Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas. Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations (10, Avante-Garde and Kitsch). – Clement Greenberg, Art and Culture: Critical Essays.
If art proves anything, surely it must be that the quiddity of humanity is universal. Yes, within parameters each individual’s perspective informs their reactions, and yet, it seems to me, there are, importantly – parameters. It is an obvious observation to make that we agree far more often then we disagree about what constitutes good or successful art. Perhaps it is because art ultimately surpasses exercises in explanation: good art simply rushes in.
It is not enough today, in a country like ours, to have an inclination towards the latter [true culture]; one must have a true passion for it that will give him the power to resist the faked article that surrounds and presses in on him from the moment he is old enough to look at the funny papers (11).
Where else but the blogosphere can one have a lively discussion about art, love, and authenticity, with perfect strangers? I was directed to Greenberg’s essay by a fellow blogger, and read it, as well as other essays in the book, with much interest. Fellow blogger, Mr. Johnson does a very good job of discussing the essay’s heart, so I won’t reiterate the salient points regarding the mercenary nature of modern art and kitsch. Nor could I as, after reading the essay, my heart ran aground in Ilya Efimovich Repin’s portrait of M. Gershin.
That avant-garde culture is the imitation of imitating–the fact itself–calls for neither approval nor disapproval. It is true that this culture contains within itself some of the very Alexandrianism it seeks to overcome […]. But there is one most important difference: the avant-garde moves, while Alexandrianism stands still (8).
Greenberg’s discussion about the difference between avant-garde and kitsch is very compelling. So much so in fact, that half way through the essay, I was driven to seek out the work of Repin based on Greenberg’s referencing him, (and his battle-scene paintings which appealed so embarrassingly, apparently, to the proletariat) as an example of cheap and easy kitsch.
Where Picasso paints cause, Repin paints effect. Repin predigests art for the spectator and spares him the effort, provides him with a short cut to the pleasure of art that detours what is necessarily difficult in genuine art, Repin, or kitsch, is synthetic art (15).
The first image I took in was that of the portrait of Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin. My heart nearly broke as his eyes met mine. All I can say, Mr. Greenberg, is that – if that makes me a peasant, then so be it. One hardly needs to know that Garshin’s life was tragic, that he ended it by throwing himself down a staircase…the painting tells you everything you need to know. It moves.
Poor Repin got raked over the coals in Greenberg’s essay, but at the very end there is a post script. Literally, “P.S.” haha – oh by the way –
P.S. To my dismay I learned years after this saw print that Repin never painted a battle scene; he wasn’t that kind of painter. I had attributed some one else’s picture to him. That showed my provincialism with regard to Russian art in the nineteenth century (21).
Hrmph. Well….apology accepted.