Kitsch: The World of Bad Taste  

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"The terraced garden was liberally adorned with earthenware gnomes, mushrooms, and all kinds of lifelike animals; on a pedestal stood a mirrored glass sphere, which distorted faces most comically; there were also an aeolian harp, several grottoes, and a fountain whose streams made an ingenious figure in the air, while silver goldfish swam in its basin . . . Over the outside door was an ingenious mechanism, activated by air pressure as the door closed, which played with a pleasing tinkle the opening bars of Strauss’s "Freuet Euch des Lebens"."--Confessions of Felix Krull (1954) by Thomas Mann

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Kitsch: The world of Bad Taste (1969, Il Kitsch: antologia del cattivo gusto, 1968) is a book on kitsch by Italian art critic Gillo Dorfles.

The book features basic introductory texts by Dorfles to a number of guest contributions by authors such as John McHale, Karl Pawek, Ludwig Giesz, Lotte H. Eisner, Ugo Volli, Vittorio Gregotti and Aleksa Celebonovic.

Two previously published essays are "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" (1939) by Clement Greenberg and "Einige Bemerkungen zum Problem des Kitsches" (1955) by Hermann Broch.

Editorial assistance on the English-language edition was given by Vivienne Menkes.

It features 270+ illustrations.

The translation is poor insofar as for example the Italian translations of English-language works have been back-translated into English, instead using the original English titles. Thus, Against Interpretation by Sontag becomes Towards Interpretations.

The cover painting of a veiled but otherwise nude woman playing violin while standing on a rock along the sea, remains unidentified. The same painting with added superimposed UFO’s is known as Miss Paganini Non Ripete in Modifications (1998), an anthology of Enrico Baj augmented paintings.


Author's note



"Even if we can accept, with Hume, that 'beauty is not a quality inherent in things: it only exists in the mind of the beholder’, we cannot help being surprised at the fact that this 'seeing beauty’ has changed so radically over the centuries, chiefly over the last two or three."

The above is a back translation of "Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others. To seek in the real beauty, or real deformity, is as fruitless an enquiry, as to pretend to ascertain the real sweet or real bitter."

See the eye of the beholder.

Note on Hume:

'David Hume; 'Of the Standard of Taste' in Essays Moral, Political and Literary (out*. 1963 p. 234). 'Beauty is no quality in things themselves: it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them ' and Hume goes on 'each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity where another is sensible of beauty'. Obviously, in his enlightened sceptisism, Hume did not take into account the fact that in ages other than our own (and his) 'absolute values' connected with the various characteristics of the period could have existed. As for the problem of taste in empirical aesthetics where the problem was not considered in any depth, the reader can refer to Lia Formigari: The aesthetics of taste during the eighteenth century in England (Sansoni. Florence 1962) and to Rossario Assunto: Seasons and reasons in aesthetics (Mursia. Milan. 1967). A bibliography of the literature on this basic problem of modern aesthetics would be almost impossible to compile. The most basic works can be found in the bibliography attached to this book.


'An important Italian essay on the problem is Galvano della Volpe's 1m Gritica del Guslu (A Critique of Taste) (Feltrini. 1967. p. 6:)).
The reader should refer above all to the well-known anthology by Bernard Rosenberg and David Manning White: Mass Culture (Free Press. 1957) cf. Dwight McDonald: Against the American Grain (Random House. New York. I9K2I and particularlv the chapter Masscult and Midcult'. l)n the problem of elite art and mass art. see also: Umberto Eco: Apocalittici e integrati (Apocaliptics and Integrated) (Bompiani. Milan. 1964) a chapter of which is devoted to the problems raised by kitsch. T h e structure of bad taste', taking into nccount literary kitsch and referring mainly to the works of Broch, Giesz and McDonald.
On the revaluation of Art Nouveau see the chapter ’The example of Liberty' in my book Swings of taste (Oscillazioni del Gusto) and also Friedrich Ahlers-Hestermann; Stilwende (Berlin, 1941) Dolf Sterberger; Jugendstil (Hamburg, 1956), and Stephan Tschudi Madsen; Sources of Art Nouveau (Oslo, 1956, Ixmdon, 1967).
’The problem of 'consumer music' has been a knotty one for recent writers. The reader should refer to the book by Straniero and others, Le canzoni della cattiva coscienza. La musica leggera in Italia (Bompiani, 1964). with an introduction by Umberto Eco., see light music

