Jennifer Belgard interviews Dirk Hays, carver of kitsch critters, in Carving Critters with Uncle Daddy Dirk Hays.
Super Girls is a collection of store mannequins hand painted and sprayed to look like comic book superheroes and villains. Because each life size art piece is made from a mannequin it is equal to an action figure in that it can be posed! Each art work is numbered.
the cans of crap are signed and numbered on the lid and the label printed in italian, english, french and german – as a reference to alchemy, the shit was sold at the same price as it’s weight in 18-carot gold
Get the whole story of Art As Commodity.
Sometimes, when I’m interviewing someone, I’ll make them do all the work and ask them to define their work. For the absolutely adorable artisan behind the equally charming isewcute, I asked her to define her work in just three words. I knew it would be hard, perhaps it was even unfair, but then I knew we’d have the rest of this interview to add plenty more words. So this is where we start…
Your jewelry – how would you describe it in 3 words? (Toughie, huh!)
Wicked tough! I suppose this will do: customizable, artisan-crafted, whimsical.
I see you had to cheat with a hyphen! lol I personally would have used “glittery” — but then that’s because I have a love/hate relationship with glitter. …As a girl, I’m a sucker for glitter; but as a mom, who finds that stuff more insidious than Easter grass and tinsel, I groan at the sight of it. But your stuff traps the glitter — forever shimmering, but never escaping! Which is a stroke of gleaming awesomeness.
Umm, that’s not a question… How’s this: Would your artisan superhero name include the word ‘glitter’?
You’d be safe with a finished piece… no glitter escapes! Glitter is always a good thing — I just got done glittering my craft table last week & love how it turned out & submitted it to ikeahacker’s blog.
Yeah, my superhero name would have to include glitter on some level!
Have you ever thought of yourself as a superhero? Of your jewelry as being talismans against doom and gloom? Because I find most of them so sweet and full of kitschy goodness that whoever wears them can’t be anything but happy!
I’ve never considered myself a superhero. Not since saving a couple of elderly folks from a burning building — at 4 months old. The house caught fire & I cried because of the smoke & woke everyone up & we all got out alright. True story!
I’m hoping my jewelry brings happiness to all who wear it. Especially the real four leaf clover jewelry I make. More than anything, I hope my little creations are loved & cherished. They don’t want to be hidden away in a drawer or jewelry box; they want to make the scene!
What inspires your designs?
My refusal to grow up completely & stay in touch with my inner child, my own children through which I’m reliving my childhood… An insatiable love of sparkly things… Show me something shiny & I’ll lose my train of thought. Cartoons, pinups, music, pop culture all have a hand in inspiring me along the way.
What are your most popular designs or themes?
As we discussed with the embroidery it’s the custom order type of work that’s most popular now. The possibilities are endless!
I have been making personalizeable name necklaces…hearts, and rectangles full of sprinkles, glitter, and beads spelling out names of BFF’s & boyfriends.
Also, my four leaf clover jewelry has been selling real well because there is no shop on Etsy like asluckwouldhaveit.
I find the clovers myself, with the help of my children, dry the clovers for a couple weeks, & then they’re all ready to become treasures to cherish. Nature makes the clovers & I do the rest.
FYI, if anyone friends me on Facebook through the month of November, they’ll be entered to win a four leaf clover heart pendant!
Have you ever made something you were certain would “fly off the shelves” but wasn’t well received?
Oh sure! I made a soldered glass pendant with a funny quote (or so I thought), but apparently nobody got my humor.
(I’m dying to see that!)
How would you describe your customer?
Playful & someone who likes to stand out & express themselves… Marching to their own music.
I’m pretty sure they’re skipping, not marching. And I like it more that way. But then I’m pretty biased; I’m an isewcute customer.
In order to discuss the meaning of kitsch, you first need to know it’s definition. So I grabbed my copy of Kitsch, The World of Bad Taste, by Gillo Dorfles (with contributions by John McHale, Karl Pawek, Ludwig Giesz, Lotte H. Eisner, Ugo Volli, Vittorio Gregotti, and Aleksa Celebonovic; and essays by Hermann Broch and Clement Greenberg). In the book kitsch is defined as follows:
The word kitsch could derive etymologically from the English ‘sketch’ or, according to the other opinions, from the German verb ‘verkitschen (‘to make cheap’). According to Giesz (Ludwig Giesz: ‘Phanomenologie des Kitsches’ …1960) which is without doubt the most complete work on the subject, the word kitsch could approximately be said to mean ‘artistic rubbish.’
