Friday, December 12, 2014

Contemporary Art (pt. 9)

On the flip side, art which doesn't contribute anything to the developing breadth of artistic ideas and possibilities may be qualified as kitsch.  The term "kitsch" is an urban word which appears to have only entered the English language in the last century.  It is not a term with an altogether precise definition; however, it does carry a very specific meaning and connotation—and the connotation is always negative.  Art which is cheaply sentimental, insincerely overgeneralized, and inanely cheesy is called kitsch.  This type of art shows almost no regard for creative ingenuity and offers nothing to the art world in areas of style, technique, subject matter, and thematic ideal.
This is not a question of beauty; it's a question of integrity.  Much of the artwork we have looked at over the course of this study has been beautiful: we've looked at breathtaking landscapes, regal portraits, dramatic scenes of action and profundity; we've seen stained glass windows over 30 feet high, delicately precise still lifes, gold-plated sarcophagi, colorful Rococo portrait paintings, idealized Greek statuary, an unbelievable fresco by Michelangelo measuring over 130 feet long, the thick, oil paint globs of Van Gogh's artwork, and so much more—surely some degree of beauty is to be found in such wonderful creations.  But all of these works shared a common devotion to creative integrity on the part of the artist, whereas contemporary kitsch art devotes itself not to genuine creativity but instead marketability (and if pretty pictures is the way to satisfy an audience, then these artists will often sway that direction).  In the modern world of American consumerism, some artists shift their focus largely to commercial ends for that most common and widespread goal of our time: to make money.  It is still generally considered today that the better artist is the one who remains true to his or her own medium, craft, and subject, not the one who produces for the sake of public consumption, mass popularity, and personal acquisition of riches.  However, this type of art, especially in America, continues to rack in huge profits and sometimes even overshadows the more sincere artists.
Kitsch is fairly easy to spot.  An artist's disingenuous approach to a medium, genre, or subject will come out in his artwork.  One rather infamous example of kitsch is the paintings of Thomas Kinkade.  His hackneyed persistence, over the course of his nearly thirty-year career, with the same, repeated subject of cottages has been called tasteless and tacky and has earned the artist disrespect and scorn from critics and artists.  Though his art has been labeled "Christian," this self-proclaimed "painter of light" was known to have led a lifestyle unworthy of such a title; and yet Kinkade's cottage and Disney paintings remain among the most commercially successful bodies of artwork in the United States today.  Though the art world disdained him, this kitsch artist managed to earn millions by signing contracts with Hallmark and other commercial venues to generate greeting cards, calendars, puzzles, and a barrage of other retail products based on his paintings.  On numerous occasions and in several interviews, Kinkade publicly announced his indifference to the art community, claiming that he didn't care what the art world thought of him.  He could just, as my uncle says, "laugh all the way to the bank."  Thomas Kinkade died at his home in 2012 of an allegedly accidental drug and alcohol overdose.

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