Avant-Garde and Kitsch  

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"In his last article on the Soviet cinema in the Partisan Review, Dwight Macdonald points out that kitsch has in the last ten years become the dominant culture in Soviet Russia. For this he blames the political regime -- not only for the fact that kitsch is the official culture, but also that it is actually the dominant, most popular culture, and he quotes the following from Kurt London's The Seven Soviet Arts: ". . . the attitude of the masses both to the old and new art styles probably remains essentially dependent on the nature of the education afforded them by their respective states." Macdonald goes on to say: "Why after all should ignorant peasants prefer Repin (a leading exponent of Russian academic kitsch in painting) to Picasso, whose abstract technique is at least as relevant to their own primitive folk art as is the former's realistic style? No, if the masses crowd into the Tretyakov (Moscow's museum of contemporary Russian art: kitsch), it is largely because they have been conditioned to shun 'formalism' and to admire 'socialist realism.'""

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Avant-Garde and Kitsch is a 1939 essay by American art critic Clement Greenberg in which he claimed that avant-garde and modernist art was a means to resist the 'dumbing down' of culture caused by consumerism. Greenberg termed this 'kitsch', a word that his essay popularised.

Key ideas

Greenberg believed that the avant-garde arose in order to defend aesthetic standards from the decline of taste involved in consumer society, and seeing kitsch and art as opposites. He outlined this in his essay "Avant-Garde and Kitsch". One of his more controversial claims was that kitsch was equivalent to Academic art: "All kitsch is academic, and conversely, all that is academic is kitsch." He argued this based on the fact that Academic art, such as that in the 19th century, was heavily centered in rules and formulations that were taught and tried to make art into something learnable and easily expressible. He later came to withdraw from his position of equating the two, as it became heavily criticized.

High art and culture

The ignition point for the definition of American modernism as a movement was the austere rejection of popular culture as kitsch by important post-war artists and taste-makers, most notably Clement Greenberg with his essay Avant-Garde and Kitsch, first published in Partisan Review in 1939.

See also

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