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 Post subject: Kitsch: the good and the bad. Bonsai: art or kitsch?
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 4:02 pm 
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I've recently re-visited an old thread called "I am artist". Of course, the discussions in this thread inevitably lead to opinions about who is an artist, from which we are a step away from discussions on the nature of art. Experienced Internet forum participants know that on-line discussions on the nature of art are not linear debates, but rather parallel universes, just like discussions on the existence of God. There is more fun staying out these discussions than being part of them.
The logical progression from discussing art is discussing the concept of Kitsch. There is a common use of this word as a derogatory term, describing something as non-art. But few know about this term being used in the contemporary art community as a valid description of a relatively new art movement. It's goal is to rebel against the tyranny of modernism and re-introduce passion, honesty and craftmanship in contemporary art.
The main proponent of the Kitsch movement is Odd Nerdrum, self proclaimed Kitsch painter. He is a well-known personality in the art community and a good friend of Edward Much's. His book called On Kitsch is fascinating reading to everybody interested in the Arts. You can read it in one afternoon and learn more about the nature of art than reading thousands of pages of reference material.
The reason I am bringing this up here is that one can find a very close parallel between bonsai and Odd Nerdrum's Kitsch concept. Next time you create a bonsai, knowing about the above will help you determine whether you are creating Kitsch or art. You may never be totally sure about it, but at least you will have a hunch :).
The the next best thing to reading his book is to browse Odd Nerdrum's kitsch website. It is fascinating reading material.
Here is the link to the Kitsch section of the website:
http://www.nerdrum.com/kitsch/
Reading this is not for everybody unless one is REALLY interested in what is regarded as art in the Western culture. To me, it was very helpful in trying to place bonsai in the broader context of the arts in the West. It also makes one realize how differently art is perceived by the cultures in the East versus the Western mentality. It is so different, that it makes practically impossible for two people from those two cultures to have any meaningful communication about art.
I see an almost insurmountable conflict in our world of bonsai: we are learning its fundamentals from the Far-Eastern cultures, but we are applying our Western concept of art to it. The two cultures see art in radically different ways, and we, bonsai practitioners, are in the middle of this conflict. I don't believe that this conflict will be resolved in our lifetime.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the book and/or the website.
Regards,
Attila


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 4:21 pm 
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Just to demonstrate with an example what Odd Nerdrum says about art:
He notes that craftmanship became irrelevant in art today. It is irrelevant and even ridiculed. Artists with exquisite attention to details, having the talent to re-create life and stir our emotions, are labelled as craftsman. They can make a living as portrait painters in shopping malls, but not as artists exhibited in museums and galleries. Craft in the modern art is lost. It used to be important in the age of Rembrandt and Michelangelo, but not anymore.
In bonsai, however, craftmanship is of paramount importance. It is highly valued, just like in the Japanese and Chinese cultures.
Can anyone see a conflict here?


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 4:45 pm 
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Atilla, I should know better than to get involved in these art discussions, because truthfully, I've had no formal art education, unless some music study counts, and that ended almost 5 decades ago.
I only have two observations: !. I believe that every craft requires some artistry, and every art requires some craftmanship.
2. These interminable internet art discussions always bring to mind the stories, possibly apocryphal, but nonetheless illustrative, concerning medieval theologians debating how many angels can inhabit the point of a pin.
Best Regards
Mike


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 5:10 pm 
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Mike Page wrote:
These interminable internet art discussions always bring to mind the stories, possibly apocryphal, but nonetheless illustrative, concerning medieval theologians debating how many angels can inhabit the point of a pin.
Best Regards
Mike

Mike,
This is not the first time that you have expounded on the futility of discussing art and bonsai, nor is this even the first time you've shared your angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin metaphor.
There is really no useful purpose to your visiting a site dedicated to exactly such discussions simply to comment that you find these conversations to be pointless. I will delete future posts to this end.
Best regards,
Carl Bergstrom
Co-founder, Art of Bonsai Project.


Last edited by Carl Bergstrom on Thu Feb 09, 2006 5:13 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 5:12 pm 
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Mike Page wrote:
Atilla, I should know better than to get involved in these art discussions

I don't blame you. It can get pretty stuffy.
What I wanted to point out in this thread is something completely different. It's the koncept of Kitsch as a valid form of expression, that I find very interesting.


