I started thinking, albeit somewhat unconsciously, about kitsch upon the closing of our gallery in The Town. We had plans for the gallery to be an outpost of new works which were historically aware of the changing circumstances of world culture, globalism, tech, and all the rest, and how small towns and villages were impacted. As it turned out, those sorts of artistic interrogations were completely off the mark. As was feared, the idea of kitsch overflowed the banks. The choice was to go with the flow, and become a devotee of kitsch (if that is even possible once one becomes aware of kitsch), or flee. Which we did. (I believe however that it is possible for kitsch to be redistributed under the rubric of art but that is a precarious reprocessing job and often misunderstood outside the urban precincts of ‘Art’; it can sometimes be accomplished as folk art. And there is also the idea that for a great many folks kitsch itself is art. period. Hence all the jokes about ‘avant-guard modern art’.)
Clement Greenburg opined that kitsch and modern avant-guard arrived around the same time, out of the destructive social forces of industrial modernism that were changing the nature of experience, that old cultures were being destroyed but the masses still needed some kind of easily digestible diversions so kitsch was born:
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.
So kitsch would be formed from the detritus of a mechanical culture. Kitsch became a placeholder for the rubes and their approach to art:
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 vicarious experience and faked sensations. Kitsch changes according to style, but remains always the same. Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our times. Kitsch pretends to demand nothing of its customers except their money-not even their time. The precondition for kitsch, a condition without which kitsch would be impossible, is the availability close at hand of a fully matured cultural tradition, whose discoveries, acquisitions, and perfected self-consciousness kitsch can take advantage of for its own ends. It borrows from it devices, tricks, stratagems, rules of thumb, themes, converts them into a system, and discards the rest. It draws its life blood, so to speak, from this reservoir of accumulated experience.
So art as a research program and operating on it’s own grounds as its own pincers of a world wide (in actuality, as the West) dialectic, hence unfurling its own data projects as art works, installations, mixed media, destructuring projects in general (cubism, expressionism, conceptual art and so forth) as worthy of the highest accolades of Western modernist accreditation while kitsch is simply the leftovers, the miserable tailings falling off the great milling projects of modernism: the knick knack, bric a brac, tchotkes endemic to any great cultural process.
The problem is that kitsch slowly forms its own world system, parasitically feeding off its host modernity, giving an illusion of, impossibly, time regained, forming vertiginous encrustations of affect and nostalgia. In watching the animated film Guardians of the Galaxy #2 one is confronted by the talking tree trunk Groot who loves to listen and dance to old pop songs while an Eternalist de/restructuring of the universe takes place all around him