the others.”

    A bit?

    I doubt historians will ever catch on, but if you’re ever curious about why the U.S. didn’t follow Europe down the road to late 20th century ruin, you’d do worse than to study the twin impact of Graham and King.

    Evangelicals still pack a pretty substantial influence, but to the average joe who’s actually paying attention, they’re a lot less scary these days because:

    A. The politics of the Evangelicals themselves has changed substantially (and is continuing to do so, mostly in a liberal direction, but recently turning left like the mainline denominations before them).

    B. The “left” that once allied to with the liberals to take over American institutions has become a lot more scary itself, especially to liberals.

  6. SB Says:

    Have to agree with goy about the status of evangelicals. They constitute a lunatic fringe and an embarrassment to mainstream Republicans and conservatives. Billy Graham might be an exception – I think he has a bit more integrity than some of the others. At least he doesn’t stick his foot in his mouth every time there’s a major news story.

    I have to ask whether L.A. lived through the late 70s-early 80s when Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition were at the top of their game. It was extremely creepy, especially if you lived, as I did, in the Virginia Beach area where Robertson built his palatial headquarters. That place was intended to dominate and overawe people with the apparent power and wealth of Christian evangelicism. If I recall correctly, Robertson’s influence on local politics was pernicious. Compared to that time, evangelicals’ influence today is negligible.

    I don’t think the Republicans are dominated by evangelicals any more than the Democrats are dominated by Communists. There’s influence, yes, and the fringies on the left and right get lots of press because they’re so outrageous. We would be wise to keep an eye on them. But cries of “theocracy” and “welfare state” seem a bit premature.

    Personally, I would be happier if the Republicans and Democrats would openly distance themselves from the fringe. That is, stronger denunciations of Pat Robertsons stupid press statements and no more seating Michael Moore next to former presidents at the national convention. Is it too hard to say “These people are welcome to their opinions, but their views do not represent those of our party?” I guess…

    Back to Art…

    I followed Grackle’s link to check out Jerub-Baal’s homepage. Again, I’m not an art expert but I found J-B’s paintings both beautiful and thought-provoking. I hope this is proof that an artist can succeed in stimulating the viewer without being puerile or offensive.

  7. Jerub-Baal Says:

    Thank you Grackle, for your 2:18PM comment. That was very gracious and encouraging.

  8. Ymarsakar Says:

    I wish they would make up their minds because debunking the one makes it seem that the debunker is defending the other & my life is hard enough as it is.

    All conscientious propagandists seek the ideal Catch 22 dilemma. I’m not saying they are conscientious propagandists, however, but they do seek and have accomplished a Catch 22.

  9. goy Says:

    It’s interesting to think anyone would admit to an honest belief that ‘evangelicas’, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham are the moving force behind the American Right at the moment. Perhaps the American Self-Marginalized-Far-Far-Far Right. But this cadre certainly does not speak for folks like myself or those with whom I tend to agree politically. Not even close.

    Regarding the “two-state” lefties mentioned. It seems to me they’re safe in paying lip service to a solution made unlikely (at best) by the fact that the palestinian leadership refuses (to put it charitably) to support it. Yes, I’m aware that with their newly minted position in the eyes of the world, Hamas has temporarily dropped its call for the complete and utter destruction of Israel. It’s a miracle! Can I get a Amen!??

    But that’s not really what I wanted to write about, which got too long to be a comment so I moved it here.

  10. grackle Says:

    On another vein altogether: I had a look at Jerub-Baal’s paintings & they look to be the work of a talented artist. Well done, Jerub-Baal.

  11. grackle Says:

    Has anyone else noticed that the anti-warriors take turns on alternately claiming Bush is a pawn of the Israelis(in a recent controversial paper from Harvard) & claiming that Bush is a raging anti-Semitic. I wish they would make up their minds because debunking the one makes it seem that the debunker is defending the other & my life is hard enough as it is.

  12. Mike Says:

    I think Loyal Achates needs a hug.

  13. Loyal Achates Says:

    Anti-semitism is now a distinguishing feature of the political Left in this country; the Right has become fervently philosemitic.

    The Right is philosemitic, huh? The Right which, in this country, is dominated by fervent evangelicas who want the Jews back in Israel so that jesus will return and all the Jews will be wiped out? Do you mean Pat Robertson, who claimed that Sharon’s stroke was because God would strike down anyone one did anything against this dream of a jews-only Israel? Or Jerry Fallwell, who only just now decided that maybe all Jews weren’t going to hell? Or President Bush, who had an argument with his mother that Jews could never get into heaven and called Billy Graham to back him up? That’s the moving force behind the American Right at this moment. They have no concern for the well-being of the security of the jews in Israel or elsewhere except as pawns and they are the largest anti-semtiic group in the country.

    The ‘anti-semitism of the Left’ is, so far as I have been able to tell, invoked because people don’t react so strongly to charges of ‘anti-Zionism’. And they react even less to the general position of the Left towards Israel, which is (with variations, of course) that the occupation should end and that it isn’t the most important thing in the whole wide world that Israel maintain via any means necessary a Jewish majority for all eternity. Maybe it would be nice, but logistically impossible. These views are not terribly controversial, even within Israeli politics.

    Strangely, of all the left-wing figures whose ‘anti-semtisism’ is legendary – Chomsky, Finkelstein, Galloway, Cockburn, Said, Tariq Ali et al. – every single one of them supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So we have a basic disagreement on the history but not on the resolution.

    As for my own ‘suffering’ I wouldn’t claim it’s anything worth talking about. My political beliefs never cost me anything, and my Jewishness has luckily never come into contact with the masses of ‘Red America’ who claim to love Israel and have never met a Jew. I guess people tend to get riled up so much by these internet discussion because there’s nothing at stake.

  14. Jerub-Baal Says:

    Well Grackle, because of my stance on Piss Christ, which I based solely on the image itself (including knowledge of its make-up) but divorced from the politics (WARNING, more blatant link begging) and knowing of his large scale polaroids of the homeless (which I thought were beautiful) I almost bought a retrospective book on Serrano. The MFA, Boston had it, so I picked it up and started to leaf through it. Unfortunately one whole section was blatant pornography of the worst sort of objectification and degredation. Forget about protecting my kids, I couldn’t buy it for the sake of my own concience. Herein lies the key difference between the likes of Andreas Serrano and Thomas Kincaid (or Rockwell). Kincaid’s form of manipulation of his audience, his propaganda if you will, is based on his wish to provide something of beauty that people will find uplifting (he openly speaks of his faith as a reason for what he does), where as Serrano cynically aims for the bottom, he wants to degrade. As an artist that has struggled with portraying the positive side of spirituality without being mawkish, I can’t bring myself to critize Kinkaid for what I find to be emotionally flat. Rockwell and Kincaid (I am not equating their abilities or impact) wanted their art to have a positive impact. I’m not sure that Serrano or much of the ‘bleeding edge’ of art really care what the legacy of their art is.
    Unfortunately, due to the politics that have been wrapped around ‘Piss Christ’ it will probably be long remembered, at least in the Art History books. My opinion is the rest will end up on the trash heap. Our grandkids will not be seeing any of it pop up on Antiques Road Show as a representation of great American art.