However, “artistic rubbish” is as “I know it when I see it” as porn is. To simply define something as “bad” without considering the pure subjectivity involved is nearly nonsensical.
While Dorfles et all go on at great length about how they arrive at the wrinkling of their noses, the definitions are less than satisfactory — especially as they point to a real case of monetary snobbery.
For example, posters of the great art classics are considered to be kitsch. Translation: Unless you can afford an actual Rembrandt or other Master, your taste, however classy, will be defined as bad and kitsch by virtue of simply having a thin wallet.
In fact, Dorfles really, really, not only dislikes copies or reproductions of any sort, but is not exactly happy with any sort of consumerism (he would hate today’s art museum gift shops). Nor does he limit himself only to the visual arts; along with film literature and music are judged, their medium and means of consumer acts equally under attack.
Dorfles is not an complete idiot, however; he senses the reader’s potential ire:
If anyone is not satisfied with our choice and finds some of the images artistic which we will present as pseudo-artistic, un-artistic, too bad! To us at least it will mean that our reader is really a ‘kitsch-man’ of the first water; and that the psychological test has worked properly.
What Dorfles (and anyone else who uses insulting as a judgmental intimidation tactic) fails to recognize here in such a confirmed stance of absolutes, is that a kitsch-woman of the first water (me!) will find his awareness of discord and dispute wins him no favor intellectually. The gloves are now off. Any potential shield of ignorance leaves him standing naked before me, facing a battle to the inevitable intellectual death.
If all this seems to imply that Kitsch, The World of Bad Taste is a book to avoid, please do not misunderstand. I love a good book I can sink my teeth into — even if that means I’m growling when I do it. (And I’ll likely visit this book often for argumental posts.)
But if Dorfles brings us closer to a true understanding of what kitsch really is, it is purely by accident.
This book was published in 1969 — and contains essays written up to three decades earlier. Viewed with the benefit of time, or hindsight, I find a great contextual definition of kitsch. Or maybe I should say, a definition of kitsch as a defensive reaction to the preservation of Art.
Some love this book for opening “your eyes to the avalanche of junk that makes up popular culture” and others loath it for failing to recognize the “the signifigance of the narrowing gap between high and low art,” but both sides miss the real point. Defining art as high-brow or low-brow, dismissing popular culture and ourselves as collectively low-brow, isn’t just an over-simplification; it’s a poor assessment.
Art as a form of human expression is not a static thing. It changes. Like everything else. Even removing the individual voices and processes of the creators, artworks are offered to a public which changes. Not only did we once love Rubenesque women, but Ruben himself; now, meh, not-so-much for either of them. What we value, and how we value it, changes. The conversations we have, the issues we explore, change. And, perhaps most dramatically, the ability to produce, show, and critique art has changed.
If low-barrier equals low-entry equals low-brow is the math being used, people need to reconsider. The converse certainly does not hold true. And those who, like Dorfles does with machines, blame technology for the copious amounts of kitsch ought to remember the battles for freedom of access for all. And the remarkable artworks we’ve had, strides taken, as a result.
I don’t want to be equally guilty of passing judgment on those who are quick to condemn popular culture, kitsch, etc., but the very people who “feel overwhelmed by the tasteless tides of popular culture” are not only, as they whine, so afflicted by it, but they are employing it. It’s obvious they are digging such pop culture adventures as publishing sans gatekeeper with a big spoon. Self-publishing their high-brow opinions is a low-brow, kitsch activity.
But back to the book.
Contextually, this book of essays stands as a defense against Modernism and those art movements after it which reject tradition. It’s the defensive posturing of an establishment wishing to retain authority, to rally the museums, galleys, and wealthy who must guard the integrity of Art. It’s not that these people have better taste with which to form the definitions and standards of Art, or even the right to do so; but they do have a reason to try. For you see, what they truly hope to guard so zealously are their investments in it.
But you can’t insulate your investments in art. Art is part of a living, breathing, culture which, as stated, changes. As the cultural values change, so do the monetary values of art. Not always in the art investor’s favor.
And no desperate debates designed to keep the established art status quo can thwart it.