Myth and kitsch

Notes on the problem of kitsch / Hermann Broch


"With your permission I shall begin with a warning: do not expect any rigid and neat definitions. Philosophizing is always a game of prestige played with the clouds, and aesthetic philosophy follows this rule just as much. So if I say now and again that that cloud up there looks like a camel, please be as polite as Polonius was and bear with me. Otherwise I am afraid that at the end of this lecture you will find that too many questions have been left open, to which I could only reply in a study of kitsch in three volumes (which I would rather not write anyway)."



The Betrothed and Co.

Leonardo and India in Los Angeles

The plastic parthenon / John McHale


Avant-Garde and Kitsch / Clement Greenberg

Birth and the family


Religious trappings

Christian kitsch / Karl Pawek

Tourism and nature

Kitsch-man as tourist / Ludwig Giesz

"The best demonstration of the misery of existence is given by the contemplation of its marvels . . ." --Kierkegaard


The film

Kitsch in the cinema / Lotte H. Eisner

"When Erich von Stroheim shows us a repellent cripple avidly gazing at the beautiful Mae Murray in Merry Widow (1925) or a similar scene in the rediscovered sequences of Queen Kelly (1928) with another cripple and the beautiful Gloria Swanson, what translates such scenes into great art is the corrosive shock effect of genius. If we look at a similar sequence in Mondo di Notte (1960) by Luigi Vanzi we find nothing but pornographic kitsch. In Stroheim’s films, in which perversions are often raised to grandiose dimensions, disgust can become the measure of eroticism."

Pornokitsch and morals

Pornography and pornokitsch / Ugo Volli


"The attempt to establish a link between kitsch and pornography, the introduction of a new aesthetic-ethical category and the neologism 'pornokitsch’ itself - all these might at first appear if not exceptionable, at least questionable and not really justifiable."
"A comprehensive historical analysis justifying this attribution can be found in Way land

Young’s Eros Denied (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1965, chapters VII, VIII, IX and passimj. The material is extensive even if we cannot accept all its conclusions.

'On repression in general cf. Freud, The hardship of civilization and Marcuse, Eros and Civilization.

’The expression is Croce’s, from Storia d'Europea nel secolo X IX (Laterza, 1932).

Styling and architecture

Kitsch and architecture / Vittorio Gregotti


"A pink Thunderbird, with its stylistic attributes, its monumental grossness and its explicit allure is a kitsch status symbol, but a hundred thousand cars strung along a motorway or assembled in some gigantic car-park introduce a new, if equally ugly, dimension as far as kitsch is concerned. To survive, kitsch must operate on a small individual scale. The 'souvenir as a mini-monument’ referred to by Ludwig Giesz is the concentrated embodiment of richer and fuller memory contexts. Without this process of miniaturization there can be no kitsch. The restaurants strung along the highways in the United States (or in Italy, which must be the most Americanized country in the world) clearly reveal the problem of kitsch in territorial terms."

Traditional kitsch

Notes on traditional kitsch / Aleksa Celebonovic


'camp’, itself, in a certain way, a rival to kitsch. What in fact does one understand by camp? Using some of Susan Sontag’s remarks (in her 'Notes on Camp’ in Towards Interpretations and other Essays, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, 1966) we can say that: 'the essence of camp is its love of what is unnatural, artificial and excessive,’ and among the works that come under this sort of 'taste’ one can mention: 'the drawings of Beardsley, the works of Bellini, some of Visconti’s productions, certain fin de siecle postcards, Gordon’s old comic strips, Guimard’s entrances for the Paris Metro . . .’ and, lastly, that: 'Many examples of camp from a "serious” viewpoint are bad art or kitsch. Not all, however. Not only is camp not necessarily bad art; there are also works of art which can be considered camp . . . and even deserve the most serious admiration.’"