  15. grackle Says:

    From Piss Christ to Rockwell, its all great in my book. They all have their place firmly entrenched in art history. I just don’t see the lasting impact of Rockwell.

    If Serrano has more “lasting impact” than Rockwell for future art historians, then that would be a future in which I would be glad not to be around because it would be a future with a warped aesthetic. But the author wants it both ways: On the one hand “its all great,” on the other hand Rockwell will lack “lasting impact.” Some are apparently greater than others.

    With all due respect, I don’t think artist or art critics (esp. Saltz) care about the masses. They continue to produce work they enjoy. People can view/read their work or not

    I don’t believe that critics should “care about the masses.” Caring “about the masses” is a political concept & the subjugation of art by politics is part of what I believe is wrong with the ‘modern art’ scene. Indeed, Saltz & his cohorts are influenced too much by politics. Obviously, critics should care only about art.

    Serrano just was tired of organized religion, that’s his opinion. Many think differently. In my book, its hard to say that either group is wrong to think or feel the way they do. Serrano doesn’t have a better or worse handle on dismal reality than any of us. We all search for something different in viewing art and come to many different conclusions. There is more to his art than the shock value.

    Although I am not really interested in Serrano’s opinions on religion, if he had created a decent work of art on the subject I would sing his praises & avidly read the critics that supported him. However, I find his photographs, except for the purposefully shocking arrangement & use of various materials, very pedestrian, indistinguishable in technique from many other photographers. In fact, in some ways Andres Serrano & Thomas Kinkade are very much alike. Both seek to exploit the art consumer; one sells shock while the other markets sentimentality. Both utilize a banal & commonplace technique.

  16. douglas Says:

    Steve, If the situation is as you describe with new WalMartvilles replacing quaint little villages; why do the people leave the quaint villages for the horrors of WalMartville and let the mom-and-pop stores die?

  17. Bezuhov Says:

    “That is the level where having art be common would also make it good.”

    = )

    My mom is always getting me Kincaide calendars and whatnot (as well as Joel Osteen books) to “cheer me up”. Her own personal propaganda effort, perhaps.

  18. Jerub-Baal Says:

    Thanks Grackle, the ‘shut-up-and-look-wise’ comment comes from my continually finding that others get to the point faster and more eloquently than I. My skills seem stacked more on the visual-art side than the word-smithing side, so it doesn’t really bother me. It’s rather humorous actually.

    As for Kincaid, his work is pretty. For a lot of people, that does the job. He’s obviously tapped into something, as he now has a chain of mall-stores. We’ll see where it goes in the future, but he’s making a good living at it and more power to him.

    The whole ‘elites vs. the commons’ thing is central to one of my biggest arguments about how art is taught, viewed, critiqued and considered in our culture. Creativity is a central aspect of human-ness. All people are creative. My neighbor and good friend George is also my mechanic. He used to be in the Navy as a flight mech on a carrier. The man could strip out a jet engine, break it down, rebuild it over night and stuff it in the plane and his pilot never blinked to push the throttle open and take off. No one will ever convince me that George is not creative, he’s just creative in a different way than an artist. Drawing and ‘draftsmanship’ were standard fair for all students in colleges in the victorian era. Not everyone was Monet, but many learned to draw well enough to take field notes or make family portraites. We have been sold a bill of goods when art has become something only an elite few can do. Go take a painting class, or go to Dover Books and buy a Bridgeman’s figure book and learn to draw people. So, maybe you’ll hang your stuff on the wall, or your aunt’s flower painting (we have a couple of pieces by my wife’s aunt) instead of buying one of my paintings. It’s OK, because somebody will buy my work. The more people become involved with art, at any level, the better it will be for artists like me who are making a living at it.

    That is the level where having art be common would also make it good.

  19. grackle Says:

    Jerub-Baal says: So I’m back to “You can keep your mouth shut and pretend to be wise,…” as self advice.

    I hope not since I found your post very interesting. I Googled up Thomas Kinkade & took a look at his art & agree with you that it’s not worth hanging. It’s formulaic – he’s staked out a sentimental lode & is mining it for all its worth. His art looks to be the epitome of sentimentality.

    I don’t find such blatant sentimentality in Rockwell. Instead I see absolute command over a variety of techniques & materials, immense compositional skills & an ability to portray an optimistic viewpoint without resort to obvious cliché. Rockwell had a talent for pictorial summation that is epitomized by such paintings as New Kids in the Neighborhood & The Problem We All Live With. The darkness is there but it’s the subtext instead of the main text & that is why I believe some dislike Rockwell – because in his work light takes precedent over dark. But a Kinkade he is not.

  20. Bezuhov Says:

    “Are you saying that people couldn’t afford cars before Wal-mart?”

    Not as many as can now. Walmart really does offer everyday low prices for necessities people used to have to pay a lot more for. If you don’t understand basic economics, don’t blame me.

    “So being a “real progressive” means embracing a situation where the American landscape is covered with vast suburban sprawl,”

    Ever been in an airplane? Covered my ass.

    “and where manufacturing jobs are outsourced to China, so that Real Red State Americans can get low paying and low benefit jobs wearing demeaning uniforms and working at fast food outlets and Walmarts. Got it.”

    What’s progressive about priveleging Americans over Chinese? Don’t worry, if you want to cheat instead of compete, before long the Chinese will be the ones with the higher value skills.

    Obviously, I have more confidence in American capabilities than you.

    “And they dislike this even more than I do.”

    Then why the hell do they all shop at Wal-Mart ?!?

    Steve, I have trouble believing you. I currently live in West Virginia, and spent ten years in south Georgia. The only people I know who don’t like Wal-Mart are busy-body self-styled “progressives” and those too lazy or stuck in the past to adapt to the new economic opportunities it engenders.

  21. TalkinKamel Says:

    Steve, I cannot remember the last time I saw any independent stores in a mall. The malls I have seen always contain chain stores, i.e., Hallmark, Old Navy, Perfumes 4 less, B. Daltons, etc. I have never seen a Mom and Pop store inside one of them.

    Also, malls must be “anchored” by two or three big stores: i.e., a Neiman Marcus, a Dillards, a Sears (for the peasantry), etc., as well as one of the big chain bookstores, such as Barnes and Noble, which many elites blame for putting small bookstores out of business. Your average mall is going to have at least one of them, and, possibly, two, if they can squeeze them in. They are not going to invite Betty, of “Betty’s Bargain Books” to set up shop there, and she won’t be able to afford the rent for any of the stores in the area around it.

    Malls usually cover more space than Wal-Marts, and they’re always surrounded by acres of parking lots, theatres, restaurants and smaller chain stores. That’s a lot of land, not just Farmer so-and-so’s old cornfields. And the bus routes will be re-routed away from the old downtown areas (where a lot of the mom-and-pop stores are located)to haul passengers to the mall. As far as I can see, malls eat up more land, and create more traffic jams (ours is in the middle of town by the way, not outside it)and put more local businesses out of business than any one Wal-Mart does.

    And if the problem is arable land—if we need more of it, we need more; it doesn’t matter if we lose it to a mall, a Wal-Mart or a giant Hello Kitty store! Gone is gone is gone.

    I really think it’s aesthetics. Wal-Mart is perceived as tacky and blue collar. Malls, supposedly, attract a more elegant kind of shopper; they also contain all the chain stores that the elites like, such as Chico’s, Talbot’s, Bahama Bob’s.

    I mean, let’s get real—the people who hate Wal-Marts were not the sort of guys who ever shopped at Betty’s Bargain Books or Kim’s Kountry Fashions! Nope, they drove to the city to shop at the “Finer” stores, being sure to stop at a Barnes and Noble on the way for a double-soy decaffe latte, hold the whipped cream, and the latest book on how America is being ruined by mass culture and doesn’ appreciate art.

    Now that Betty’s and Kim’s have closed, Kim’s and Betty’s former clientele are shopping at Wal-Mart because they can’t afford the mall. And, of course, they are sneered at by the mall goers, who find them thoroughly tacky. . .

    And as for traffic—I live in Southern California. You have to drive everywhere out here, even to the grocery store. One of the reasons you have to do so much driving is that if anyone tries to build a grocery store, a shopping center or even a park anywhere near a residential area, the NIMBY’S will all be out in force to protect the area’s pristine beauty and “rural” character. This means you must drive miles to get so much as carton of milk.

    If Kim or Betty tried relocating their stores anywhere near a surburban area, they’d be run out by hordes of indignant homeowners, who see their shops as affronts to their pristine communities—the same sort of people who are always up in arms about Wal-Marts.

  22. Jerub-Baal Says:

    OK, I should have just shut up and waited for Grackle to answer…a much better summation of the topic.

    So I’m back to “You can keep your mouth shut and pretend to be wise,…” as self advice.

  23. grackle Says:

    I know you’re trying to be “thoughtful” and everything, but saying that art is good if it’s popular and calling anyone who disagrees with you an “elitist” is just plain dumb.

    What I’m trying to say is different than “art is good if it’s popular,” but rather that in art popularity doesn’t necessarily preclude goodness – quite a different idea than Anon 5:00 PM’s unfair summation. After all, Twain was very popular in his own time, yet is rightly regarded today as one our greatest writers.

    What’s “dumb,” or perhaps dishonest, is to knock Rockwell’s talent for thinly disguised political & social reasons & to try to dress the criticism up in aesthetic clothing.

  24. Jerub-Baal Says:

    Again, off origional topic, Re: Ymarsakar. I think that’s part of my reaction to people trying to protect me from Wal-Mart or the “Target of the Moment” (forgive the pun). I grew into my teenage years in a town in NH just as the last shoe mills were closing. It was a depressing placeds, good jobs were hard to come by, and I chose to stay in Boston instead of going home to (at best) a mill job. Now the economy is booming, and though it has grown it is still a pretty place to be. It has survived the shock of the tech-bubble and the shenanigans of Tycho, both of which lost a lot of jobs for the area. The area is much more diversified, with a lot more small stores and businesses, and what d’ya know, a Wal-Mart! The key to it all is diversity of economy. Now, in an attempt to bend this all back to topic, diversity is the reason I’ve taken the leap into the arts, after years in corporate sales. The art market is much more diversified in style, content and even (yes) politics than it ever has been, at least from my perspective. The very top strata may not understand that, but it’s true. Because the economy is better, more people than ever can buy art. Maybe they buy a Thomas Kincade print. OK, not my type of stuff (but then, neither is Rockwell, I rather liked Pyle, Dunn and NC Wyeth, nice escapist adventure stuff) As an artist, I do a lot of stuff about mortality and decay, and theology (verses true religion i.e. actually helping the poor and defenseless) I don’t expect the average person to want to hang it in their livingroom. A good friend who has a law office wanted to hang some of my work there, and I tried to talk him out of it, as I thought it was too confrontational for a business enviroment. Turns out it’s been very popular. I don’t expect you to like my work just because I did it. Just because I’m an artist doesn’t make me superior to you, just as my being a blogger doesn’t make me more important (you could look at my hit count to prove that!) Not that I am a paragon of humility, but the art world is known for its hubris. If someone wants to call Kincade kitsch (and I’m sure it’s been said) that’s their problem. If somebody likes it enough to buy it, great!

    as for anonymous jc, I think you;ve got it backwards. It’s not so much that anyone is trying to say popular is good and elite is bad, it’s more that we are tired of someone claiming to be elite and saying that we are common know-nothing plebes. Even a lot of we artists are tired of it. It’s boorish and bad for business.

  25. Anonymous Says:

    A weird argument at best. Basically you’re saying that it’s wrong to try to convince others not to shop at wal-mart because that would be “interfering” with the market. But consumers sharing information and discussing what’s good to buy and where to shop is the market. If anything, this is elitism: “stop worrying about the economic effects of your consumption and just buy, you stupid working-class peopns!”

    jc

  26. grackle Says:

    I would demur a little bit on the subject of serious music. Strauss, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Bartok and Prokofiev wrote a lot of “shocking” music in the first couple decades of the 20th C. But, to the extent that that kind of music has any audience at all anymore, I have found that among those works the ones to have survived the best are the ones with the better melodies. What can I say.

    There’s not a lot of melody in Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, at least not the kind you can whistle; indeed, one of the things the riot in Paris was about was the lack of hummable melody but it’s a popular concert piece, nonetheless & gets scheduled all the time, drawing appreciative & sizable audiences.

    I assume Richard Strauss is being referred to, whose atonal harmonics also resulted in melodies difficult to whistle, but Strauss gets played & sung quite a bit. With few exceptions, Stravinsky being one(Le Sacre du Printemps & L’Oiseau de feu were both composed early in Stravinsky’s career), I think that if early creations don’t get played it is largely because beginning pieces predate the improved technique displayed in mature works.