On one hand, kitsch is purely subjective in the sense that each of us knows it when we see it and we ascribe different attributes to it. “Bad,” “atrocious,” “so bad it’s grand,” “funny,” “too funny,” “cheap,” etc. Which is why kitsch rather defies a classification. (What pleases or amuses one, insults another).
But kitsch, as it is often used in the art world, often has quite a different distinction. I see it as more than a slur, but an actual means to limit and control the art market, if not the art world.
Image credits: As all images are scanned from Kitsch, The World of Bad Taste, by Gillo Dorfles. Presented in order placed in the post, with author comments, if any.
Vintage ad, found on page 177: “An example of facile and grotesque copyfitting in this attempt to identify the inimitable blue of a painting by Cezanne with the blue of a man’s sportshirt.”
Film still, found on page 195: “The depiction of a famous painter on the screen is painful even in the hands of a director with taste. Vincente Minnelli’s film about van Gogh, Lust For Life (1956).”
Mona Lisa “kitsch,” found on page 21: “10. The Mona Lisa myth appears once more against the tiles of a shower. 11. A spectacles-case”
I dated a musician, once upon a time; a jazz musician. He was often put off by my love of certain music, deriding it as ‘pop music.’ I had to remind him that the ‘pop’ stood for popular, and that meant that a large body of folks had to like it to make it ‘popular’. I even reminded him that jazz was once ‘pop music.’
Of course, that didn’t always sit well. For either of us.
I can’t speak directly for him, but his disdain for ‘pop’ certainly smelled snobby to me, and I felt as if I had to prove that I still had ‘good taste’ (at least most of the time) despite occasional descent into liking what other people did…
Pop culture has become synonymous with kitsch, defined as ‘bad taste,’ and while the two may overlap, there are distinctions.
Pop Culture Defined: Dictionaries define Popular Culture, or pop culture, as “the vernacular (people’s) culture that prevails in a modern society,” and as “the currency or iconography of a contemporary culture.”
In any case, popular culture is both dynamic, as cultures are constantly changing, and it is static in the sense that it is specific to both place(s) and time(s) or period(s). What is pop culture in the USA, now, is not the same as China, nor is it the same as the USA in 1950.
Pop culture is built largely by industries & groups that disseminate cultural material & the relationships these groups have with the population or consumers. In the US, examples of these groups are the film, television, news media, & publishing industries, as well as political groups, religions, and social organizations. It isn’t just what they ‘push’ at us, it is how we, as consumers, interact with it. Do we buy it? Not just commercially, but do we buy into it…
As my jazz musician felt, popular culture is not always ‘high brow.’ It does however merit study. Why do people believe, act, buy…?
And don’t think it is merely of interest to corporations or marketing teams either. Heck, it’s part of the science of anthropology! Those scientists know that these same motivators and triggers allow us to believe in marriage, religion, food, clothing, education, language, rituals & traditions. They know that pop culture buy-ins affect those things!
So if you ever feel your love of Mickey Mouse, Pig Latin, G.I. Joe, Marilyn Monroe, Dr. Suess, anime, Andy Warhol, The Simpsons, Gone With the Wind, Michael Jordan, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, & yes, even jazz, isn’t worthy, think again! They are to Americans as patriotic as baseball, apple pie, and mom.
Yes, your mom is a pop culture phenomenon!
We keep hearing how poor MJ was, but the dude spent a fortune commissioning art — of himself. And while he was one helluva a musical artist & entertainer, he didn’t have a clue about art.
And here’s a 1990 painting of Jackson by David Nordahl:
Now maybe you’re not surprised to see the size of MJ’s ego displayed in such works. I’m not; but I thought he had more of an artistic sense. All that money to promote yourself as a kitsch icon? Such high prices for such low kitsch? I mean he could have commissioned such portraits from any high school art class student. All he’d have to do is give the kid a copy of an art history book along with the deposit check. But what screams to me the most from all of this is that Jackson would have put these on display, likely in his home.
Where his kids could see them.
So I no longer can buy Prince, Paris and Blanket dressed in masks, scarves and blankets as some sort of shield protecting the kids so that they’d grow up normal. Not when he was willing to subject them to such portraits of daddy. These painting not only distort images of dad as a real person but distort images of real art too.
Well, at least I don’t think Jackson commissioned such artworks to include his kids’ faces as cherubs or whatnot. Or maybe I just don’t recognize his kids.
Or maybe there are frightening family portraits we have yet to see.
See also the edible MJ.