Kitsch refers to art, objects, or design deemed to be in poor taste due to excessive garishness, sentimentality, or knowing irony.
The term 'kitsch' originated in the 19th century to critique art perceived as being in poor taste or imitating 'high art' in a mediocre or unrefined manner. In the 20th century, especially with the rise of industrial manufacturing, kitsch became associated with mass-produced commodities and cheap entertainment, often considered decorative or indicative of lowbrow taste. Its negative perception was reinforced by Clement Greenberg's influential 1939 essay, where he argued that kitsch was antithetical to progressive, avant-garde art.
More contemporary examples of kitsch include plastic or porcelain models depicting the late Diana, Princess of Wales, Japanese manga comics, the Hello Kitty merchandise range, various computer games, the entirety of Las Vegas and Disneyland, as well as the high-gloss soft porn found in publications like Playboy magazine.
Clement Greenberg initially viewed kitsch as the antithesis of high art. However, from around 1950 onward, artists began to genuinely engage with popular culture, leading to the surge of pop art in the 1960s. This artistic movement embraced elements of mass media, advertising, and everyday consumer products, challenging the traditional distinctions between fine art and popular culture.
It's worth noting that while kitsch is commonly associated with European and American culture, similar concepts exist worldwide. For instance, in Japanese culture, the notion of 'kawaii' or cuteness opposes the aesthetic ideal of refinement and holds a significant role in popular culture and entertainment.
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