  27. Ymarsakar Says:

    I don’t think so. Wal-Mart is just another symptom of centralized consumer outlets that put smaller, specialied outlets out of business,

    You hit a pothole here. Better extricate.

    All anyone has to do is read this piece by John Ross to understand why when steve says what he says, steve is wrong.

    Link 2

    Link 1

    On a shooting-oriented discussion board recently, I entered a discussion where some posters were saying that people in general and shooters in particular shouldn’t patronize Wal-Mart and other “big-box stores,” as they were driving small merchants, especially gunshops, out of business.

    Economist Joseph Schumpeter coined a marvelously accurate term called “creative destruction.”

    It refers to the fact that in the free market, there is always someone figuring out new ways to provide a good or a service that either does something entirely new, or, more likely, does something old in a better way. The new creativity inevitably destroys some part of “the way things were.” Ever hear of Keuffel & Esser? They had the major part of the slide rule market for students and engineers. Gone. Ever hear of National Cash Register? They changed their name to NCR Corp. because they don’t make cash registers any longer. They make and sell all manner of the things that stores use to handle transactions today, like scanners, self-checkout equipment, etc., and are thriving.

    Great fortunes were once made in America in textiles. Then canals and shipping. Then railroads. Then banking. Then newspapers. Then retailing. Then oil. Then automobiles. Then consumer goods. Then computers and software. Then telecommunications. Tomorrow it will be something else. This is not to imply that telecommunications replaced textiles, or anything like that, but that the only constant in the market of consumer needs and desires is change. The free market is a continuously running play with an ever-changing cast.

  28. Anonymous Says:

    Sorry, folks. I know you’re trying to be “thoughtful” and everything, but saying that art is good if it’s popular and calling anyone who disagrees with you an “elitist” is just plain dumb. It’s like saying McDonalds food must be the best food because it’s the most popular and that anyone who says you should eat vegetables has some political axe to grind.

    jc

  29. Jerub-Baal Says:

    This is what happens when I lock myself into the studio to make artwork, I can’t come out have a civil conversation about art. Steve, please consider the argument for itself, it’s not meant as a flame. I’d re-write it but I can’t think of how to.

    As to the topic…the art world has traditionally been a place for those with wealth, power and ‘manners’ to show that they are better. Art used to be the provenance of nobility, both making it and supporting it. The idea of nobility was pretty universally disliked, so we either ran the bums out of town, or co-opted them, or (as in England) turned them into decorations but left them pretty much powerless. Unfortunately, the desire to BE perceived as nobility is fairly universal. And so we have today, where the economic progeny of the bourgeois see themselves as the nobility. Naturally they also want us to see them as nobility. To see this in action in near-history, find an old ArtNews or some such art mag from the seventies. It’s almost impossible to read any of the critical theory for all of the sophomore level Freudianism, Marxism, and ad-nauseum-ism.
    I think that the reason for everyone’s heightened awareness of this is that the attitudes and ideas of the intelligentsia have spread and established themselves enough to effect the debate on national security.
    Oscar Wilde made a life out of skewering the elites. The elites today could use him, for they seem to have forgotten that (and I’m badly quoting here) “You can keep your mouth shut and pretend to be wise, but there is no way to pretend to be witty.”

    …of course, I should probably hold on to the first part of that quote myself…

  30. Jerub-Baal Says:

    Steve said…”I’d be happy to support any legislation that protects our arable and woodlands, that centralizes and monitors housing and mall development, and that encourages small businesses and agriculture. “

    Unfortunately, that type of government oversight of private property is already the norm. In my home-town in NH the zoning laws have been changed such that I could not build a home on the family property, because of ‘safety’ concerns and the ‘desire to protect the rural feel’ of the town. This has left my mom with a high property tax burden and property of practically no value, because it can’t be used.

    The more laws there are to protect our own property from ourselves, the more those laws will be ‘gamed’ by the bureaucrats to the detriment of the people supposedly being protected.

    yeah, urban sprawl is bad (I’m so tempted to jump out and say “Booga-Booga”) but the truth is, when people are allowed a stake in their own lives, they tend to take care of it. A hundred years ago NH and much of the rest of New England had been clear cut, and you could stand in many places in the white Mountains and see nothing but fields. Now the forests are back. Economics changed and farmers moved west, leaving land to regrow. Others took to replanting woodlands. Now the northeast is growing again in population. On the other hand many areas of the upper mid-west are being left abandoned. Maybe in 80 to 100 years we’ll get the prarries back. If you really want to stop development, institute a ‘one-child-only’ policy, but I don’t think you want to go there.

    OK, that’s an off-topic rant, sorry, but advocating government land takings (which is the practical result of land use legislation) strikes a nerve.

  31. SB Says:

    Neo & All:

    Coming to this part of the discussion a bit late. Art is definitely not my area of expertise, so I’m really glad to be able to follow a discussion among people who have studied the issue more thoroughly than I have.

    Learning is good.

  32. Steve Says:


    Maybe you used to be able to cover it in ten, but it took me two and a half hours by foot. Now I can afford a car thanks to Wal-Mart.

    Are you saying that people couldn’t afford cars before Wal-mart?

    You can be a reactionary if you want, just don’t even kid yourself that you’re looking out for the little guy.

    So you think being opposed to Walmart and seeing miles of miles of farmland turned into suburbs that are in fact usually financially out of reach of “the little guy” is reactionary? Got it.


    Note: there’s also the not inconsiderable matter of the millions of Chinese little guys getting their first chance in millenia thanks to Wal-Mart. Dismiss them or be a real progressive – your choice.

    So being a “real progressive” means embracing a situation where the American landscape is covered with vast suburban sprawl, and where manufacturing jobs are outsourced to China, so that Real Red State Americans can get low paying and low benefit jobs wearing demeaning uniforms and working at fast food outlets and Walmarts. Got it.

    Most of the people I actually know are lower-middle class folks in what is left of blue collar jobs. They fly flags and do fireworks every Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. They are religious (Christians), and they have very traditional beliefs, customs, and expense patterns. And they dislike this even more than I do. But, hey, they just don’t know what’s good for them, right?

    Most of the suburban sprawl and Walmartization benefits them in no way. The suburbs are actually ex-urbs for people with frequently leftoid politics who work in big cities and then commute to their homes. Their average salary is 2-3 times that of the locals, with the result that neither the homes, nor most of the stores in the local malls, are within reach of the “little guys.” The influx of ex-urbs, in turn, further de-values the dollars the locals do make. It also leads to all kinds of liberal interventions in terms of laws and regulations. Right. Just what we need.

