Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Kitsch is not kewl

image:© O. Alamany & E. Vicens/CORBIS

I'm not feeling too eloquent and articulate today so I'm just going to use other people's words (for now) to try and describe what I feel about 'kitsch'. I was blog-hopping yet again when I came across masalachaionline's eclectic collection of posts featuring Indian artists and designers. One such post featured a bunch of photographs of 'Indian street-art'. The following was one of the comments left by a reader and I'm borrowing her words:

"these are wicked - I love any street art and look forward to seeing more of this. I don't like how Indian street art has been appropriated by retro-ironic types here though - really irks me when I see rails of mass-produced tees and totes with some faux-bollywood style poster, or Indian packaging or something - you're left with nothing of the original humour, but just some dry remnant of exotica."

A more oblique but interesting viewpoint is provided by Franco-Czech writer Milan Kundera in his fabulous book The Unbearable Lightness of Being where he says that kitsch is the anti-thesis of anything that is remotely reminiscent of individuality, originality and doubt. A leveler of the contradictions and complexities of real life, kitsch according to Kundera is akin to totalitarianism where "all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions."

So what's all the fuss about? When what all kitschy art is really all about is imitation and appropriation of an established style without trying to question it any way. It doesn't challenge convention, it follows formula and is a function of capitalist machinery. How many more pillow cases/bags/t-shirts with printed faces of Rekha/Dharmender/Amitabh do we have to sell before we move on to something that can be called 'original' and 'authentic' without having to use quote marks?




My only problem with this opinion would be that I feature more Indian Pop than kitsch .

I happen to find "street Art" interesting actually, I see it as a fading phenomenon (quite literally).

Out of curiosity , what do you think I should post more of?

Mandakini said...

thanks for the comment. the word i usewd to describe the content on ur blog was 'eclectic veering towards kitsch'. so i dont have a problem with what you post....some of it is actually very interesting and i do visit your blog fairly regularly :D

however the way i see it indian pop is not so vastly different from kitsch. or at least it has been used and abused so much that it has lost its own identity.

what i wanted to say through this post was that kitsch in design and art is outdated and its time to move on to something more original. its been done to death so lets give credit to something else for a change.

would be happy to have a longer conversation about this but don't know if blogger is the right place to do that :)

Mandakini said...

@masalachai: i've removed the sentence which said the featured artwork was kitsch since the idea was not to show masalachaionline in a poor light. :P


Mandakini ! Please don't edit your post. That was not the intention at all. You are completely free to have whatever opinions. I understand your frustrations towards kitsch as an art form . It probably is outdated but I suspect it's going to stick around as long as there is a captive western audience & Manish Arora. :)

I think I veer towards anything colourful really. Thats only a personal aesthetic preference. I like a lot of cheerful, beautiful colours and try not to post a lot of dreary stuff. I've never actually considered providing an accurate or "balanced" picture of the Indian contemporary art scene because masala chai was intended more as a forum to showcase up & coming talent(a very shy breed), not as some serious academic documentation of Art in India (which I think is quite obvious though).

I'd love it if people would actually email me or leave comments or feed back or just get in touch really. The appreciation is gratifying but some perspective would also be good once in a while (if it's constructive :P)

That being said, I rather like your line drawings.

Deepa Subbaraman said...

I really agree with the fact that street art being passed of as original is really funny. Thats why I thought a post about Kitchy art and that it is being "plagiarised" is a joke in itself.