I recently attended a lecture where psychoanalytic methodology was used to analyse art works in relation to kitsch, the grotesque and the depressive. Kitsch was described as a place of nostalgic comfort, a site of reassurance in the face of the grotesque. In visual terms, this meant Thomas Kinkade. As for the grotesque, Chapman Brothers’ “Fucking Hell” (2008) was illustrative.
What interested me about this lecture was not so much the superficial content. Rather, I was intrigued at how the meaning of such terms as “kitsch” and “grotesque” were described objectively. Not one thought had been given to alternative reference points and the importance that these have on meaning. Who defines what kitsch or grotesque means, and what relationship these terms have in the wider historical economy, is critical. The relationship between a twentieth-century philosophical aesthetic, defined by nineteenth-century contexts, and twenty-first century artistic expression was assumed unconsciously in the lecture. But could this attitude not be considered a form of nostalgia, a form of kitsch? Could not the perception of Kinkade’s paintings as “kitsch” itself be a form of protection against art that actually confronts our, the artistic establishments’, notion of what “challenging art” should look and feel like?
We are in significant times for art making because we are in times when reference points are moving. We have reached a position when to challenge the status quo, always an oxymoronic “defined absence”, is the traditional approach to art expression, an expression promoted by university curricula and national museums. In essence, it is academic and, ironically, the very “defined absence” which modern artists attempt to rebel against. Unwittingly, we commit philosophical self-torture and aesthetic suicide, never perceiving that we bleed by our very own arrows.
When I look at Kinkade I do not see kitsch. When I look at Chapman Brothers nor do I not see the grotesque. Rather, I perceive artists who are firmly rooted in a nineteenth-century context. We await a Copernican evolution: or would that be kitsch to request?