To the page Art critics

To the main page



Dr. Sergey Zagraevsky


Art or kitsch?




The following text was translated from the Russian original by the computer program

and has not yet been edited.

So it can be used only for general introduction.




"Art is a creative reflection, playback

reality in artistic images"

(S. I. Ozhegov)


"Kitsch (there. Kitsch) - tasteless mass production,

designed for external effect, bargain".

(Dictionary of foreign words)




This topic is difficult. As without the involvement of the aesthetics of Kant, or of historical materialism to understand what is art and what is kitsch, and as a normal person, not an armed regular "eternally alive teachings", to distinguish one from another?

And situations in which it is desirable to distinguish between a dime a dozen. Stroll through any exhibition hall, and the question will arise of itself.

With all the books somewhat simpler and more understandable. Any housewife, zachityvalis "love novels", as a rule, understand their true value from the point of view of world literature. In school, what I go through the literature better than fine arts...

At the movies with militants (or series), too, all clear, although this is their multi-million audience do not become less.

Why not? This is a pastime, and each dispose as he thinks fit. About the art in these cases it is not. Romance and militants in this high rank not claim, moreover, they often forget immediately after reading (viewing).

There are, of course, controversial cases in the literature, and cinema, but here even the impact of kitsch is to "come - see - forgotten.

But if you bought kitschy picture (sculpture etc.) and hung (bet) her in her own room, she's on you will look for a long time... Maybe on your descendants... And then what?

Possible options.

First: it will not kitsch, but a work of art. What a slogan for some galleries: "we Offer art for the price of kitsch!" (Very true, unfortunately).

Second: it would be exactly the opposite - kitsch for the price of art.

Situation: a few thousand dollars bought the painting hung in a prominent place, and then... In the best case - a bitter irony deceived her son over the bankrupt father"in the worst - You will understand everything in a week when someone you know is you something on this subject will tell.

Option forks on possible modifications of the future fate of the above picture, but in any case, one thing is clear: in painting error in the definition of "art - kitsch" can cost not only lost one and a half hours, but also a fair amount of money.

Or depraved taste of the next generations... I am Sure that You read this sentence, grinned, but still won't neglect this danger. Maybe by the end of this article you will agree with me.

So, try to understand incredibly complex and multifaceted problem:

How to distinguish art from kitsch?




No practical recommendations such pages, broken into two columns to the right - the art of the left - kitsch, and which lists all possible cases, of course, will not work. But if we can dispel at least some illusions, and give at least some semblance of a practical tool - the purpose of this article is reached.

As usual, let's find a starting point.

The first starting point: what is kitsch is more or less clear (see epigraph).

The second starting point: the definition of art is already much harder on this subject expressed by many great (and not so) philosophers and writers, and attitude to art, for example, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Kant, Tolstoy, Marx, Freud, etc. so different that arrive at some common definition impossible. We will still be satisfied ozhegovskim (see epigraph).

And what actually to do with the second starting point, not creating a new philosophical system and not overloading its reader? Let's think.

The questions do not seem to cause: Mona Lisa (and all the Renaissance from the Louvre Museum and the Munich Pinakothek), "barge haulers on the Volga" (and all Peredvizhnichestvo from the Tretyakov gallery), van Gogh (impressionism, and all of the Pushkin Museum)...

The list can be endless, but here we are to shape a common opinion: "the award" the great museums. In vain they probably wouldn't hurt. But now the Commission of the Tretyakov gallery not issue certificates to each painting sold on the Arbat, and not at all the pictures in the Central house of artist...

If, of course, the artist, offering You a picture has been in the record that his paintings are in the collections of the Russian Museum (for example), then this something can talk. But may or may not say opaque picture, send by registered air mail (preferably without return address) in Russian Museum, and hope that they too lazy and look for you, to bring you your "masterpiece" and expressing what you think. Yes and write in his autobiography even that your pictures are hanging in the Louvre, Prado - who will check it?

Well, okay, tell me. Beware of kitsch - do not buy any Arbat, nor in the Central house of artists. Go to the antique show (if you have money, go to London for auction "Sotheby's") and buy a pencil sketch Repin or Picasso for several dozens (hundreds) of thousands of dollars. There too you will be a certificate and guarantee, but if you find a fake - so this is an obvious crime, and the conversation the other.

Yes, perhaps. But we have agreed that this article is not practical guide, but an attempt to understand and to give some hint for those who are standing in front of the picture and trying to understand something, not from a big name, but that is depicted on the canvas. And the name of Repin was not always loud.




The definition of art, we have not taken out, so we will try to understand without it.

Let's try "on the contrary, will gradually narrow the range - in fact thousands of artists, works, hundreds of thousands, and all eyes will not cover.

So, a very common and very dangerous illusion: "If it looks like something from the classics, this is good."

Most often "plagiateure" artists:

- Shishkin;

- Polenov;

- Aivazovsky;

- Salvador Dali;

- pre-Raphaelites (amazing how this modest during the middle of the last century gave the "followers"!).

And here's the man standing in front of a hundred thousand rehash "Ninth wave", masterfully executed (if the hand of the artist "stuffed")and thought: and why not? Craftsmanship is evident, beautiful, spectacular, the sun shines, playing the waves, the wind blows, the author is a member of all possible creative unions with such a year, what is not art?

And how many buyers are offered a faceless, standard nudity? Well, how many centuries may be the same? And it bought the same people, and hang on the wall, and think: "Playboy" - vulgarity, and "oil on canvas" in itself gives a certain level.

No, gentlemen, unfortunately, does not specify. And in a hundred years vulgarity on Your wall it to be not cease, and the art will become at least, because Goya wrote "Mahu Nude", and one thousand one hundred twenty-first variant of the end of XX century and will remain one thousand one hundred twenty-first. Yes, and money for Nudes, contemporary artists, more often than not, with the same "Playboy" redraws...

