Kitsch: the good and the bad. Bonsai: art or kitsch?
Page 2 of 4

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Fri Feb 10, 2006 2:15 am ]
Post subject: 

That may be the first sign of the coming bureaucratisation and commodification of the art we love, Will.
I hope not, but it certainly has the potential to go that way.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Fri Feb 10, 2006 7:19 am ]
Post subject: 

I don't think you are any farther off topic than I am. But, you have to admit that a bonsai has a far shorter shelf life in the hands of the art patron than a Monet would. You are of course correct some of these old masterpieces would deteriorate quickly but it would be in years not months unless we delve into the realm of the absurd in the way of care.
My point is that even if an average collector of art were to procure a wold class bonsai this person would of necessity have to know enough to make arrangements for its care, and in many cases care taker. You could today buy a Monet and take a few months or weeks to research how to care for the painting. You can't do that with a bonsai, you better have plans in place up front or you are going to lose the tree, or at least destroy its artistic value. Of course if we take the idea of bonsai being an international commodity there are the various departments of agriculture that have to be dealt with nation wide and world wide.
That in its self presents a significant risk to the buyer of such an item. These government entities are a power unto themselves and most of the time they will look at a bonsai, regardless of who created it, as a plant to be fumigated, washed, quarantined and killed if possible. Then it can be burned which is really what they wanted to do in the first place.
As a work of art bonsai is out there by itself, it is unique.

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Fri Feb 10, 2006 7:34 am ]
Post subject: 

most of the time they will look at a bonsai, regardless of who created it, as a plant to be fumigated, washed, quarantined and killed if possible. Then it can be burned which is really what they wanted to do in the first place.

Sadly, that's what happened with a collection of very valuable trees the Chinese government donated to Australia in 1988, for our bicentenary celebrations. They killed the lot, in the name of quarantine.
Absolutely reprehensible.
I find it hard to imagine the whole thing, if it is attempted, will be anything but a very shortlived flash in the pan. Bonsai is perishable art, like the work of Jeff Koons.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Sat Feb 11, 2006 3:24 pm ]
Post subject: 

Thanks guys for your thoughts on why bonsai and mainstream art don't mix very well.
Here are some more ideas on Kitsch and Art, as presented in Odd Nerdrum's book On Kitsch. The ideas below belong to the authors of the book, including Odd Nerdrum, Jan-Ove Tuv, Sindre Mekjan and others. I mostly rephrased the content and sometime used partial quotations. Therefore, I highlighted the whole text to distinguished from being my own.
Art is elusive. Kitsch is straightforward. Where artists express beauty indirectly, in a roundabout way, a Kitsch-producer takes the direct route. In art, beauty and truth, although it is the perpetual and irrational ideal of all artists, is never handed directly to the viewer. Those who hustle their way into direct contact with beauty, commit sacrilege. They create not art but Kitsch.
According to modernists, art invites the viewer to become involved and immersed in the artwork.
On the other hand, Kitsch simply overpowers the viewer. It promotes the illusion that aesthetic pleasure lies within the aroused feelings, so it acts like an artistic lie.
For centuries, craftsmanship was part of being an artist. This is not the case in contemporary art, where only ideas count. A contemporary artist is protected by his time: if you are ?in?, you are safe and your work is considered art. A classical figurative painter is ?out?. He is competing with the best ever created in the history. Because he has to carry this heavy burden, often he is laughed at and almost always placed at the bottom of the hierarchy. The question is not whether the work is well executed, but whether it carries the right ideas.
Contemporary art carries a permanent rebellion against tradition. Kitsch thrives on tradition. According to Clement Greenberg in his famous essay ?Avant-Garde and Kitsch?, the precondition for Kitsch is the availability at hand of a fully matured cultural tradition, whose discoveries and perfected self-consciousness Kitsch can take advantage of for its own ends. Kitsch steals the best of previous cultures.
Art represents the public space. It reflects the public?s ideals of formalism, objectivity and functionality.
Kitsch is the intimate space. Our love, joy, tears and hopes. Just like in soap operas, pornography and film violence. It gives intimacy dignity. A kitsch person does not long for official innovation, instead he yearns for a human state of emotion. Instead of fleeing away from human condition, Kitsch runs into it and lightens the existence of an individual.
Modern art tends to gravitate away from passion. Kitsch deals with universal basic themes that never go out of fashion. It forces us to be emotionally involved. If one has the courage to look beyond the moose by the lake, beyond the gipsy girl, one will find eternal values. There is something na?ve and child-like in the greatness of Kitsch history.
The six most important aspects of the Kitsch concept:
1. The subject has to be directly recognizable.
2. Skill of the artist is an important qualification, but it has no power to turn something into art.
3. A Kitsch painter is interested to learn from the old masters. According to Broch here is a moral requirement of art: ?You must neither completely nor partially copy the art of others. If so, you will be producing Kitsch.?
4. Kitsch is never ironic. That?s why it is easily perceived as pathetic. Art can take a Kitsch concept and introduce irony into it thus giving Kitsch a negative prestige. Then it can become art. An example would be to show a moose by a lake, with a NO SWIMMING sign next to it.
5. The kitsch maker is interested in archetypes. They are based on basic human impulses.
6. Kitsch is a systematic attempt to escape from everyday life. It can take us to a personal past (see the souvenir culture) or to places created by the imagination.

