ArtLex Art Dictionary




kitsch - Art characterized by vapidly sentimental, often pretentious poor taste. It is typically clumsy, repetitive, cheesy, and slickly commercial.

The art critic Clement Greenberg (American, 1909-1994) defined kitsch in the 1930s as ersatz culture, "for those who, insensible to the values of genuine culture, are hungry nevertheless for the diversion that only culture of some sort can provide." Kitsch can be deceptive, he warned, adding, "It has many different levels, and some of them are high enough to be dangerous to the naïve seeker of true light."

Artists whose works have been considered kitsch are William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905), Maxfield Parrish (American, 1870-1966), and Norman Rockwell (American, 1894-1978). Although their works are more seriously considered and even admired by art critics and historians today, there are many other artists whose works continue to be labeled kitsch. Among contemporary examples, the work of Thomas Kinkade (American, 1958-), whose frothing oceans, idyllic cottages and feverishly colorful gardens bear titles like The Blessings of Spring and Hometown Evening, have been called kitsch. His website, nevertheless says that he's "America's most collected living artist," and the corporation that bears his name, and manufactures photographic reproductions of his paintings (adding actual brushstrokes to many of them), has been making annual profits in the millions of dollars for several years.

(pr. kitsh)




Alexandre Cabanel (French, 1823-1889), The Birth of Venus, 1863, oil on canvas, 4 feet 3 1/4 inches x 7 feet 4 1/2 inches (130 x 225 cm), Musée d'Orsay, Paris. See academic and French art.



William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905), The Birth of Venus, oil on canvas.




see thumbnail to rightWilliam-Adolphe Bouguereau, Cupid with a Butterfly, 1888, oil on canvas, 117 x 168 cm.



William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Nymphs and Satyr, oil on canvas. See satyr.


see thumbnail aboveMaxfield Parrish (American, 1870-1966), Daybreak, 1922, oil on panel, 26 x 42 inches. See illustration.




see thumbnail to leftThomas Kinkade (American, 1958-), Candlelight Cottage, c. 2002.



see thumbnail to rightGerman? Polish? American?, Easter Bunny on Easter Eggs, c. 2002, polychromed blown and molded glass, glitter, height 5 inches, $49.50 US retail price. See kitsch and pretty.





Also see bad art, baroque, brummagem, buckeye, calendar painting, collectible, confection, gewgaw, gild the lily, low art, mass media, memorabilia, naïve art, paint-by-number, picturesque, popular culture, realia, rococo, sublime, and tchotchke.





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