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The Widow, kitsch example of late 19th century popular lithograph of a humorous painting by Frederick Dielman.
Cottage-shaped tea pot and milk jug

Kitsch (/ˈkɪ/; loanword from German, also called cheesiness and tackiness) is a low-brow style of mass-produced art or design using popular or cultural icons. The word was first applied to artwork that was a response to certain divisions of 19th-century art with aesthetics that favored what later art critics would consider to be exaggerated sentimentality and melodrama. Hence, 'kitsch art' is closely associated with 'sentimental art'. Kitsch is also related to the concept of camp, because of its humorous and ironic nature.

To brand visual art as "kitsch" is generally pejorative, as it implies that the work in question is gaudy, or that it deserves a solely ornamental and decorative purpose rather than amounting to a work of true artistic merit. The chocolate box artist Thomas Kinkade (1958–2012), whose idyllic landscape scenes were often lampooned by art critics as "maudlin" and "schmaltzy," is considered a leading example of contemporary kitsch.

The term is sometimes applied to music.


As a descriptive term, kitsch originated in the art markets of Munich in the 1860s and the 1870s, describing cheap, popular, and marketable pictures and sketches.[1] In Das Buch vom Kitsch (The Book of Kitsch), Hans Reimann defines it as a professional expression "born in a painter's studio".

The study of kitsch was done almost exclusively in German until the 1970s, with Walter Benjamin being an important scholar in the field.[2]

Hermann Broch argues that the essence of kitsch is imitation: kitsch mimics its immediate predecessor with no regard to ethics—it aims to copy the beautiful, not the good.[3] According to Walter Benjamin, kitsch is, unlike art, a utilitarian object lacking all critical distance between object and observer; it "offers instantaneous emotional gratification without intellectual effort, without the requirement of distance, without sublimation".[2]

Kitsch is less about the thing observed than about the observer. According to Roger Scruton, "Kitsch is fake art, expressing fake emotions, whose purpose is to deceive the consumer into thinking he feels something deep and serious."[4]



The Kitsch Movement is an international movement of classical painters, founded[clarification needed] in 1998 upon a philosophy proposed by Odd Nerdrum[5] and later clarified in his book On Kitsch[6] in cooperation with Jan-Ove Tuv and others, incorporating the techniques of the Old Masters with narrative, romanticism, and emotionally charged imagery.

According to Whitney Rugg, "Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post magazine covers epitomize American World War II-era kitsch..."[7]


The kitsch aesthetic can also be found in indie music, especially lo-fi which utilizes the aesthetic to create a product that feels somewhat quirky and unrefined. The aesthetic is commonly used to separate the indie sound from that of the more refined and well produced sound of mainstream music.

Sometimes the revival of retro music styles considered "cheesy" such as 80's Italo-Disco produced on new instruments is referred to as kitsch.[8]

Popular culture

Scruton identifies the Barbie doll as an example of kitsch.[4]

See also


  1. Calinescu, Matei. Five Faces of Modernity. Kitsch, p. 234.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Menninghaus, Winfried (2009). "On the Vital Significance of 'Kitsch': Walter Benjamin's Politics of 'Bad Taste'". In Andrew Benjamin (ed.). Walter Benjamin and the Architecture of Modernity. Charles Rice. pp. 39–58. ISBN 9780980544091.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Broch, Hermann (2002). "Evil in the Value System of Art". Geist and Zeitgeist: The Spirit in an Unspiritual Age. Six Essays by Hermann Broch. Counterpoint. pp. 13–40. ISBN 9781582431680.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Scruton, Roger. "A Point of View: The strangely enduring power of kitsch", BBC News Magazine, December 12, 2014
  5. E.J. Pettinger [1] "The Kitsch Campaign" [Boise Weekly], December 29, 2004.
  6. Dag Solhjell and Odd Nerdrum. On Kitsch, Kagge Publishing, August 2001, ISBN 8248901238.
  7. Rugg, Whitney. "Kitsch", Theories of Media, University of Chicago
  8. Dolan, Emily (2010). "'...This little ukulele tells the truth': indie pop and kitsch authenticity". Popular Music. 29 (3): 457–469. doi:10.1017/s0261143010000437.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links