When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object. In the realm of kitsch, the dictatorship of the heart reigns supreme. – Milan Kundera
This is basically a post inspired by mister Kundera (whom I adore and will love eternally). Probably none of the ideas here are my own, so don’t credit me if anything sounds smart. Also, what I want to say is quite long and quite chaotic, so I apologize for the length and incoherence of this post.
I don’t even know where to start. What is kitsch? How subjective is it and why does Kundera associate it with the emotional, the irrational, as opposed to the more analytical decisions of the mind? Is it necessary for good art to involve rationality? If we allowed our emotions complete creative freedom (as the Romantics supposedly did), would kitsch be the only result? Is kitsch, in a very strange way, an aspiration to what some would consider perfection?
Kitsch, says dictionary.com, is a loanword from the German “kitschen”, meaning to throw together. Something that would suggest, perhaps, some sort of haste in the creative process, or perhaps the amount of useless ornaments that is tantamount to kitsch in the collective opinion. However, wikipedia suggests this painting below, “The Widow”, as a kitsch example of late 19th century popular lithograph of a humorous painting by Frederick Dielman.
Does this look like a careless work? Fair enough, it’s no Dali in terms of pretty details, but it’s not something one paints in one hour. And where’s the excessive ornamentation? Shouldn’t we then also take into account the idea that kitsch is also dependable on the sheer artistic quality of the oeuvre we’re analysing?
Moving on. Dictionary.com says then that kitsch is
something of tawdry design, appearance, or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste.
There we go. That’s a bit closer. This picture, for example, is the first result that comes up when you google ‘kitsch’ and is, indeed, something overly adorned, sort of tawdry and which probably appeals to undiscriminating taste:
But then. Mozart apparently wrote a large percentage of his works for the clear and honest purpose to avoid death by starvation. They were written quickly and with money and commercial success in mind, rather than art. But who can say Mozart actually is kitsch? I doubt anyone can, unless completely unfamiliar with both the term and the man’s work and immense talent. What is it that sets him apart? The sheer quality – and where does that come from? From passion for music or from a very sharp intellect? Kundera would say it’s the second. But then again, Kundera would say there’s a bit of kitsch in Mozart as well.
I’d also venture to speak about ‘commercial music’ in general, but seeing how people now use ‘commercial’ to mean ‘made for money’, as well as ‘which sells well’, as well as ‘which everyone likes’, as well as ‘which sounds like music that sells well’, as well as ‘bad’. So let’s not go there.
Moving on, to slightly more intelligent approaches of the subject.
Kant was among the first philosophers to develop a proper aesthetic system (although still quite dependent on Aristotle’s, which seems to dictate the general direction of aesthetics until Schopenhauer and that other German dude.) and he opposed the terms of Art and Artistic Indifference (Kitsch). He affirmed that art is disinterested in a fundamental, unique way, and that it is necessarily moral. (whether this morality is relative to said disinterest, I don’t know.) We can agree on the ‘disinterested’ part (if we exclude examples such as Mozart, whose art was perhaps disinterested anyway, seeing as he could’ve as well washed floors and windows to earn the same money), but moral? Is kitsch immoral? Strangely enough, Kundera argues for the exact opposite and says kitsch is an everpresent lie, a sort of pathetic attempt at one’s moral and aesthetic salvation through a continuous denial of reality, the yearning of the heart for something that isn’t really there – sort of like religion, perhaps?
Here is the quote, from The Unbearable Lightness of Being, just like the one at the beginning of this post, where he says it:
The fact that until recently the word “shit” appeared in print as s— has nothing to do with moral considerations. You can’t claim that shit is immoral, after all! The objection to shit is a metaphysical one. The daily defecation session is daily proof of the unacceptability of Creation. … The aesthetic ideal of the categorical agreement with being is a world in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist. This aesthetic ideal is called kitsch. … Kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.
I’m afraid I’ll have to continue this in another post (I added the ‘1.0’ to the title :D), as this is already long and probably extremely boring. But yeah, there’s more to tell.