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On Kitsch and Sentimentality - Robert C. Solomon

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Lucy McLay

on 7 February 2014

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Transcript of On Kitsch and Sentimentality - Robert C. Solomon

On Kitsch and Sentimentality - Robert C. Solomon
"The notion of 'truth' requires 'falsity', the notion of 'taste' requires 'bad taste' (bad art) in order to get a comprehension of taste"
Two Tears of Kitsch:
1)How nice to see children running on the grass
2)How nice to be moved together with all mankind, by children running on the grass
Oscar Wilde
-18th cetury writer and poet
-"sentamentalist"
-by the end of the 18th century,
“sentimentalist” was clearly a
term of ridicule and abuse, connoting
superficiality, sweetness and the
manipulation of mawkish emotion


Sweet Kitsch
**Solomon explains how the second tear is what makes kitsch kitsch
The Campaign Against Kitsch
-Immanuel Kant
-his unprecedented attack on sentiment and sentimentalism was a reaction not
only against the philosophical moral sentiment theorists but against the flood
of popular romances
-Kant did away with the melting compassion as an ingredient in ethics

Sweet Kitsch Range in Quality
Low Class vs. High Class?
"Nouveau Rich"
Denver Art Museum Featuring 19th Century French Works
Edgar Degas
Adolph Bouguereau
What is wrong with Kitsch?
1)The claim that kitsch and sentimentality provoke excessive or immature expressions of emotion
-unsophisticated and child like emotions evoked by sweet kitsch
-fact that it provokes them at all; and provokes too much of these emotions
-immature/naive
Example: getting 'turned on' in a sexual way by Bouguereau's painting would show immaturity; Where feeling 'cuddly' just isn't 'cool'; Where feeling of 'uncomfortable' indicates poor taste
Soloman's six claims/arguments on Kitsch:
2)The claim that kitsch and sentimentality manipulate our emotions
-our emotions , unlike our reason, are not truly our own, and they are humiliating rather then ennobling
-true for some emotions but not all
-what does it mean to 'manipulate' someones emotions?
-it means to intentionally bring them about
3)The claim that kitsch and sentimentality express or evoke 'false' or 'faked' emotions
-the unsophisticated viewer displays unself-conscious affection, not affectation, and the sophisticated viewer, with his or her mixture of embarrassed emotion and corrective disgust is certainly not “faking” that despised emotion
-sometimes there is potential for false emotions to be “blown out of proportion”
-Example: erotic kitsch seeks to give the sensations of love without the presence of someone with whom one is in love
-initial diagnosis evokes a kind of emotion such that one 'needs' an artificial stimulant when 'real thing' isn't available
4)The claim that kitsch and sentimentality express of evoke “cheap” or “easy” or “superficial” emotions
-“cheap” referring to 'low-class' and the suggestion is that we should be 'above' such sentiments
-kitsch provides for us casual emotions and not the grand passions are the currency of everyday life, but some of us reject the casual emotions of kitsch not because we are holding out for the grand passions but because we are all too timid about or embarrassed by even the gentlest sentiments
5)The claim that kitsch and sentimentality are self-indulgent and interfere with “appropriate” behavior and perhaps the most dominant charge
-idea that kitsch is false because it is the emotion and not the object of emotion that is the primary concern is part of the charge that kitsch and sentimentality are not only fraudulent but self-indulgent as well
-love is kitsch example: 'is love has its center not in the beloved but within itself”
- the concept of being 'in love with love'
-self indulgence; wallowing in self-temptation
-feeling good about feeling good that is so obnoxious and constitutes kitsch
-Michael Tanner raises a serious objection to sentimentality saying that “it doesn't lead anywhere”
-“acts on feelings without anxiety about the point and value of doing so...feeling and action becoming fairly closely linked”
-sentimental people contrast “avoid following up their responses with appropriate actions or if they do follow them up appropriately, it is adventurous
-action is not always the test of true emotion, and our best emotions may sometimes be those upon which any direct action is simply impossible
6)The claim that kitsch and sentimentality distort our perceptions and interfere with rational thought and an adequate understanding of the world
-first argument is that sentimentality is objectionable because it is distorting
-“central offense lies in self-deception in distorting reality to get a pretext for indulging in any feeling”
-Kitsch is art (whether or not it is good art) that is deliberately designed to so move us, by presenting a well-selected and perhaps much-edited version of some particularly and predictably moving aspects of our shared experience, including, plausibly enough, innocent senses of small children and out favorite pets playing and religious and other sacred icon
-all emotions have inevitable bias
-but why call this “distortion” rather than “focus” or “concern”?
What are some of the emotions evoked when seeing a "bad art" kitsch item such as this?
Has anyone ever purchased an item of "sweet kitsch" or have a "sweet kitsch" item already in their home?
Full transcript