  33. Steve Says:

    Artists have to be paid to make a living, and to do that you need patronage (usually s.o. who owns a gallery) and some rich people who will buy your stuff. To sell your stuff, you need a spiel. That is why Serrano had a whole long thing about bodily fluids in his work. To the extent that some rich people supported him (or federal grants), that’s all that really matters, to him. Meanwhile, the role of critics is to pimp for the artists they like, and in addition, make a pitch for their own “importance.”

    The same thing goes for literature, music, film.

    The whole thing is set up for people to be as outrageous, and therefore, as attention-getting, as possible.

    I would demur a little bit on the subject of serious music. Strauss, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Bartok and Prokofiev wrote a lot of “shocking” music in the first couple decades of the 20th C. But, to the extent that that kind of music has any audience at all anymore, I have found that among those works the ones to have survived the best are the ones with the better melodies. What can I say.

    As to pop music today, well. I find it hard to believe that people will be listening to hiphop in 20 years. But it’s already be around for 20 years. So ….

  34. Bezuhov Says:

    “the smaller businesses will go out of business”

    Data? Particular (inefficient providers of basic goods) small businesses do go out of business. Others (more specialized, offering better service) arise. Without this process, we’d all be Amish, and not coincidentally, not having this conversation.

    “pretty soon it will take you 45 minutes to cover a distance that you used to be able to cover in ten.”

    Maybe you used to be able to cover it in ten, but it took me two and a half hours by foot. Now I can afford a car thanks to Wal-Mart.

    You can be a reactionary if you want, just don’t even kid yourself that you’re looking out for the little guy.

    Note: there’s also the not inconsiderable matter of the millions of Chinese little guys getting their first chance in millenia thanks to Wal-Mart. Dismiss them or be a real progressive – your choice.

  35. grackle Says:

    As for Serrano, he does produce beautiful work. Even Piss Christ is renowned for its colors. He has this unique ability to find the beauty in evil.

    The above quote from a comment in Part II contains much of what’s wrong with ‘modern art.’ There is a fascination & glorification by modern critics & modern artists of the pathological & the morbid that frequently descends into artifacts(I refuse to call them art) created for nothing but the shock value of the piece. This rot eats through almost all the arts, not just painting; it’s certainly all too evident in poetry, novels & sculpture.

    Pop music is also enthralled by it but fine music mostly escapes simply because a musical composition, by the universal nature of the art itself, does not lend itself well to the proselytizing of morbidity & the desire to scandalize.

    True, Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps was considered scandalous & caused a riot at its premier, but the listener of today would find nothing but an exciting piece of music – no politics, no denigration of religion, no overt statement about society’s imagined shortcomings. Le Sacre was infamous for only a short while; once time erased the colloquial & historical elements surrounding its inception it became just another piece of good music. Future viewers of Piss Christ, if there are any for other than historical purposes, will not have this advantage; they will be visually assaulted by Serrano’s symbolic vulgarities.

    The good news is that except for a few Serranos that are elevated by Saltz-like critics & made famous(for a time), no one makes a living at it. It turns out that most art consumers, even the trend-chasers & well-off in Manhattan & Hollywood, will not buy this stuff, perhaps because of a dim recognition that it is aesthetically worthless. This is why the un-anointed try so hard for subsidization by taxpayers through government grants for the arts. Who else is going to pay them? How else would they survive? The true kitsch of today can be found in the galleries & lofts of Soho.

  36. Steve Says:

    Village Idiot: Walmarts are not typically sited in towns. They are typically sited off some main highway that, again, typically, runs through farmland or woodland. Once the Walmart is installed, the first problem you have is traffic, because the local two lane blacktops were not designed for it. After traffic comes stop lights. After stop lights comes gas stations. While all of this is going on, the presence of the Walmart increases the value of the surrounding farmland. The farmer then sells his farmland to real estate developers. Because of fears of over-crowding, the real estate developer will at first ensure that the houses he plans to build will be low density, i.e., take 1-2 acres and put one house on it. So he builds some McMansions, in scattered parcels. Then the next group of scattered parcels are used for higher density units, the kind where the power lines run right over your kids swing sets and the front door is five feet from the curb (there are never any sidewalks). Finally, the developer will go to court and insist that there has to be low income housing around here, because the other housing is discriminatory by virtue of its price. So, you then get hundreds of units of postage stamp size. Property taxes increase because the infrastructure was not properly attended to, traffic becomes a nightmare, rainwater has no place to runoff and causes floods while groundwater is disturbed and causes sinkholes in adjacent communities. Property values fall, in part because people wanted to live near the country, but the country has disappeared, and what you are left with are sprawling bedroom communities with no core, that become rather unsightly rather fast. Also, crime rates are high because kids have no core to their community and nothing to do.

    Meanwhile, local towns and cities have a drop off in revenue because the malls are in the middle of the settlements, shutting down not frou frou boutiques but things like the local drug store, the local paint store, the local hardware store, the local furniture store, you name it. About the only places that are not affected are hair salons, I don’t know why.

    Meanwhile, these small towns abandoned by small businesses become perfectly reasonable alternatives for living space.

    I’ve seen this several times. I don’t really like it, and none of the rural and semi-rural folk I know like it, but it’s reality. Maybe it’s inevitable. I don’t know. But if I were looking to make agitprop to pump up the American people, I wouldn’t make a movie about Walmart and suburban sprawl.

    I do think there’s a tendency to abandon current settlements to create sprawling bedroom communities. The reason for the tendency is obvious; a real estate developer is going to make a lot of money taking a 400 acre $4 million plot of farmland and turning it into a bedroom community with 1,000 homes and a Walmart strip mall complex. But that’s the problem, these communities are built to make money, they aren’t built to function as a community, or to be easy on the eyes.

    However, anyone who studies the subject knows that there are in addition environmental limits to how much you can do before you start diminishing everyone’s quality of life, and I’m not talking about the traffic jams, either.

    My further concern on this issue is that I think it’s prudent to have a lot of open space and potential arable. We, as a nation, might need it some day. But whatever. Those that want Walmart and sprawling suburbs as a way to get back at what they mis-perceive as leftist elitism will get their wish. Except the leftist elitists don’t care. They usually live in big cities anyway.

    As to Wal-Mart vs. small stores. Malls built near an existing community are a good way to square the circle of multiple independent stores in a small space. But again, malls are generally not built near existing communities (where property values are higher), they are built on Farmer Jones’ old corn field, where the cost is much less. It’s only after that that the surrounding corn fields (if they haven’t been bought by the developer already) are ripe for planting with acre after acre of ticky tack.