What Odd Nerdrum thinks as the most important characteristics of contemporary art is philosophical purity that finds its clearest expression in conceptualism. Intellectual reflection. The antithesis of craftsmanship. This is in sharp contrast with sensual expression. The one philosopher most instrumental in determining our concept of art is Immanuel Kant and his work The Critique of Judgment. All the leading art historians, including Ortega Y Gasset, Adorno, Greenberg, and Malraux, furthered in one way or another the thoughts of Kant.
Here is an interesting observation. There are areas in our time where the ideals of contemporary art didn?t take hold: literature and Hollywood film productions. The reason is that the survival of literature and film depends on commercial success. If you depend on large audience, you must create what they like: something that speaks to their heart. They will not be satisfied with intellectual reflection. They want love, death, and the beach. Economy wins, hands down.

I have been trying to place bonsai into the above context. I have heard many times that bonsai will reach critical mass only if we are able to place our expositions into art galleries and museums. It is a nice thought, but I think it needs to be heavily qualified.
I will step back from bonsai for a moment, and mention Odd Nedrum?s suggestion about how Kitsch can gain full recognition. Art has a powerful superstructure. It is the Academy, the Curatoriat, the art critics with their strict criteria as to what is considered art today. Nerdrum claims that Kitsch needs its own superstructure: the Superstructure of sensuality. It needs to be separated from art because it is the only venue that can give the sensual form of expression a structure of its own. Then may be it can gain back the respect to these works.
I believe that bonsai should not be mixed together with the rest of today?s contemporary art. By doing that, it will lose its unique identity. It will always be the second fiddler, the opening act before the main show that is art. It will be judged by standards entirely foreign to its origins.
Bonsai needs its own superstructure. Lacking an institution of its own, it will be looked at as mostly Kitsch. Just look at at all the characteristics attributed to Kitsch and you will realize that bonsai fits them all. There is little chance of winning this battle.
The only notable exception is literati bonsai. Its roots come from the middle ages, but it is surprisingly modern in many ways. First and foremost, it lends itself to intellectual contemplation. It encourages us to restrain and subdue our emotions, this being perfectly in line with the Kantian ideals. It invites the viewer to immerse in the work without overpowering him. It is never ?overdone?. The austerity and simplicity of a Zen garden and tea ceremony has all the right ingredients even by the strict standards of today?s art.
The other end of the spectrum is the bonsai that floods us with all the details, trying to copy real life exactly as it is. Hundreds of branches wired exactly to perfection, and sometimes with real life-looking human and animal figurines. No matter how skillfully done, the work will always be branded as Kitsch.
It just needs to be strengthened and nourished. It needs to be clearly defined as being different, a world of its own, playing by its own rules. Other art forms can be used to complement and elevate bonsai, but never to set the rules of the game. Bonsai should be valued for what it is. According to its own criteria. Just like good Kitsch, it can become an alternative to art. It can transcend the strict criteria of art and give artists a way to find a unique form of expression.

Author:  Mike Page [ Sat Feb 11, 2006 5:13 pm ]
Post subject: 

Definitions of "kitsch" as found on google: ... ine:Kitsch
I posted an image on another forum recently, and a respondent referred to it as "kitsch". I felt throughly chastised.

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Sat Feb 11, 2006 7:32 pm ]
Post subject: 

At least "Stuckism" hasn't yet entered the lexicon of the bonsai critic. I also hope the status quo remains that way.
I have commented elsewhere on trees that I feel are overworked, overstyled... I avoided using the term "kitsch", because it is open to misinterpretation, in much the same way that words like "evil" and "terror" have been misdefined, recently.
Lingusitic morphology is a bane, for the writer seeking to avoid ambiguity.

Author:  Walter Pall [ Sun Feb 12, 2006 1:28 am ]
Post subject: 

Why feel chastised? It probably was kitsch according to the definitions given here.
I have said frequently 'a bonsai is a small tree in a container that touches my soul' and 'a bonsai is art if it speaks, if it creates emotions. Positive or negative emotions.'
Both of my statements are clearly a call for kitsch according to the modern definition.
So do I have to rephrase: 'bonsai is a small tree that speaks to my intellect', and ' a bonsai MUST NOT try to arouse emotions, it must only touch the intellect, otherwise it is kitsch'.
Or do I just ignore this and openly and proudly accept that I am a proponent and creator of kitsch? But not as much kitsch as many others? Where is the boundary?