Bibliography The bibliography of kitsch is as yet relatively small, although in recent years the number of articles and essays on the subject has increased dramatically. Among the basic works on kitsch we must cite above all Hermann Broch’s 'Einige Bemerkungen zum Problem des Kitsches' (reproduced in this volume as ’Notes on the problem of kitsch’), from Dichten und Erkennen, Vol. 1, Rhein-Verlag, Zurich, 1955, and Ludwig Giesz’s Phaenomenologie des Kitsches. Ein Beitrag zur anthropologischen Aesthetik, Rothe Verl. Heidelberg 1960, which from the philosophical angle constitutes a major contribution to the subject. Besides these we should mention Walther Killy’s essay Deutscher Kitsch, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Gottingen 1961.

The following works should also be noted:

  • Gustav E. Pazaurek, Guter und schlechter Geschmack im Kunstgewerbe, Stuttgart, 1912 F. Karpfen, Der Kitsch, Eine Studie ilber die Entartung der Kunst, Hamburg, 1925
  • Hans Reimann, Das Buch vom Kitsch, Monaco, 1936
  • J. Reisner, Ueber den Begriff Kitsch (thesis for the University of Gottingen), 1955
  • Gillo Dorfles, Le Oscillazioni del gusto, Milan, 1958
  • Karl Markus Michel, 'Gefiihl als Ware, Zur Phdnomenologie des Kitsches’, in Neue Deutsche Hefte, 57, 1959 ,
  • Harold Rosenberg, 'Pop culture: a review of Kitsch’ in The Tradition of the New, Horizon Press, New York, 1959; Thames and Hudson, London, 1962.
  • Clement Greenberg, 'Avant garde and kitsch’ in Art and Culture, Beacon Press, Boston, 1961 (An extract from this is in this anthology)
  • Edgar Morin, L ’esprit du temps, Paris, 1962.
  • Gillo Dorfles, 'Kitsch e cultura’ in Aut Aut, 1 , 1963
  • Gillo Dorfles, 'Per una fenomenologia del cattivo gusto’ in Rivista di Estetica, IX.3, 1964
  • Umberto Eco, 7 parenti poveri’ in II Diario minimo, Milan 1964
  • Hans E. Holthusen, 'Ueber den sauren kitsch' now in Der Unbehauste Mensch, 1964


  • Umberto Eco, 'La struttura del cattivo gusto’ in Apocalittici e Integrati, 1965
  • Gillo Dorfles, Nuovi Riti, Nuovi Miti, chap. III. Turin, 1965
  • Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: Or What Happened to the American Dream, Atheneum, New York, 1962; Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1965
  • Galvano della Volpe, La Critica del gusto, Milan, 1963 (1966)
  • The review Magnum (DuMont Schauberg, Cologne) produced a special number devoted to kitsch in August 1961. The information bulletin of the Biblioteca Civica di Cusano Milanino published an essay on kitsch with illustrations, signed by Ferruccio Maraspin, in No. 4 of April 1967. In 1966 a 33rpm record entitled Mit Kitsch leben was produced by Calig Verlag in Monaco.


