How do you define "kitsch"?

How do you define “kitsch”?

If your answer is “A savory, open-faced pastry crust pie with a savory custard filling of cheese, meat and vegetables,” then you need to consult a dictionary.

Conversations about kitsch are tricky business. What exactly is it? Can any art that makes you feel warm and fuzzy be called “kitsch”?

Usually, when the subject comes up, I end up going back to Gregory Wolfe’s editorial on the work of Thomas Kinkade. It’s always helpful.

Today, thanks to a Tweet and a link from Philip Tallon, author of The Poetics of Evil and co-editor of The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes, I’ve discovered something else very helpful… 

In a post for Transpositions, Tim Gorringe ‎writes:

“In … The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera says two things about kitsch: first, that it represents ‘the absence of shit in the world’ – in other words, the refusal to be honest about pain and evil; second, that looking at kitsch two tears fall, one at the subject and the other which notes what a tender emotional being I am to be moved by this. Kitsch, we can say, is a particularly vicious version of emotivism.

Kitsch, in fact, is one of Satan’s prime stratagems to undermine the gospel, to turn it from something which turns the world upside down to a cheap tinsel decoration which helps us feel ‘good about ourselves’ (one of the mantras of our contemporary culture) whilst allowing injustice to go unchecked.”

Yes. What he said.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.


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