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 Post subject: Re: Kitsch: the good and the bad. Bonsai: art or kitsch?
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 5:18 pm 
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Attila Soos wrote:
The main proponent of the Kitsch movement is Odd Nerdrum, self proclaimed Kitsch painter. He is a well-known personality in the art community and a good friend of Edward Much's. His book called On Kitsch is fascinating reading to everybody interested in the Arts. You can read it in one afternoon and learn more about the nature of art than reading thousands of pages of reference material.

Attila,
I'm a fan of Nerdrum's work, and here you've beaten me to the punch; reading On Kitsch and writing an article about it for AoB was one of the many things on my long list of things to do at some point for this site. I'm glad to hear that you find the book as useful and as interesting as I hoped it would be.
Until I've read it, I don't feel that I have too much to add to the discussion; once I've read it, I'll gladly revisit the topic. In the meantime, I'll be interested to see where this conversation leads.
With my best regards,
Carl


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 5:30 pm 
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Attila,
so you are saying that the majority of bonsai that are produced are kitsch, if I understood you well. OK, I agree. At least as far as the modern definition of kitsch more or less all of them are kitsch. But I would not go so far.
I am also guilty of producing kitsch then.
Walter


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 5:34 pm 
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Carl, I am glad to see that you share my interest.
Just to underline a few things here: I have no intention of discussing my own, or any other member's opinion on what art is. Some of the readers, after reading this, may go into automatic pilot (default mode) and start describing what they think art is. This is what happens in those dreaded internet discussions.
No, the topic here is very specific and requires some reading about what the Western academia accepts as art how Odd Nerdrum's Kitsch concept fits into this framework.
Once the reader is familiar with the above (and this is an absolute requirement in order to have any meaningful discussion), then he/she can decide how bonsai can be looked at, starting with the above premises.
I was playing with the thought about writing a study about all this, but I had the uneasy feeling that I will use Odd Nerdrum's approach as it was mine when presenting the argument for, or against Kitsch. I haven't decided whether or not to make such a journey.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 5:41 pm 
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Walter Pall wrote:
Attila,
so you are saying that the majority of bonsai that are produced are kitsch, if I understood you well.

Walter, to give a short answer, Yes.
But this answer is very simplistic. Without discussing the various elements underlying the concept of Kitsch as Odd Nerdrum defines it, the answer doesn't have much meaning. That's because Kitsch means different things to different people. My expectation of may not be the same as yours.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 5:50 pm 
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Walter Pall wrote:
At least as far as the modern definition of kitsch more or less all of them are kitsch.

That's right.
You are actually in a better position to understand all this. That's because the modern concept or art (or rather: the ideology of modern art) is all based on the classic writings of German philosophers.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 6:05 pm 
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Some thoughts...
"On the surface Kitsch appears to praise the animalistic in Man i.e. Body. Art on the other hand appears to praise the intellectual i.e. Mind."
- Shane Young
"Fine art once served the purpose of enlightening the masses, offering interesting perspectives on modernity, and giving ample room for self introspection and reflection. With postmodernism, as well as with kitsch, we have a complete lack of any of these."
- Jason Stopa
Some further reading on this subject can be found here http://www.nerdrum.com/kitsch/


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 6:38 pm 
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Those are very good quotes, Will.
Fine art once served the purposes of enlightening the masses...but may be not anymore. Art today appeals to the intellect. It's all conceptual. On the other hand, Kitch appeals to our feelings. Experiencing a gorgeous sunset is a wonderful feeling. But don't ever try to re-create it in your art. You will be branded as a Kitsch painter forever.
Nerdrum basically challenges the modern art establishment, as it is today. The "establishment" or Curatoriat is increasingly becoming an ivory tower and art is becoming disconnected from our everyday life. Kitsch is a powerful tool to exclude everything that does not meet the definition of contemporary art.
Kitsch, on the other hand, fills a very important human need....
and so it goes..