Index Italicised figures refer to illustrations Aalto, A. 254 Abbondio, D. 93 Abraham, Lars-Ulrich 27 Agnese 93 Ahlers-Hestermann, F. 16 Alexander the G reat 113 Alloway, L. 109 Anders. G. 172 Andress, U rsula 238, 240 Annunzio, G. d’ 201, 283 Arman 300 Assunto, R. 9 Atamian, S. 107 Bach, J. S. 29, 50, 52. 101 Baj, E. 293, 298, 300 Balazs, B. 215 Balia, G. 294 Balzac, H. 51 Bara, T. 210, 211 Bardot, B. 227 Barnard, Dr C. 46 B arrault, J. L. 206 Barthes, R. 37 Bass, S. 189 Beardsley, A. 291, 292 Beatles 38, 40-41, 101 Beatrice 185 Becker, J. 206 Beckett, S. 34 Beethoven, L. van 28, 50, 178, 185, 207 Bell, D. 108 Bellini 292 Benn, G. 123, 124 Berlioz, H. 50, 51, 52, 206 Bernini 135 Bismarck, O. von 289 Bistolfi,L. 74 Blake, P. 300 Bloch, E. 163 Boccaccio, G. 225, 236 237 Bocklin 197 Bona, L. 20 Bond, J. 40 Boorstin 154 Borelli, L. 201, 202 Borgia, L. 236 Boyer, Charles 206 Bragaglia, A. G. 200 Brentano, C. M. 50 Breuer, M. 253 Broch, H. 11, 15. 49, 67, 156, 159, 163 Brown, C. 206 Brueghel 191 Burke, E. 27 Byron. G. G. 27 C aesar 113 Cage 34 Cagliostro 243 Caligari 198 Capogrossi 178 Cassandre 189 Cassirer, E. 48 Castro, Fidel 43 C atullus 236 Cavaliere 34 Celebonovic. A. 279 Celentano, A. 38 Cellini, B. 18, 20, 21 Cervi, G. 88 Cezanne, P. 183 Chamisso, A. von 53 Chirico, G. de 125, 291 Chopin, F. 18, 50 Clouzot, H. G. 206 Colbert, C. 210 Columbus, C. 42 Connery, Sean 40 Corbusier, C. E. le 141, 254 Cordier 18 Costa, C. 226 Crawford, J. 217 Dalhaus, C. 27 Dali, S. 63, 240 Damita, L. 217 Dante 180, 185 Defoe, D. 160 Delacroix, E. 50 Delvaux 222, 294 De Mille, C. B. 210, 211, 212 Denis. M. 285 Dieterle, W. 204 Dieudonne, A. 208 Dobson, A. 132 Dorfles, G. 14, 37, 74, 87. 113, 227. 279. 291 Dostoievsky, F. 75 Douglas, K. 206 Dubuffet, J. 286 Duchamp, M. 34, 35,103, 291, 294 Dupont, E. A. 202 Durand, G. 37, 48 Dwann, A. 204 Eco, U. 257 Edwards, J. E. 211 EichendorfT 50, 52-53, 58-59 Eisner, L. H. 195 Eliade, M. 37 Fahlstrom . C.300 Farah Diba 124 Ferrer, J. 206 Feuer, L. 107 Flaubert, G. 236 Formigari, L. 9 Forst, W. 207, 208 Francastel, P. 280 Francis, F. 215 Freud, S. 165, 224, 226, 250 Galli. N. 227 Gance. Abel 198, 200, 206, 208, 209 Garreras, M. 215 Gasperi. A. de 74. 82 Gassett, O.y 166 Gastoni. L. 239 Gauguin, P. 31, 36 Gaul 300 Gaulle. Ch. de 48 George, S. 59 Gerard 27 Giesz, L. 10, 15, 155, 272 Goebbels 123, 202 309 Goethe, J. W. von 160, 162, 169 Gogh, V. van 31, 195, 206 Gordon 292 Goya, F. de 238 Greenberg. C. 11. 115, 116 Gregotti, V. 254 Gremillon, J. 206 Griffith, D. W. 198 Guimard 292 Halliday, J. 38 Hamilton, R. 300 Hamsun, K. 75 Handel, G. F. 50 Hauptm ann, G. 68, 70 Heidegger 163 Heine, Heinrich 52, 82, 159 Herbier, M. 1’ 198, 200 Hitler, A. 41, 65, 66, 121. 123, 124, 125, 203 Ho Chi Minh 48 Hodler 197 Hovt. H. 213. 214 Hugo, V. 206 Hume, D. 9, 27 Husserl 147 Huston, J. 206, 211 Jarosy,H . 207 Johns, J. 34, 293 Johnson, L. B. 126 Joyce, J. 34, 35 Jung, C. G. 289 Kafka, F. 34, 67, 92 Kant, I. 167 . Keats. J. 50 Kennedy, Jackie. 126. 297 Kennedy. J. F. 14. 126.U2 Kennedy, R. F. 291 Kereny 48 Kienholz, E. 104, 295 K ierkegaard, S. 162, 163. 