The Museum Is Open
Thank you for stopping by. I know you’re anxious to see the exhibits, but if you’ll bear with me for a moment, I’d like to say a few words about kitsch.
Kitsch is a work of art or an object that operates on two levels. The first is that of a (usually) well-executed piece. The second is a piece that should be executed.
At first glance, it conveys its message or sensation, but with continued exposure, reveals a second meaning, ranging from “Huh?” to “Oh. My. God!”
Kitsch is not the same as sentimental, lukewarm, mainstream or inoffensive. There’s plenty of this cotton batting to wrap around your life and push away the distasteful bits: Russell Stover candies, Enya and Will Farrell movies. Thomas Kincaid, The Painter of Light™ creates soothing bucolic scenes that are pleasant to look at, but that stream running by the thatched cottage means the mold colonies in the basement have formed their own civilization, and how are you going to get the groceries into the house if you don’t have an attached garage? Or even a driveway?
Unrealistic? Yes. Kitsch? Nope.
Kitsch is never intentionally offensive. It offends indirectly, and that’s its charm. Like its cousin, camp, the creator has absolutely no idea what’s going on under the surface. The writers of the “Star Wars Holiday Special” may have suspected that two-hour show starring Bea Arthur, Harvey Korman and Jefferson Starship was going to be a dog, but the end result was something so terrible (Wookie porn? Princess Leia singing?) as to defy understanding. I’m sure the designers of the Jesus sports statues never considered the theological implications of a body checking Son of Man. Self-awareness is the enemy of kitsch.
And for that, we should be grateful.
So enjoy the exhibits. Later, at our fine all-you-can-eat buffett, I hope you’ll pause before diving into the Salisbury steak, raise a glass of Two-Buck Chuck and honor these unusual creations for what they are: works of art that define our culture as brilliantly as Pixar movies, Springsteen albums and the New York Times best-seller list.