  37. David Says:

    The land use and traffic patterns of large vs small stores would actually be an interesting study for someone to do. I would guess that large stores are more efficient on a per-square-foot basis: that is, if the same volume of business that needs X square feet were to be done by multiple small stores, it would need more than X. Offsetting this, longer travel distances are required to get to the larger store…but offsetting *this*, fewer trips are probably needed….

  38. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    I think a large number of small stores takes up the same amount of arable land as one big one. If people move into an area, they will take up living space somewhere.

  39. TalkinKamel Says:

    david, I think you’ve nailed it. Progressives really don’t care about Art, or Virtue, or even politics; what matters to them is aesthetics; class; having the “right” merchandise, shopping at the “right” places, having the “right” sort of things, in short, having the right “taste” (defined as upper-class taste).

    They despise Wal-Mart because, as you pointed out, they perceive it as tacky; the sort of place where guys where guys in baseball caps and women wearing plastic sandals shop, and where you can’t find Prada for love, money or credit cards.

    Neiman Marcus is just as vulgar as Wal-Mart (if more swanky and flamboyant), and the shopping malls it anchors put as many—if not more—small stores out of business as Wal-Mart, but it is perceived as chic and hip, and therefore above criticism.

    (By the way, speaking of health insurance, etc., does anybody out there know what the policies of some of the swank department stores are, and how much they pay their employees, what their health plans are?)

    And please, I don’t want to hear about how the left loves mom and pop stores, and how it deserpately longs to shop in them! You guys snubbed them when they were open, sneering at them as being low-class, and not carrying the latest trendy stuff; you didn’t patronize them then, so don’t start crying over them now!

  40. TalkinKamel Says:

    Isn’t it about time, by the way, that somebody started exposing the kitschy side of Marxist/Leftist art? I mean, we’re all supposed to laugh at tacky, unenlightened Main Street, when the middle-class shops at Wal-Mart, and buys pictures of dogs playing cards—but when the rich shop at Neiman Marcus and Banana Republic and buy Che T-shirts, we’re supposed to admire their good taste and social consciousness—even when, in the case of the Che T-shirts and stuff like cute little Chairman Mao coffee mugs, they’re supporting evil. The card-laying dogs, after all, are intended to be funny—-and not taken serously. There’s nothing funny about Che, Mao, Castro or the other icons of the oh-so-chic left.

    I really do wish somebody would do a study of Left-wing kitsch, and the snobbery and vulgarity of many so-called progressives. . .

  41. Steve Says:

    David: I personally don’t like the mega-store concept, period, but if Wal-Mart gets most of the heat it’s because of its success. I’d be perfectly willing to lay into Target as well.

    I’d be happy to support any legislation that protects our arable and woodlands, that centralizes and monitors housing and mall development, and that encourages small businesses and agriculture. Happy, because that’s the reality I would prefer. But legislation on these matters may just encourage sloth and lack of accountability. That’s the problem. You can’t legislate people to prefer a more individualized, de-centralized, community-oriented culture. But insofar as Wal-Mart is a symbol of the decline of this, I don’t like it.

  42. David Says:

    Steve…but if that’s what the disapproval is all about, why isn’t there equal disapproval of Target? (or for that matter, of Nieman-Marchs)? Both are large, centrally-managed retail chains.

    And I would note that very few of those concerned about local small businesses have shown any interest in tax and regulatory policy changes that would make life easier for small business operators.

  43. Steve Says:

    The opposition to Wal-Mart has a *lot* to do with the fact that the place is perceived as just plain tacky.

    I don’t think so. Wal-Mart is just another symptom of centralized consumer outlets that put smaller, specialied outlets out of business, that withdraw arable for the building of more and more malls, and the subdevelopments and McMansions that inevitably follow, along with the over-taxing of the traffic infrastructure, water and power infrastructure. Those are reasons I don’t like Wal-Mart, anyway.

    Of course you get what you pay for and if people are that concerned about getting something cheap at Wal-Mart, they will build, the smaller businesses will go out of business, and the fields, cultivated and uncultivated, for miles around will be turned into developments, and pretty soon it will take you 45 minutes to cover a distance that you used to be able to cover in ten.

  44. Jerub-Baal Says:

    Yes, I agree with Sissy Willis. The dominant paradigm in ‘high’ art today is propaganda against anything that reflects the values of the Bourgeois. (It’s so hard to talk about this stuff with normal English, instead of art-babble). Further thoughts spurred on by this series here (WARNING blatant link begging)

    “…kitschy simplicity in art is often used in the service of a totalitarian society in which doubt and questions are not allowed.” is a perfect description of the type of dreck that regularly graces the cover of Flash Art and other ‘edgy’ publications, and “a totalitarian society in which doubt and questions are not allowed” could describe the underlying mindset (but thankfully not the ability and power) of a lot of art critisism. Following that line of thought, “Piss Christ” is modern kitsch.

    Full disclosure, I am an artist, and I aim in my art to question comfortable assumptions and traditional thought (it’s just, as I said in the linked post above, the dominant assumptions have changed in the last fifty years).

    As for the modern Icon for both the right and the left about ‘everything that is wrong with the other side’; the “Piss Christ,” you can catch my take here (more blatant link begging).

    …speaking of being an artist, Sissy Willis studied illustration under a disciple of Howard Pyle?
    Tzang!

    I need to read her blog more…

  45. David Says:

    This is an important discussion, because modern “progressivism” seems to be, at its core, largely about aesthetics–aesthetic snobbery, in particular.

    The opposition to Wal-Mart has a *lot* to do with the fact that the place is perceived as just plain tacky. If it were perceived as stylish, a lot fewer people would care about its offshoring or employee healthcare policies.

    And note that when it comes to matters of ethics and justice, “progressives” will tend to stick up for cultural relativism. When it comes to matters of aesthetics, though, things become absolutist very quickly. Aesthetic preferences are not just matters of taste; they are claims to moral superiority or signs of moral depravity.

  46. Sissy Willis Says:

    One need look no further than the heart of the beast — the Whitney Biennial — for “facile and simplistic propaganda” at its most effete.

    “Reduced by its ignorance into regurgitating regurgitations”

  47. Tom Grey Says:

    “But neither would I hang a velvet Elvis or “Dogs Playing Poker” on my walls. Now, Van Gogh, Monet, or Kandinsky, on the other hand”

    Funny how many more real human people, like those with kids getting good or bad grades, actually DO have some kitshy, comforting, velvet stuff. ‘Cause they like it, and/or it makes them feel good.

    Too much elitist art is aimed at making folks feel bad/ guilty about something. A little different than the beauty issue.

    I recall a Picasso story, on forgeries.
    He was with a disciple of his, going through a large stack of art work, all signed Picasso, and choosing the forgeries.
    “This one, this one, this one, this one; ah, this is a genuine Picasso!” — to a fine sketch. The great man continued.
    “This one, this one, this one, “
    “Wait!” said the disciple. “I saw you paint that one yourself!”
    “Yes,” said Picasso. “I’ve done many forgeries.”