226 Klee, P. 35, 266 Kluge, F. 158 Knaur 200, 202 Kock. P. de 51 Kusche, L. 158 Labisse. F. 222, 294 Lang, F. 198. 200. 203 Langer, S. 48 Langlois, H. 198 Ledergeber, K. 145 Leonard, R. Z. 204 Leonardo 18, 19, 87, 185 Leonov, A. 174 Leopardi, G. 26 Lessing, G. E. 68 Levi-Strauss, C. 37 Lichtenstein, 295, 298 Lincoln, A. 82 Liszt, F. 18 Loos, A. 262 Loren, S. 189, 227 M agritte, R. 222, 294, 295 M aharishi M ahesh 38 M akart, H. 197 Mallarme, S. 59 Mankiewiez, J. L. 210 M anning, D. 14 M anolete 84 Mansfield, J. 219 M anzoni, A. 26, 91, 92 M arcuse 226 M aria, L. de 26 M arinetti, F. T. 125 M asson. A. 206 M astroianni 140 May, J. 202 McDivitt, J. A. 174 McDonald. D. 14 McHale, J. 19.94.98 McLuhan 30 M endelsohn 141 M enichelli. P. 200. 201 Messina, A. da 16 Michelangelo 18, 154. 185 Mimmo, L. 232, 233 Minnelli, V. 195, 206 Miro, J. 178 M odigliani, A. 33, 206 M ondrian, P. 35,178, 266 Monrie, M. 227, 297 Moore, H. 155 Morandi, G. 33 M orris, D. 224 Moses 41, 211 Mozart, W. A. 50 Muller, W. 158 M urnau, F. W. 200, 214, 215 M urray, M. 215 M ussolini, B. 80, 113, 121 123. 125 Nero 65, 76 Nizzoli, M. 189 Novalis, H. F. von 50, 56, 58, 202 Oehlschlagel, R. 27 Oldenburg. C. 295 Oppenheim, M. 294 Orpheus 36. 41 O rtega y Gassett 166 Ovid, 236 Oxilia, N. 201, 202 Pascal, R. 162,163,165, 166, 167 Pasolini, P. P. 212, 213 Pastrone, F. 201 Pathe 211 Pavone, R. 38 Pawek, K. 143 Pazarek, Professor 281 Pezzo, L. del 300 Philipe, Gerard 206 Picasso, P. 67, 120, 121, 178, 291 Pick, L. 209 Pietschm ann, M. 55 Porten, Henny, 197 Propp, V. 227 Proust, M. 35, 92 Queneau, R. 223 Racoczy, G. 52 Raphael, 16, 18 Rauschenberg, R. 34, 293, 295 Ray, N. 211, 212 Raysse, M. 300 Regamey, P. 141 Rem brandt 61, 119, 207, 209 Repin 120 Richard, J. 132 Richter, P. 203 Riesman, D. 158 Ricoeur 37 Rockefeller, J. D. Jr. 24 Rodin, A. 87, 243, 244, 245 Rolling Stones 38, 41 Rosa vita 113 Rosenberg, H. 10 Rousseau, H. 36 Ruth. R. del 213. 214 310 Sade, D. A. F. de 236 Sapori, F. 123 Sappho 236 Sardou 63 Schekel, L. 67 Schelling, F. W. J. 48 Schiller, J. Ch. F. 59 Schinkel 50 Schubert, F. 50, 158, 207, 208 Schwitters, K. 34 Scipio 80 Scott, W. 51, 88 Segal, R. 104 Shelley 50 Slevogt, M. 60 Snell, B. 167 Sontag, S. 291 Spoerri 300 Stalin, J. 123, 125 Stein, P. L. 207 Steinberg, S. 189, 20V Steinhoff, H. 203, 208 Stendhal 50 Stephen, R. 27 Stevens, G. 211 Stockhausen 34 Straniero 26, 250 Stroheim, E. von 215, 217 Swanson, G. 217 Tauber, R. 207 Taylor, E. 210 Tchaikovsky 53 Tieck 50 T itian 238 Toulouse-Lautrec 206 Toscanini 74 T urner 50 Tressler, G. 207 Truffaut, F. 204 Uexkull, J. von 171 Ursus 195 Vanzi, L. 217 V artan, S. 38 Verdi, G. 16, 36 Vico, G. B. 48 Visconti 292 Volli, U. 223 Volpe, G. della 14 W agner, R. 16, 53, 63 W arhol, A. 296, 297 Weber, A. 51 W esselmann. T. 295 White. D. M. 30 W hite. E. H. 174 Wiene. R. 200 W right, F. Lloyd 262 W right, G. H. von 11, 141, 254 Young, W. 226 Zola. E. 68, 70


  • Dorfles, Gillo (1969, translated from the 1968 Italian version, Il Kitsch). Kitsch: The world of Bad Taste, Universe Books. LCCN 78-93950

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