Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kitsch and Christian sub-culture

A friend of ours took this photo of us parodying American Gothic, (Margate style!) at the end of a photo-shoot.  The original occupies that strange space of being both "Art" and a recognisable symbol of Kitsch.  We shouldn't be too harsh with Kitsch as long we identify it for what it is; recognising that it occupies a legitimate place in our culture and affections while not over-emphasising it's artistic value or ideological significance.

I think it's the same with Christian sub-culture, "sub-culture" is unavoidable when humans gather regularly.  Sometimes Christian sub-culture contains elements of Kitsch or things that aren't as smooth or trendy as the surrounding world of fashion, technology and architecture. This is OK, as long as we identify it correctly, own up to it and don't over-value it.  Hymns, photocopied newsletters, bad-coffee, someone with a funny voice, old people and clip art.  If the ideology is true, noble and beautiful then the rest of Christian sub-culture will fall into place as God irons everything out.  If we're being honest we'll recognise the place for both 'Kitsch' and beauty.

[Photography by Sarah Kirton, © 2011]


Alex Smith said...

Love the photo :D

John Dekker said...

I don't think hymns per se are kitsch - they are neutral in themselves and can be either good or bad, true or false, ugly or beautiful.

This, for example, is kitsch:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

So is this:

Lord the Light or Your Love is shining,
In the midst of the darkness shining,
Jesus light of the world shine upon us,
Set us free by the truth You now bring us,
Shine on me. Shine on me.

And this:

Hallelujah, I'm justified, I'm justified
It's just as if I'd never sinned
And once I knew such guilty fear
But now I know His peace within me

But this is beautiful:

O that birth forever bless├Ęd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Saviour of our race;

So is this:

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again

And this:

Blessed Be Your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Hope that helps

John Dekker said...

"We say we call for the gods of glory and beauty but summon up the imbecilic and grinning demons of kitsch."

- Douglas Wilson

Radagast said...

These are beautiful:
Your local shopping centre is kitsch .

Luke Isham said...

Thanks for all comments, Alex, John and Radagast. This relates to our ongoing discussion about the noetic effects of sin. Kitsch is a category, that like other categories in our civilisation can be abused, smoothed over or recognised for what it is.

Radagast said...

I'd like to see that followed up, with more input from Christian artists.

As a scientist and mathematician, I deal with the issue of Truth vs Falsehood. That's in a sense easy: there can be no compromise. It's usually not too hard to recognise Falsehood, and usually clear how one should respond (unpopular though that may be).

Beauty vs Kitsch seems to me a little fuzzier (although even a philistine like me sometimes feels as nauseated by extreme kitsch as when hearing a lie). And I'm really not sure how, as Christians, we should respond to kitsch. Is it wrong? How wrong?

Mikey Lynch said...

the second verse of 'God has Spoken' with all this stuff about a 'crystal fountain' out there in the wilderness has always struck me as ridiculous and kitsch.

Donners said...

"Like a rose, trampled on the ground.
You took the fall and thought of me, above all'.

Radagast said...

On this topic, is this headline more than just a metaphor? Is ugly architecture a sin?