    Neo, I was hoping you would be more focused on Public Relations and Propaganda, and their relationship to deaths in Iraq.
    The news can be in a continuum from propaganda/PR for the war; through balance; through propaganda/PR against the war.

    The numbers of US soliders killed will be related to the news. A minimum with PR for war; more with balance; the maximum with PR against the war.

    Against the war logically means in favor of the Islamofascist terrorists.

  48. Ymarsakar Says:

    Edmundo, I just wanted to remind you if you hadn’t already seen my message in the thread, that I replied to your comments on my blog.

    I was googling yege, and came across something interesting.

    Link

    Western sexual mores, Islamic sex, and Abu Ghraib all rolled into one.

  49. Ymarsakar Says:

    THis “yegge art” Link is about the most hilarious thing I’ve read in awhile. San Francisco, no less.

  50. Bezuhov Says:

    On a related note, see this:

    http://www.thestarpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060218/NEWS01/602180336&SearchID=73236752853772

    and this:

    http://www.newcriterion.com/weblog/2006/03/american-toxic.html

  51. Bezuhov Says:

    I think we need to encourage Loyal Achates – it’s clear he’s suffered more than his share of abuse elsewhere. You’re safe here dude.

  52. Bezuhov Says:

    “Greenberg’s analysis of kitsch positively oozes with socialist condescension and class consciousness”

    Then again, maybe he’s just talking about Britney Spears. In which case I agree with him. The “absolute denial of shit” sounds a lot like high-school. People stuck in that frame of reference or rebelling against it (admirable in itself) are unable to see that others have moved beyond it.

    Rockwell sees the beauty so well because he also sees the shit all to well.

  53. douglas Says:

    ” I find them far more cynically manipulative than the worst government propaganda.”
    When I was in architecture school, it was all about manipulating the occupant of the space- controlling the experience of the user…

  54. douglas Says:

    Steve, I think you’re on the right track here:
    “I think the basic idea is that, rather than having an elite culture over here and a mass culture over there, the first good, the second bad, you have a cultural mass, with a lot of cross-influence between, and a little bit of each category will be worth holding onto, and that’s the precious stuff. The rest of the stuff is ephemeral (a non-judgmental way of saying that it is forgettable trash), and is, therefore, forgotten.”
    The truly great artists were almost always incredibly prolific. There’s a reason for that- it usually takes a few dozen or hundred works (at best, at least for most) to produce a work of greatness. There’s a little Picasso museum in Luzern, Switzerland. It has a meager collection of works of Picasso’s, mainly drawings and studies. Most of them are lousy, hardly worth the media they’re drawn on, except Picasso signed them. Of course, there are a few that are extraordinary, and those are what Picasso’s status in the art world is derived from. So I agree- bad art is by no means the province of the unwashed masses, and neither is good art the exclusive province of the elite art world.

    I’d like to see Duchamps urinal as a statement that just because someone says something is art, maybe it’s just crap; as opposed to a statement that anything is art, even a urinal.

  55. xbalanke Says:

    It’s all in the eye of the beholder. Give me Rockwell and “Finding Nemo” over Warhol and “Syriana” any day.

    I agree. Yes, I “get” Warhol, but you couldn’t give me a repro of any of his work to hang on my wall for anything. And I wouldn’t pay a dime to go see any of his stuff – as is true of most “edgey” or “transgressive” artists I’ve seen. But neither would I hang a velvet Elvis or “Dogs Playing Poker” on my walls. Now, Van Gogh, Monet, or Kandinsky, on the other hand …

    Where am I going with this? I’m not sure. Art is so subjective – not only in form: whether one thinks something is good, bad, great, ugly, daring, silly, sublime, pleasant or whatever – but also its role in one’s life. I’ve been to many art museums and really love them, but I wouldn’t want 80% of what I see there in my home – even the stuff I admire.

    As for “Piss Christ,” the Mary with elephant dung and the more “esoteric” stuff (google “yegge art” if you have a strong stomach): I find them far more cynically manipulative than the worst government propaganda.

    Rockwell? I like his stuff, but I wouldn’t hang it on my wall.

  56. Ymarsakar Says:

    The Enlightenment also produced Deism. It is unfortunate that Deism is not practiced much in today’s world. Most people call themselves religious, agnostic, or atheistic.

  57. Anonymous Says:

    What people forget about The Enlightenment is that, for all the progress it fostered, it too had a dark side. We learned and developed much, but the successes led to a zealous, arrogant belief that science held all the answers, and through science a utopia could be created.

    That’s how the twin social theories of fascism and socialism got their start. Two theories, each pursuing a scientifically measurable standard of perfection, and both creating, in their cold, sterile, bureaucratic way, the greatest horrors of the 20th century.

    It will get worse before it gets better.

  58. Ymarsakar Says:

    Mike might not have had the pleasure of reading LA’s comments here before, but Neo has had the “experience”.

    One thing where I will agree with Kamm on, is that the blogosphere’s importance is the filtering of information rather than the creation of information. There are thousands of reactions, debates, and discussions going on any single moment in the blogosphere. However, the reason why it is so useful and important, is because of the filtering capability.

    This relates to the 20 million monkeys, because you cannot make use of a quantum computation if you can’t filter the useless data out.

    The media’s problem is not that they do filtering badly, the media’s problem is that their filtering emphasizes things such as “ignorance”, “contempt”, “cluelessness”, and “demoralization”. Which people get tired of eventually.

    The blogosphere, take Instapndit for example, emphasies “justice”, “knowledge”, “diversity”, and “many perspectives”.

  59. Mike Says:

    “we elites know better than to be suckered in by this stuff, like you common folk. Not for us your simple pleasures; we are far more complex and nuanced.”

    No wonder these people are so fricken miserable. I can’t remember who said this or the exact wording for that matter, but the reason the Greeks produced great art is because they were focused on creating great art. The reason the Romans produced very little great art was because they spent their time at cocktail parties being artists. Some cultures get art and some (us) get stuck with cool.

    Loyal Achates, I don’t think anyone in the comment box has a problem with the enlightenment. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading your other comments, but I would think that if people wanted to come up with a nickname red Jew bastard might work. Perhaps rJb for short:)

  60. Anonymous Says:

    Achates:

    If you’re really a “jew bastard” you must not have gotten the memo. Jews are now “zionist neocons” and control the Bush administration. Anti-semitism is now a distinguishing feature of the political Left in this country; the Right has become fervently philosemitic.
    Which is why your persistent attempts to identify right-wingers with antisemitic bigotry are so offensive — and make you look like a complete moron.

