Policing the Border: Is Kitsch Still the Antagonist of Art?

예술과 문화의 영역에 대한 재고 - 문화의 타자 키치, 아직도 예술의 적인가?

  • 김희영 (한양대학교 사범대학 응용미술교육과)
  • Received : 2007.01.18
  • Accepted : 2007.02.26
  • Published : 2007.12.31


Despite continuous efforts to redraw the boundaries between art and culture, the conventional concept of originality has persisted in approaches to the practice of contemporary art. In the discourse of originality, various forms of lesser arts that employ the method of replication have been referred to as kitsch, or "rear-guard," the opposite of avant-garde. This categorization points to the contested issue regarding the oppositional relation between modernism and mass culture. With its easily accessible content and financial affordability, mass culture has become both an irresistible attraction and a most powerful threat to modernism. This threat has instigated a discursive system that has situated mass culture as a cultural other of modernism. Taking the marginalized category of kitsch as the area of contention, this paper examines a discursive repression of kitsch. It analyzes the conceptual framework that defends originality and autonomy in art and, conversely, degrades kitsch as an inferior and dangerous cultural category. Greenberg'S concept of kitsch as a by-product of industrialization evolved into the criticism that advocates the autonomy of art. The Frankfurt School scholars, particularly Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, practiced comparable cultural critiques. Focusing on mass culture such as film, radio, and television, instead of art works, they critically analyzed the system of mass culture and theorized the negative implications of the ubiquitous presence of kitsch. Some critics, on the other hand, perceived the growth of mass culture as opening possibilities in cultural development. Walter Benjamin and Harold Rosenberg asserted the socio-cultural dynamics of mass culture underlining the potential for continual transformation in reality and in the subject. They acknowledged that technological advances changed the condition of creation and enabled unmediated interactions between media. By scrutinizing conflicting views on kitsch, this paper intends to reassess arts that draw "the forces of the outside."