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[Xmca-l] Re: Verismo and Kitsch



Excellent, David!

The quality of art can never be decided definitively. It is to be determined by many factors of context, in which the art work emerges. There is no stock rule that determines what is art and what is kitsch, because... it depends. And yet! we seem to know kitsch when we see it. Some adore kitsch, some make it one's artistic sensibility as Jeff Koons has done, who doesn't even do the work to make the work, but hires others to do it for him.

What I was responding to in the Nissen article is what I saw as a confusion of therapeutic activity with something else that may not actually be therapeutic activity, as seen from the outside. The act of making something "therapeutic" into a spectacle bothered me, even if it did have therapeutic intentions and effects on the subject, but what of the audience? 

Would Vygotsky have agreed, for example, to display the three children of the alcoholic mother, as described in The Problem with the Environment lecture, in front of the auditorium and question them in front of everyone and even give away their names, or publish all such details in a newspaper?

The  intention to make us (the viewers of the video hosted at the U-Turn website) feel better about the therapeutic quality of making Birren, a drug addict, feel like Madonna in an MTV video (my interpretation as a shorthand, to make my point) and posting this on a website, then labeling it a "prototype" of all possible therapies does not seem to based upon Vygotskian theory as I understand it, but rather a simulacra in shape and form of Vygotskian theory for the purpose to put it on display. Nissen himself states that he was moved to tears while watching the video, so clearly the video is there to evoke emotion. It almost doesn't matter if they are real emotions or not, based upon real events or not, it's just intended to make us feel a certain way, but not to look at the man behind the green curtain. It is feeling without thinking.

As I read the Nissen paper, all this reminded me of what is kitsch and so I wandered to clear cobwebs from my memory to the Greenberg essay which tries to answer the question: What is the quality of art? (which is always up for debate and always will be) While rereading the essay, I saw that he pointed out that what makes kitsch kitsch is the way it accommodates us, satisfying our need for relaxation, is how I think Greenberg says it. 

Greenberg makes the distinction that avant-garde art, as it used to be known as, the work of artists who actually struggling with materials and themes of their time to produce something new in the present moment, in the way academics try to produce something new in their research in the present moment, this work, when viewed by an audience, makes us work too. That in an ideal sense, this is what art is supposed to do for us, to help us to see the world anew, to discover something new about ourselves. To challenge us.

I agree with you that Vygotsky's sense of the function of art in society is one of individuation, as you so aptly put it. So we could I think juxtapose that nicely to what I said about how "high art" is meant to make us work, to battle with our individual sensibilities with the individual art work and thus make sense of it, individually. Also, knowing that this is where Vygotsky started his career, his analysis of Hamlet, is a wonderful tie in and mighty brilliant as well for you to point out!

I don't think there is anything kitsch about Vygotsky, he's the original. This is why it really makes it hard for me to see Vygotsky as an advocate for reproducing social structures through the art work, because that is the goal of kitsch. 

Interestingly, we see that kitsch is the favored work of dictators BECAUSE it reproduces the social structures that are desired (by dictators). This is not to say kitsch doesn't exist in countries where there are no dictators, but that there seems to be a natural attraction to it by dictators and I believe that there is a reason: it provides a function of replication, it is propaganda.

So we have on the one hand a gifted researcher attempting to show individuation and creativity and how that happens with mediation in the sociocultural environment one finds oneself, in the presence of the work of art, and on the other a reproduction, a copy, a simulacra, of his work attempting to show "prototypes" as the original research. 

Duchamp revealed how contemptible a practice this was with his "ready-mades", specifically his signed urinals. To show them as art was to invert the entire practice of showing the ready-mades as artwork (where they are not) by showing the ready-mades as artwork (where they are). Turning the work of art inward on itself, as commentary, which was to make us think, not to produce a predictable emotion "in a relaxed way." 

And yet! there are these urinals today in art museums, likely worth much money, not because they are urinals made or porcelain, but because they are urinals with a particular provenance, and... there is a video of recovering drug addict, which was slickly produced and labeled as a "preferred self-image" as selected by said recovering drug addict and that this is posted on a website, apparently to show the effect of the therapeutic activity of the drug addict upon herself in a community of (professional) others working with her.

What I'm responding to is the posting this video on a website as a "proof of concept" for a state-sponsored treatment and calling that Vygotskian, or based upon sociocultural theory. Somehow the best I could call it or the best way I could describe what I was witnessing, was to call it kitsch. There is something nostalgic about it, but is there anything nostalgic about sociocultural theory? I hope not.

So for me it had to do with understanding what is Vygotskian and what is represented as Vygotskian, but may not be Vygotskian at all.

Plays within plays and how they circle outward into the world mirroring ourselves, what you called verisimo, is a cool format because it deals with the present moment. But should therapies within therapies circle outward into the world as if mirroring ourselves? There is the sense of surveillance in therapies within therapies that isn't there with plays within plays.

I vote yes for plays, but no for therapies, because for therapies this seems to raise ethical issues, not aesthetic ones.

Kind regards,

Annalisa