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 9:02 pm 
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Interesting, that art somehow, somewhere performed a segue that took it from the visceral to the intellectual. It seems to me that a certain proportion of the crowd managed to hive itself off from the proletariat and appointed itself expert, to the bewilderment of the rest of the crowd*.
* (Deep down, they know they still like the extraordinary mastery of light that characterises the old masters and van Gogh and later the work of Norman Rockwell. The works still give them that swooping feeling in their guts, that we have come to say is "touching our heart". It's the same feeling we get when we fall in love, or notice a police officer with a speedgun just as we pass them hiding by the road.)
The crowd, then fearing they were somehow ignorant of what they should know, became dough in the hands of this self-appointed elite, many of whom, in the words of a critic of art critics here in Australia, began "sponsoring emerging artists in exchange for access to a ready supply of fresh new bums, with which to amuse themselves."
Somewhere along the way this new elite caste assumed such a position of power over the artist caste and the proletariat that the role of the artist became subjugate to their wishes and their power to make or break the careers of artists and indeed entire movements in art.
In fact, they became the Keepers Of The Faith, an interesting parallel with the Catholic priesthood having no real experience of day-to-day life and marriage yet the gall to assume a position of dictatorial authority over these aspects of their congregations' lives, for many centuries. So too, the people making decisions as to what is or isn't art are rarely skilled artists, in and of themselves, but farmers and herders of the "talent" whose works they acquire and show.
What does all of this have to do with bonsai? Simply, that the daubing of some colours on a canvas, and subsequent proclamation by the elite caste that this daubing has become transmogrified, by opinion, into "art", is not so easily achieved with bonsai. Bonsai still requires a level of skill; to style; to maintain; to keep alive and to sustain in moderate conformity with the expectations of an artistic aesthetic that has its roots, not in some conceptual construct of a doyen of The Enlightenment (Bacon, Hegel, Kant), but in Eastern spiritualism and philosophy. The artist remains in control of the work of art, denying the assumption of power by the bureaucratic elite.
For this reason we are derided by the western art elite caste as somehow inferior, (and this view is parroted by their sycophantic congregation of proles) largely because it is an art over which they can't exercise control and direction.
The view that bonsai is a craft, rather than an art, because of the reasons I've outlined above, is both a reflection of the power of the art elite to influence the masses to their view, and of the fact that bonsai are not static works, like statuary or paintings. That does not prevent the majority of people proclaiming them to be beautiful, however.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 11:27 pm 
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Very interesting point of view. I especially liked your comparison between intellectual and visceral. It seems to me that one of the reasons the so called art elite may have problems understanding or accepting bonsai as an art is because you cannot posses bonsai as a work of art.
Without being an artist or having the resources to retain an artist entrusted to keep, maintain, and other wise care for one, bonsai as a recognizable work of art is a fleeting thing. A bonsai is like trying to capture or posses smoke. Bonsai's elevation to the stature of art is really just an event in time where without the proper care today's art turns into tomorrows bush in a pot.
Because bonsai by a particular artist does not become a commodity as a painting by Van Gogh or Rembrandt, it is unlikely the so called art elite will ever consider it as art. Without the proper care it is not likely to increase in value, in fact it will lose value and become worthless under less than extraordinary circumstances.
As to the visceral point of view it is so basic it is almost invisible: follow the money. There is no money in bonsai for the collector, at least the collector in general. You are not going to see Du Michells dealing in Bonsai, even though there are many bonsai far more valuable than much of the inventory they do carry. The odd thing is under the right conditions a bonsai may live, and thrive for many hundreds of years and improve with that age. Without those conditions it will be garbage in less than a year.
In short bonsai is too much work for the art elite to consider, discuss, and admire year after year. It is always changing and the value assigned to it in the beginning due to a well known artist vanishes as the tree grows beyond it creator.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2006 11:58 pm 
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Vance,
Bonsai is not completely without revenue and it does indeed attract patrons, but they way it is presented to the public needs to change in my opinion.
New "Arboretums" and "Display Gardens" are beginning to open up around the country and people are starting to realize that bonsai can draw visitors and cash. See this latest opening wrote up in USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/travel/destinat ... nsai_x.htm
Could something as simple as calling these displays "Galleries" change the perception of not only the visitors but the art critics themselves?
This could go a long way into making the art viewable in a professional, controlled setting where it can be viewed as other forms of art are. Granted, owning and caring for this art is impossible for the average patron but the fact that I could never own or properly care for Monet's Weeping Willow doesn't devalue it in any way in my eyes. Come to think about it, even if I could own it, without the proper care, it also would deteriorate and lose value over time. (Yes I'm a fan of impressionist paintings, why do you think I love bonsai?)
I apologize for going off topic,

Will Heath


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