Friday, April 29, 2016

Do you 'kitsch'?

When I was a child, one day my father brought home a fine wooden duck cut from pine boards. It was painted to look like a mallard.  It had wings designed to rotate at different speeds depending on the windspeed; it swiveled and served as a wind vane.   We placed on a pole for all to see.  This was my first experiences with "kitsch" but I didn't know the word then.

Duck with rotating wings
Kitsch is a word borrowed from German - kitsch objects are found in many (all?) cultures. Designs are often based on popular or cultural images.  It is sometimes called "art of the people" when compared with 'fine art'.  Objects or pictures can be hand made one of a kind objects or factory made copies.  Kitsch is meant to be 'fun', it is a statement of who you are and what you enjoy, it is a statement of humor for your neighbors to enjoy.  Originality and creativity are important.
German gnome
Once when we were staying in a pension in Hungary - I walked through the neighborhood to see if I could find examples of Kitsch in the front yards.  With the exception of a few porcelain Gnomes and a couple of medieval looking Gargoyles attached to modern homes - I found few... There was a sad sameness to all the homes - neat front yards, trimmed lawns, a few shrubs... but no "art".  In American yards it is much the same - Why is this?  It is our cultural loss...

Thai dancers
In some neighborhoods in Central America amazing kitsch is more common - simple wooden carvings, religious figures of porcelain, creations of tile and mirrors, terra cotta burros, roof top ornaments... The line between a unique creative art piece with something to 'say' and kitsch is sometimes difficult to define...  Should the religious objects be classified as Kitsch - Do plastic manger scenes set up in America qualify as Kitsch...?  Niles has a peewee golf tournament each summer with individuals setting up different holes in back yards - each participant puts a gaudy pink flamingo in their front yard to advertise. Good example.

Photos or paintings can be kitsch as well
I know people who collect kitsch - searching everywhere for their specialty - old antique toys become kitsch when collected and displayed, porcelain puppies, French postcards, peasant art, farm tools, British tea cups, Silver spoons collected from cities of the world, license plates...  It appears that kitsch is in the eye of the beholder not the original item itself.  In Niles we have 6 or 8 specialty shops that sell every manner of kitsch...

This giant kitsch is used to sell mufflers
If you want to look for kitsch - go look in the average American bathroom or kitchen .  I often see porcelain fish, birds, mushrooms, or woven baskets with seashells.  The bottom line is that when these displays are well done  does it add to the enjoyment of the visitors to that bathroom? What is chosen for display tells something about the person who created them.

Mass produced kitsch straight off the shelf
How you feel about kitsch is largely a matter of your personal history, and who you are reaching out to through the display... - I hate "cute" stuff - Once we stayed in a bed and breakfast with " darling" little stuffed kitties and "sweet" little pictures painted in the sentimental style of the early 20th century, doilies and little stitched messages on the wall... Not my thing.  Nor do I like places with cross-stitch messages like "Don't Pine for Me" "You are the Apple of my Eye".  Not me...

Variety of pieces in a shop window
My preferred Kitsch makes me smile for its originality.  I like something that the person has made or painted themselves.   I like pieces that tell something about the owner.  I also like pieces that tell something about the person’s belief or culture.  Good kitsch in Peru may be a roof top assemblage of objects with origins both in the Christian era and pre-Christian symbols.  A well-made scare crow would be kitsch; a clever carved jack o lantern is a kitsch object with a brief life time. 
A Czech garden snail ( 1 m. high )
In this age of standardization many people fear standing out by expressing their unique creativity by making or showing kitsch.  Kitsch has a 'bad name' in our culture as something cheap and of little value... I think this is  also the result of many mass produced 'cutsie' products flooding the market.  How many plastic gnomes or chipmunks can you take?  On the other hand I know someone who makes the most amazing bird houses our of old boots - bicycle wheel water wheel that uses the water coming from the down spout, clever wooden buildings or garden toys...those things bring joy.

Much of the earlier 'Blackface'  Kitsch was demeaning and filled with racist images

So how do you feel about Kitsch - do you love it, hate it, put up with it?  What Kitsch do you have in your bathroom or front yard? I think Kitsch is one of the last remnants of how we express our creativity  to the world - Tell your story! Do Kitsch!

Unter Wasser Mann - Czech Republic ( Mythical creature lives under water - He catches and holds  under water  children who dont  follow safe practices in and around water.  " Unter Wasser Mann will get you..."