Author:  Vance Wood [ Sun Feb 12, 2006 10:35 am ]
Post subject: 

Boy am I going to stick my neck out on this one, but before I do I want all of you to know I am not pointing this at anyone on this list, it is just a general observation.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Sun Feb 12, 2006 3:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Walter Pall wrote:
Or do I just ignore this and openly and proudly accept that I am a proponent and creator of kitsch? But not as much kitsch as many others? Where is the boundary?

I have to totally disagree with you on this one. Looking at your trees, there are great many deal of them perfectly suitable for intellectual contemplation just as much, or even more than stirring emotions.
They have exceptional formal qualities and they can stand on their own merits as excercise in creativity.
When you create these trees, is your primary concern to appleal to the crowd's emotions and please the judges, or do you put emphasis on creating forms and shapes as a result of an intense intellectual process?
If you say YES to the first part, you are probably creating Kitsch. If you fit the second part, you may be doing art.
There is nothing wrong in touching the emotions as long as this is not your only (or primary) concern.
My favorite way of looking at a bonsai is in an emotionally unattached, quiet and contemplative way. I can look at a great bonsai, admiring its formal qualities and not being "emotional" in any way.
Using your intellect when looking at a bonsai does not mean that you are looking for faults, or you are trying to figure out how it was created. It means that you are emotionally unattached and non-judgmental. You are immersed in the forms, shapes, textures, and overall design created by the artist.
And we haven't even touched the art of displaying bonsai. Beyond the traditional display, that many westerners see as Japanese, and therefore avoid using it for fear of coming across as imitating, there is a vast uncharted territory waiting to be discovered by our own creativity.

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Sun Feb 12, 2006 4:13 pm ]
Post subject: 

I'd suggest a third kind, Vance.
Sometimes that is a strategy that can have retrospective impact, as people seek to criticise your right, ability and motive to comment upon others. I'm thinking specifically of the attitude many have taken to Pablo Picasso's observations about his fellow artists' work. His comments are usually derided as arrogance.

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Fri Apr 07, 2006 12:34 pm ]
Post subject: 

Here are a few observations on the nature of art, by people whom most would consider artists, in their chosen fields:

"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
Pablo Picasso

"Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term Art, I should call it 'the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul." Edgar Allan Poe

"It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance... and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process."
Henry James

"It is through art, and through art only, that we can realise our perfection; through art and art only that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence."
Oscar Wilde

"Only through art can we get outside of ourselves and know another's view of the universe which is not the same as ours and see landscapes which would otherwise have remained unknown to us like the landscapes of the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing a single world, our own, we see it multiply until we have before us as many worlds as there are original artists... And many centuries after their core, whether we call it Rembrandt or Vermeer, is extinguished, they continue to send us their special rays."
Marcel Proust

"Do not imagine that Art is something which is designed to give gentle uplift and self-confidence. Art is not a brassiere. At least, not in the English sense. But do not forget that brassiere is the French word for life-jacket."
Julian Barnes

?Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.?
Thomas Merton

?Art is essentially the affirmation, the blessing, and the deification of existence.?
Friedrich Nietzsche

?There is no better deliverance from the world than through art; and a man can form no surer bond with it than through art.?
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Author:  David Yedwab [ Fri Apr 07, 2006 3:04 pm ]
Post subject: 

I'm probably way off-base here. But does nerd come from Odd Nerdum? And is that a "pen-name" anyway? And if any of this is true, isn't this another twist on thew art-kitsch conundrum?

Author:  Attila Soos [ Wed Apr 12, 2006 5:20 pm ]
Post subject: 

As far as I know, Odd Nerdrum is not a pen-name. Therefore, the nerdrum-nerd association is purely coincidental. So, the twist has to be imaginary.

summer night.jpg [30.64 KiB]
Downloaded 215 times

Author:  Walter Pall [ Thu Apr 13, 2006 12:54 am ]
Post subject: 

This is one of my trees. it is a Hibiscus rosa sinensis. I have made it from a cutting since 1978. It is a souvenir from a vacation in Eilat, Israel.
If this is not bonsai kitsch, what is? I like it and my wife would sell all trees before she sold this one. I like it and would be deeply hurt if something happened to it. Everybody is in awe when they see it in the greenhouse in summer in full bloom.
Does it stand as bonsai? Not really.
I think it is THE example of bonsai kitsch. I would not want to be without it.

DSCN1421virtual2v.jpg [63.8 KiB]
Downloaded 234 times

Author:  Attila Soos [ Thu Apr 13, 2006 12:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Walter Pall wrote:
Does it stand as bonsai? Not really.
I think it is THE example of bonsai kitsch. I would not want to be without it.

Your hibiscus is a great example of what we talking about it here. And it also demostrates the usefulness and emotional impact of "good kitsch".
When I look at the hibiscus bonsai, at first my prejudice takes over, and I have negative thoughts about it. But then, when I start looking at those flowers, there is something deeply beautiful about them. The longer I look at them, the more I get lost in their beauty and sensuality.

Page 2 of 4 All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group