- art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.
- the reduction of aesthetic objects or ideas into easily marketable forms.
- aesthetic sensibility that regards something as appealing or humorous because of its ridiculousness to the viewer.
- a sensibility that revels in artifice, stylization, theatricalization, irony, playfulness, and exaggeration rather than content.
In his essay from 1939, critic Clement Greenberg insists that kitsch is the antithesis of high art which he defined as abstraction and avant-garde. His essay is now more or less considered out dated in the post-modern art community, but there are a few key points that will help us pin point what exactly “kitsch” is.
- Kitsch is “vicarious experience & faked sensation”
- It changes superficially, according to “style” rather than profound reasons
- It is “the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our times” – meaning that a kitsch piece has an expiration stamp, it is caught up in the time it was created. For this reason he describes it as a “virulence” (a disease or poison extremely severe or harmful in its effects) with “irresistable attractiveness” because “there is no disconnectivity between art & life.”
- He says kitsch “spares” the audience effort to engage with a work, an effort he believes is not only necessary but vital to successful modern art.
The words “camp” and “kitsch” are often used interchangeably; both may relate to art, literature, music, or any object that carries an aesthetic value. However, “kitsch” refers specifically to the work itself, whereas “camp” is a mode of staging or presenting.
In her essay “Notes on Camp” from 1964, Susan Sontag explores what it means to be a sensibility. This passage I found online nicely sums up her stance.
- “Camp is unnatural because of its affinity for exaggeration. Camp is taking something serious or natural and exaggerating it until it becomes frivolous. It is an aesthetic but an unusual aesthetic because Camp ignores beauty in favor of artifice and stylization (54). Camp is known for exaggeration of sexuality. In Camp, Sexual characteristics become larger then life, extravagant, and even reversed. Sontag points out that androgyny or ‘going against the grain of one’s sex’ is pure Camp. In Camp what is attractive about a man is something that is feminine and what is sexy about a woman is a masculine trait (56). It is an excessive exaggeration of sexual roles. Camp avoids a depth of character in favor of unnatural exaggeration. Sontag calls this seeing everything in quotation marks (i.e.: Greta Garbo is not playing the part of a woman but of a ‘woman’) (56). It is a form of ‘instant character'(61) or ‘Being-as-Playing-a-Role’ (56). In Camp a highly developed character simply would not work. A highly developed character strives for something intense or serious which is forbidden by Camp’s love for the artificial and frivolous.”
Public mural in Washington D.C.
In the postmodern era, because of evolved cultural attitudes and re-conceived critical perspectives in the art world, the usually “lowbrow” aesthetics of Kitsch and Camp are no longer denounced; but rather praised as a potent and practical source of artistic inspiration. The Department of British Literature and Culture, University of Łódź acknowledge Kitsch or Camp as a critical address in the following areas
- As a challenge to received dichotomies or demarcations of High and Low Culture.
- As engaging social discourses or debates on the politics, ethics, aesthetics and thematics of taste (high and lowbrow).
- As a bad taste to be discussed mostly in aesthetic terms or sociologically as a kind of ideological diversion
- As an instance of trash culture
- As cultivation of bad taste of yesterday and a form of superior refinement.
- As “victory of style over content, aesthetics over morality, of irony over tragedy” (Sontag)
- As exaggerated and theatrical experience
- As culture in “quotation marks” (Sontag)
Reigning master of today’s kitsch-and-camp art: