Kitsch is mostly pejorative in common language for an emotional expression that is inferior from the viewer's point of view. Contrasted with an artistic pursuit of the true or the beautiful, critics judge an overly simple way of expressing feelings to be sentimental , trivial, or cheesy.
The exact origin of the word, which was probably created in the Munich art trade in the 1870s, remains uncertain and is interpreted in different ways. The oldest known evidence to date dates from 1878. It is a satirical epigram by Max Bernstein on the painting "Bosnian Mounted Insurgents" by Franz Adam exhibited in Munich :
- Bosnian turmoil! Bosnian mold!
- Bosnian men on "itsch" and "ritsch"!
- Bosnian mountains! Bosnian heaven!
- everything really Bosnian "kitsch"!
More recent research on the etymology of the term kitsch was able to find evidence for the use of the term in connection with an aesthetic object as early as 1860. In the text by the writer Wolfgang Müller von Königswinter, a painter is asked whether he has "already taken in a lot of kitschen", whereupon he praises the beauty of the landscape and replies that he has "made all sorts of sketches". The term is therefore used here as a synonym for the sketch. Further examples from the years 1864 and 1870 demonstrate the use of the term kitsch as a term for mediocre art, which is actually cheap, but is overpriced in relation to its inferior aesthetic quality.
Possibly the term comes from the dialect kitschen ( sweeping up street dirt or mud, clapping and slapping). According to this, it would have a sound-imitating origin that was transferred to the pictorial as pejoration - in the sense of " mucked up dirt". A possible derivation from English is also frequently mentioned. sketch for “sketch” or “fleeting painting”, as English or American tourists of the time asked for a souvenir at the art market for little money. Abraham Moles ( psychology of kitsch. Carl Hanser Verlag, 1971) derived the term from Yiddish sentimentalize on what means as much as "turn on something someone what does not need."
Translations that dealt with the language of the Roma led back “kitsch” to the Hindustani word for pottery clay ( history of the gypsies; their origin, nature and style , Weimar and Ilmenau, 1835). In fact, artifacts can be found throughout the Indus Valley that can be interpreted as kitsch in the western sense. Early tourist souvenirs, which are now also known as “ Airport Art ”, may be the origin of this loan word in current European usage. The word "kitsch" is nowadays a loan word in many languages, for example in English, an integral part of the respective vocabulary.
Attempts at definition
The difficulty in defining kitsch is evident not least in the “untranslatability” of the German word. British translators ranked kitsch among the top ten most difficult terms to translate; the word kitsch is also used in English . There is also no adequate translation in French, which is why the word kitsch is sometimes used there too. Numerous languages have adopted the word, including the Turkish language ( kitsch or kiç ) and even the Greek language (κιτς) , which gets by with a few foreign words.
The following criteria can be cited for kitsch:
- In contrast to the work of art , which allows room for interpretation (and even demands interpretation), kitsch cannot be interpreted.
- Stereotypes and clichés : Kitsch repeats what the viewer is already familiar with. Originality is expected of the work of art (innovation compulsion of art).
- Easy reproducibility ( mass-produced goods ).
An older definition says:
- wrong in place (e.g. products of the music industry are passed off as folk music)
- wrong in time (for example: an ideal world that does not exist is sung about)
- wrong in the material (e.g. use of clichés instead of real feelings)
According to Gillo Dorfles Der Kitsch (1969), kitsch (especially in the field of art) is defined by the following criteria:
- too frequent reproduction of works of art from the past (e.g. Mona Lisa, van Gogh's sunflowers); new works are often intended for reproduction and therefore not kitsch
- People, events etc. take on a ritual value that is not theirs (false myth)
- Transfer from one medium to another (e.g. novel to film, subjects from classical music to pop music, paintings on glass windows, replica of statues in other material)
- something occurs in the form of something completely different (e.g. a clock shaped like a guitar)
- Exaggerated dimension, but still usable (e.g. an oversized glass)
- imitating another time (e.g. new figures in the style of the 18th or 19th century)
- An unrealistic accumulation of negative clichés is also seen as kitsch; Holthusen coined the term "sour kitsch" for this
In sociology, and even more so in the context of civic education , kitsch is classified as something dangerous because the associated euphemisms, trivializations, prejudices, clichés and illusions promote precisely the ambiguity that ultimately leads to the inevitable dilemma for both the individual and the collective Conflicts of all kinds prepare the ground. "Kitsch is actually easy to recognize because it always has something to do with mendacity." (Michael Stanzer, political educator)
A special form, not only in France, is the so-called knick - knacks (French for "female trim"), also known as knick-knacks ; this includes small decorative art objects of often inferior quality, which, for example, serve "as room decorations for setting up on so-called sippy tables". Examples of knick-knacks are putti or angel figurines made of porcelain or small vases with no practical function.
The term camp , established in the context of pop art, anticipates this positive reevaluation and comes from the American formation and renewal of avant-gardism in the so-called underground of the 1960s and the emerging queer culture . However, not every kitsch is also a camp.
The critique names psychological or social attributes of such kitschy sensations: non-conflict, petty bourgeoisie, mass culture, mendacity, stereotyping, retardation, escape from reality, false security or something like “stupid comforting” ( Adorno ). Hans-Dieter Gelfert differentiates in What is kitsch? the cute, cozy, sentimental, religious, poetic, social kitsch, natural kitsch, home kitsch, blood-and-soil kitsch, sophisticated, sour, erotic kitsch, horror kitsch, sublime kitsch, monumental kitsch, patriotic, ideological kitsch and intimidation kitsch.
The accusation of criticism is initially less about a lack of truth, as is the case with poorly made art, but more often about the psychological calculation of kitsch. The emotional stereotypes of pop music or trivial literature as well as artisanal or machine-made images with idyllic or child-like schemes serve as a popular illustration of such a “calculated hypocrisy”.
Conversely, the defense of kitsch or triviality mostly focuses on the quality of admitting simple feelings, for example patriotism, but also on success, such as the success of trivial literature . In trivial literature, the feelings of children and young people merge with the needs of many adults of all ages. The most widely read German-language writer is neither Goethe nor Thomas Mann , but Karl May . (See also Walter Benjamin : "What the Germans read while their classics were writing")
After that, the decision as to whether Karl May is kitsch or not, depending on the age of his readers, would be a hardly tenable definition. In this way, the value of typical kitsch criticism is often put into perspective, such as: Kitsch is the “creation of ignorant ideal images”. Rather, the definition of kitsch appears inextricably linked to the definition of art. The more unclear the term art, the more incomprehensible the kitsch, because it is difficult to deny, as Umberto Eco interjects, that the effects ascribed to art - such as stimuli for thinking, shock, emotions - can also come from kitsch.
An uncritical degradation of other people, other modes of sensation and expression can, however, have a home for dull and even dangerous sensations in the kitsch term. For example, if Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf : “Nine-tenths of all literary filth, artistic kitsch and theatrical nonsense is on the debt account” of the Jews , while “apart from the kitsch of the more recent art development, the production of which is also easily possible for a Negro people was the owner and also the propagator of true artistic beliefs only the German. "
Hermann Broch accordingly sees Adolf Hitler as the prototype of the kitsch man :
"The philistine, whose pure incarnation Hitler was ... repeatedly turns out to be that of the prudish predator, who accepts all cruelty, not least the atrocities of the concentration camps and gas chambers ... There are many reasons for the evil phenomenon, for example the tearing off of the occidental value tradition as well as the resulting emotional insecurity and lack of stability, from which an intermediate layer as weak in tradition as philistineism has certainly been most intensely gripped. "
According to Broch, someone who produces kitsch is “not someone who produces inferior art, he is not a poor man or a poor man ... he is simply a bad person, he is an ethically depraved person, a criminal who wants radical evil. Or to put it a little less pathetically: he's a pig. "
With his criticism of kitsch, Broch stands in a tradition shaped by Marxism in the broadest sense, with which names such as Walter Benjamin , Theodor W. Adorno or Ernst Bloch are associated. Their actual interest goes far beyond a critique of totalitarian or late bourgeois conditions. Kitsch appears to Adorno, who defines it as a “misunderstanding of aesthetic contexts” and as a decaying ornament, as the unadulterated expression of the decline of all culture to mass culture in the modern age:
"Today, as the consciousness of the rulers begins to coincide with the general tendency of society, the tension between culture and kitsch is dissolving."
The folk art , such as costumes and costume jewelry, carved wooden utensils and so on, with its European heyday in the 18th century, is the kitsch often portrayed as a genuine one wrong over. From this point of view, kitsch largely expresses the decline of customs in modern times. In principle, however, it is an unsatisfactory simplification to say that folk art is handicraft, kitsch is folk art that is machine-imitated. Manual work can imitate machine production. In addition, aesthetic qualities are not included in such a simplification. Customs and folk art, however, can freeze and decline, while the critical view of kitsch always sees decline as completed at the highest level.
Typical here is Marcel Reich-Ranicki's attitude to analyze the trivial for reasons other than qualitative:
“The majority of the people read no literature, at least not one that could be taken seriously. The wonderful literature of the Weimar Republic with Thomas Mann at its head could not achieve anything politically (against National Socialism ). Incidentally, it is one of the sins of literary criticism that at that time it did not care at all about trivial literature, for example the novels by Hedwig Courths-Mahler . You should have shown how this stuff is made. [...] And that's what I did [later in the 1970s]: a book by Luise Rinser , by Hans Habe , by Willi Heinrich and the like. I have tried to explain and demonstrate how these books are made. There is no point in saying: This is kitsch. "
Audiences of folk art , folk music , trivial literature , circus, and so on are often associated with those susceptible to kitsch. The juxtaposition of such an audience against an audience with “high demands” has always challenged the criticism and turned it into a criticism of the “healthy popular feeling”. Walter Benjamin writes: “Its audience [that of the circus] is far more respectful than that of any theater or concert hall. ... It is still more conceivable that while Hamlet stabs Polonius to death, a gentleman in the audience asks the neighbor for the program than while the acrobat from the dome does the double somersault . It is for this very reason that the circus audience as a whole is also the most dependent: the petty bourgeoisie crammed into all their barriers ”.
To depict kitsch, however, as if the term itself had been reinvented at the same time, may not necessarily make sense. An example here may show that when it comes to kitsch, one can speak of a well-known rather than a modern appearance or state of mind. In the Roman Conversations , Michelangelo replied to the question whether Dutch painting was not more pious than Italian:
“My dear lady, Dutch painting will generally please every pious more than an Italian work that will not draw a tear from him, as does a Dutch one, not because of the excellence and quality of this painting, but because of the mildness of that pious observer. It will please women, especially the very old or the very young, and also the monks and nuns and some amusing nobles who lack a sense of true harmony. The Dutch actually paint in order to bribe the outer eye, for example with things that please or with things that cannot be said badly, such as saints and prophets ... and although this all pleases certain eyes, it is in truth lacking but the real art, the right measure and the right ratio, the selection and the clear distribution in space and finally even content and power. "
Examples of kitsch given by critics
In the commercial
Advertising wants to create incentives to buy; thus manipulative simplification and trivial promises of fulfillment are almost immanent, so that it is a field par excellence for the even targeted application of kitsch.
- Advertising photos, for example for perfumes, often use a heroic aestheticization of the naked body. a. was already used by the National Socialists.
- Contradictory terms such as "real wood imitation" or "marble decor" should be close to authentic values such as B. pretend a noble material. A term like “Relive” for a recording that is currently not broadcast live is kitsch in the broadest sense.
Works in the US gambling city of Las Vegas are called architectural examples of kitsch . There are replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the pyramids, often in different materials than the original and even in completely different colors. In the same breath the different Disney countries are mentioned, which show examples of buildings from different regions of the world. These are usually only bricked up to the first floor, then a construction with other materials follows.
The so-called “country house style” is often referred to as “architectural kitsch”. These are single-family houses that are equipped with imitation lattice windows, semicircular bay windows, angled outer walls, arched windows, half-hip roofs and sometimes even turrets. These are stylistic elements that many people associate with traditional architecture, which, however, mostly have nothing to do with the local and regional building tradition, and therefore act more like a disturbing foreign body in a historically grown village or old town. The purpose of this construction is to suggest a kind of homeliness and an "ideal world". This construction method came into fashion in the late 80s and was at times very popular, especially in the 90s, after modern architecture was primarily practiced for decades and residential buildings were usually built in a rather simple, unadorned style .
Often even typical regional architecture was displaced by this architectural style. So fell u. a. many Jura houses in the Bavarian Altmühltal new buildings in the so-called country house style were sacrificed.
In the fine arts
In the visual arts, kitsch emerged in the mid-19th century on the basis of romanticism , Biedermeier and realism , although the boundaries between art and kitsch are not always easy to define. The works of Ludwig Richter and Carl Spitzweg offer examples of walking the tightrope between art and kitsch . In his late work, Richter combined great artistic skill with hard-to-eat sweetness. Spitzweg, also very talented, chose sweet topics, to which he distanced himself with irony. Eduard von Grützner with his carousing monks, Julius Adam with his kittens and Carl Jutz with his chicken farms, which they repeated in the same way , can be more clearly assigned to kitsch . In addition to these themes, which are particularly associated with the names of certain painters, the roaring deer , the alpenglow, the alpine hut and the sunset by the sea are frequent themes in kitsch paintings that were taken from the fund of late Romanticism .
The American mass painter Thomas Kinkade proves that such topics can still be very successful today .
The American artist Jeff Koons used evidence of consumer culture as starting points and alienated or imitated them. He also worked on objects from everyday art and advertising. Like the latter, he repeatedly resorts to sexual and other key stimuli , but by alienating them gives them an ironic break.
- The Wildecker Herzbuben almost always appear in the traditional costumes of their homeland. One of her best-known songs is Hello, Ms. Neighbor , the text of which begins as follows: “There is a banker at my house, I like to sit and drink my wine / and I often look over to the neighboring garden / because the view is so beautiful when she stands on the ladder / and while picking cherries my head is twisted. ".
- Stefan Mross was discovered by Karl Moik at the age of 13 and has been marketed since then until he became one of the most famous German folk musicians. Critics claim that more important than his skills as a trumpeter is his youthful appearance.
- Richard Clayderman plays classical music, which is prepared with audience appeal and with an emphasis on romantic pieces.
- Heintje : He became known as a child star in 1967 through his hit “Mama” and later through roles in numerous films from the 1960s. “Mama” is still widely discussed today and is increasingly perceived by the public as exaggerated or also kitschy.
- Dieter Thomas Kuhn is a pop singer who consciously wants to embody the possible kitsch of his songs through clothing (e.g. golden sequin suit) and hairstyle (blonde hair dryer) and thus makes him part of his "marketing".
In the theatre
Folk plays, often set in a rural setting that never existed, are edited for television and then recorded in front of an audience in a theater.
- The Komödienstadel is a television series of the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation , in which comical, folk plays are shown in Bavarian dialect.
Critics call programs like the popular hit parade kitsch because good-looking people sing playback in front of an idealized landscape with snow made of foam.
- The country doctor is the story of a doctor from the residents of the community of Deekelsen , a fictional town in Schleswig-Holstein, who he cares for . The serial doctor is a common example because he is easy to idealize. As a result, critical aspects of the profession are either ignored or trivialized.
- According to this point of view, the Black Forest Clinic also works with clichés. At the same time, elements of the US soap opera are added.
- The good times, bad times series struggles with the prejudice of total cultural lack of value and quality.
In the cinema
Whatever the category, the term Schnulze is always associated with sentimentality and sentimentality. The Heimatfilm genre often shows landscapes that are characterized by their unspoiled nature. This mostly includes alpine meadows , valleys and mountain slopes. In addition, the focus is mostly on traditions, costumes and folk music . The main focus of Heimatfilms is on authorities such as doctors, foresters or pastors. The films are accused of being neatly separated from good and bad and that the plot is mostly predictable.
- The girls from Immenhof shows life at the Immenhof pony stud, which is the purpose of life for Grandma Jantzen and her granddaughters Angela, Dick and Dalli. Ethelbert, a distant relative, proves in a thunderstorm night that he is not as arrogant as he is. He saves the life of an injured foal and wins Dick as a friend.
- A successful Bollywood production should contain all nine rasas (“flavors”), the traditionally handed down components of Indian art: love, heroism, disgust, comedy, horror, wondrous, anger, pathos and peacefulness. Since the great success of “ Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge ” (1995), love films have dominated, which often focus on lavish weddings.
- Hollywood is often used as a synonym for the film industry located there. On the other hand, some Americans denigrate Hollywood with the nickname Tinseltown (= "City of Talmi ").
In the literature
The so-called trivial literature is accused of devoting itself to topics such as love , death , adventure , crime , war and so on in a clichéd manner that is unrealistic . In terms of language, comprehensibility, and emotionality, it is structured in such a way that it meets the expectations of a large mass audience by fooling them into a beautiful world with a clear distinction between good and bad. Perhaps the most essential of its characteristics can be stated in this sense: it does not break the reader's horizon of expectation.
- Hedwig Courths-Mahler was accused of always using the same clichés : socially disadvantaged people gain wealth and prestige, lovers fight against all kinds of intrigues and finally find each other.
- The accusation of permanently using this Cinderella recipe was also brought against E. Marlitt . She was criticized, sometimes sensational, then again realistically or feminine sentimental.
- Ludwig Ganghofer's homeland novels earned him the reputation of the "ideal world" writer. It is not uncommon for his works, which are mostly about the life of simple, capable, honest people, to be called kitsch, especially since the acts are mainly set in the lovingly presented idyll of the Bavarian Alps .
Even against canonized works of literature, the accusation is occasionally raised that they are "kitschy". In 2011, for example, the Germanist and philosopher Richard David Precht pleaded not to read Johann Wolfgang Goethe's novel The Sorrows of Young Werther in school lessons , as he considered this work to be “lying social romanticism”.
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- German words in English to
- Gillo Dorfles : Der Kitsch ("Il kitsch") Prisma-Verlag, Gütersloh 1977 (reprint of the Tübingen edition 1969).
- Knick-knacks in Brockhaus' Kleines Konversations-Lexikon from 1911 at zeno.org
- Knick-knacks in Meyer's Konversations-Lexikon from 1905 at zeno.org
- Susan Sontag: Notes on Camp . 1964. Online at http://pages.zoom.co.uk/leveridge/sontag.html ( Memento of March 4, 2005 in the Internet Archive )
- Umberto Eco On the critical criticism of mass culture . Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 1986.
- Richard David Precht on the German education system Retirees should go - "Werther" has to get out Stern online , 23 November 2011.