  61. Steve Says:

    Well, didn’t you read what I recommended before? A film about the story of Uday and Qusay, Beginnings and Endings.

    I will see that movie only if Sean Penn and Tim Robbins play the leads.

    I wanted to add that, while a million monkeys may not produce Shakespeare, 20 million monkeys have created the blogosphere. But then I looked, and someone else had said something sorta kinda similar. I guess that means that there’s nothing new under the sun.

  62. Ymarsakar Says:

    So what’s a good idea for a film that will galvanize Americans in the WOT? I’d be curious.

    Well, didn’t you read what I recommended before? A film about the story of Uday and Qusay, Beginnings and Endings.

    People have been recommending good solutions all the time, Bush just won’t listen. Or maybe he does listen, but he doesn’t want to implement our solutions.

    For the price of a F-22 Raptor, Bush can make a film using US military assets that is as good if not better, than what Hollywood can do.

    Why do I say that? Becaus the US Army made a video game, America’s Army, that is the best tactical shooter on the FPS market. With less bugs and less craziness, than the normal standard of computer gaming companies.

    And guess what, it is “free”. Free movies, blogs, internet, stream, need I say more?

    Put the link on instapundit with a download from a MilNet high speed fiber optical network, and approval ratings jump up 5-10 points guaranteed.

    Yes, it is the urn.

    You have to read a lot of philosophy before the concepts of truth, beauty, and the Good becomes clearer in your head. And philosophy is hard to read.

  63. Steve Says:

    Achates: I don’t mind your posts, but the problem with you and some others is that ex cathedra pronouncements of what something is, or is not, are never very persuasive, although they might be pleasant to deliver.

    The “truth beauty” bit: is that Keats’ Grecian Urn again? is an attempt to restate a harmony that some ideas the Greeks had about the relationship of truth, beauty, and goodness. I don’t buy it because the terms are so slippery, although I am an apostle of the “sometimes it’s just right” school, i.e., that something is just right even though you can’t explain it. Maybe it’s similar.

    Thinking about kitsch more, however, it has occurred to me that there is no unanimity about what constitutes great art, good art, or bad art. We seemed to agree that the Soviet painting sucked, but there were several posters who didn’t care for Rockwell. That’s OK, but, I don’t think we have to label someone who doesn’t like Rockwell a snob. There is no such thing as unanimity of taste. My problem with Saltz is to suggest that people who like stuff he doesn’t like are “reactionaries” and Republicans (I am in fact a Republican, so I will let that pass.) IOW, his critique of Rockwell amounted to little more than a vacuous accusation.

    Now reading the post again, Neo has been aiming at something particular:


    We have become so sophisticated as a society that it is very difficult to use art as a rallying cry for a cause, as was done so effectively during World War II.

    This can be especially hazardous when the enemy is not the least bit reluctant to use every propaganda tool that the modern world can offer, and to use them skillfully and well.

    I get the sense that the upshot of all this is to look for propaganda for a cause, and I am guessing that cause is WOT?

    If that’s the aim, then, first you have to recognize that books and paintings and sculpture and even pieces of music (cf. Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”, written World War Two) are not going to do it, because people don’t listen read or look at that kind of stuff anymore.

    So if you want to do effective propaganda then you are talking about film.

    So what’s a good idea for a film that will galvanize Americans in the WOT? I’d be curious.

  64. Ymarsakar Says:

    Beauty is truth, and truth beauty. That is all you know, and all ye shall know.

    Original version was.

    ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

    Regardless, pictorial propaganda is rather obsolete. Used in conjunction with the internet, it would still retain some of its use though. Which might explain why I keep seeing those WWII posters on people’s blog sites.

  65. Anonymous Says:

    What a terrible burden you must be under, achates. Like Atlas himself, you are singlehandedly supporting the world. Cheers my good man, for if not for you we would all be lost!

  66. Loyal Achates Says:

    Kitsch is simply any piece of art which emphasizes effect and beauty over truth.

    P.S. I see your readers have spent a good deal of time and effort coming up with nicknames for me. It really isn’t necessary; I know that to you I may be just another red Jew bastard, but I’m the only one here trying to keep the Enlightenment going.

  67. Steve Says:

    I think kitsch, as a word, is an early attempt to describe mass market literature, bearing in mind the huge explosion of such literature — IN PRINT — in the last two centuries as people migrated to cities, were literate, and took up reading. It follows that other mass market entertainment, such as much radio, TV, movies, video games, music, are also “kitschy,” in the sense that, being aimed at a mass market, they represent art or culture that is frequently “dumbed down” to reach and appeal to the widest possible audience.

    I understand the concept. I think it’s true. A lot of pop culture is just awful, with many of the literary and bathetic overdoings outlined in the two critiques I referenced in Part 2 of this run. It doesn’t “scare” me, it just annoys me or bores me or some combination of the two. So I avoid it.

    On the other hand, think of it like blogs. (Hold that thought).

    Before mass popular culture was written down in penny dreadfuls and soap operas, it still existed. It existed in local legends, folklore (where do you think all those grand fairy tales came from?), folk songs (which frequently told involved stories), and by a lively oral tradition of this and that.

    Now that mass popular culture — I think it is indisputable — played an important role in the development of the dominant master culture, especially in the time of modern nationalism. So, even if it was trash before it was written down, some of it must have been pretty good if it bore fruit in the “high” culture.

    I think the basic idea is that, rather than having an elite culture over here and a mass culture over there, the first good, the second bad, you have a cultural mass, with a lot of cross-influence between, and a little bit of each category will be worth holding onto, and that’s the precious stuff. The rest of the stuff is ephemeral (a non-judgmental way of saying that it is forgettable trash), and is, therefore, forgotten.

    Same with blogs. There are a lot of them. Some of them are good (like the good cultural products, for some indefinable reason), but most of them (echoing OK), are just plain bad. The good ones, a small percentage, will get the traffic, the majority however, will not, and they will be dismissed as trash, or kitsch, or whatever.

    The next concept that has to be entertained would be, I gather, the Kitsch We Love, otherwise known as Camp.

  68. Anonymous Says:

    It’s the same criticism leveled at all things Disney; the contrived, sanitized “perfect” world view, where nothing “bad” or “scary” is allowed. It’s how “Mickey Mouse” became synonymous with “poorly-done”. The elites don’t want to have anything to do with what those of us who are members of the “great unwashed” appreciate.

    It’s all in the eye of the beholder. Give me Rockwell and “Finding Nemo” over Warhol and “Syriana” any day.

  69. rorschach Says:

    The error lies, if I am not mistaken, in thinking that kitsch is universal synonym for schlock.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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