Antiques - Yes, ever going to be any pattern, but it will, and an ashtray or table!

We moved to another illusion: the identification of Antiques and art. Yes, it is an illusion, and it is not necessary to remember the tales like this: "scientists have Found in the land of amphora three thousand years of age, Achaia-groan from her shop, and three thousand years ago it was used as a pot at best furnace".

Don't know whether scientists three thousand years later exclaim over the Arbat dolls with the faces of the presidents, but talking about something else: Achan over the above-mentioned objects of art has a very indirect relationship.

Age - Yes, these items reflect, and it is interesting in itself. Yes and I am ashamed to say, at one time enjoyed the appearance of Arbat dolls - these were the last years of the Soviet power, and from the Arbat breathed some freedom...

But matryoshka face Yeltsin is kitsch, kitsch was, is and will be, and, fortunately, it is understood almost everything, but if buying - understand that buying a souvenir. Or toy. Toys, incidentally, are charming, they can be called kitsch with the sign "plus", but to art, again, has this very indirect.




We step-by-step approach to practical conclusions, and it would recall another kitsch, but the highest order: Faberge eggs.

How much of me now, fly rocks! And yet, in itself Faberge egg - kitsch, even if made by the best jewellers of the NINETEENTH century.

In order to stave off the flying rocks, please open the first page, read the definition of kitsch and orehovskoe definition of art and to think, where lush, gilded eggs taste, and the more creative reflection of reality. And what is mass production is Yes.

Stop! - flying in my next stone. What kind of mass production? Several thousand copies - it is really widespread? Dolls - Yes, Christmas angels - Yes, but certainly a Faberge egg? The author would have Palekh boxes kitsch called...

Well, let's talk about where personality ends and begins mass.

And ends with a personality than a few thousands or hundreds of copies, and two! And only one instance of individuality, not mass!

And this is one of the essential traits of the work of art.

A work of art is always unique. Yes, it can be replicated, but we must understand: the original, only one, even if a copy of the author. More than one instance - a skill, but usually not more.

You ask me: what about van Gogh with his sunflowers, which he wrote more than a dozen?

Answer: the van Gogh on a great artist that none his touch is not a simple repetition of the previous one. His sunflowers - do not copy copyrighted successfully made the original, and each of these paintings created as the original. And I don't think, keep van Gogh financial ability to hire apprentices for a copy of his paintings, he would use it.

Finally something came. So, a work of art is unique, original, no one repeats plagiatiruet not and will not copy... Feel like narrowing the circle?

Yes, you will notice is reasonable, in terms of uniqueness is difficult to argue, but the uniqueness of something, too, is different. Recall, for example, very original, if not extravagant, the Italian artist Pietro Manzoni, which, pardon me, sealing the cans in their excrement and sent them to museums. By the way, found that many followers, including here in Russia... So dear author says about such things? Is the Bank Manzoni work of art or not?




Oh, hard question. Yes, don't laugh. And if banks can Manzoni at least brought under the label of bad taste and vulgarity branded as, what to do with the 58-th km of the coast that two artists, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, in 1969, covered with canvas? Or a series of photos of Hannah Wilke, where she captured all the stages of his terminal illness (cancer)?

What's there - remember the "Black Square" of Malevich! It still is a good invention or a masterpiece?

Well, the question was, I think.

Immediately have to ask "not to worry":

- sverkhglubokaya Orthodox, who believe that the word "art" comes from the word "art", i.e. all this idea of the devil, and no more;

- sverkhglubokaya historical materialists who believe that the view of the recognized masterpieces of art depends on prevailing at the relevant time, industrial relations, and of all the most important art for us are movies, wine and Domino.

Yes to the above categories of citizens, as a rule, and argue something useless: what can you argue against the dogma, pronounced with the glass eye?

And the rest ask another question: do you believe in God? Or in some higher power, governing the world by some processes? Or (descending) in the God within us that directs our actions? Or something like that?

Actually what you believe, not just in principle. It is important thing: do you at least in some sort of eternal scale of values, with the new values do not deny the old and complementary?

You already knew for sure that I'm getting to the art, and I want to declare him the very eternal values. Why not? When people talk about the "temple of art", in these hackneyed words put just such a meaning.

So let us now from this point of view, look at the art.

To disagree with me and totally deny the existence of a unified system of values in art, of course, possible. It reminded me of a phrase I heard many years ago: "there is no God, and there is probability theory and mathematical statistics" (author phrase - known scientist in the field of applied mathematics).

In our case, it sounds like: some dice in every epoch choose from thousands of creators of several units and record them in the encyclopedia. "Lucky" Michelangelo - all here! And the rest of the masters, painted other churches, just out of luck... And the buyer of modern paintings may be lucky: indicates die on the author - he bequeaths (buyer) grandchildren masterpiece worth a million dollars, but does not indicate - sorry, no luck. What a variety of casinos.

I can argue, citing both, not less common, the view is now estimated at all useless, the offspring will understand. It will be that way for fifty years - and everything will become clear to all but five hundred altogether.

Answer: to live to only those fifty years, and it would be better and five hundred, to see how they figured out the offspring...

Without us, it is, of course, also will understand, but that turns out to new people come with the new psychology, and evaluate all be completely new? But what about the experience of previous generations - that he means nothing? Again, would "throw Pushkin to ship today? Sorry, were no longer necessary. And hardly someone will succeed, and it showed a bustling XX century.

It would seem that all the values were revalued. But look:

- after the "Silver age" and the October revolution the art preserved their traditions and only enriched them;

- Pushkin "ship today and not dropped;

- no cubism, neither abstract nor modernism did not shake our attitude to the masterpieces of the Renaissance and impressionist style;

- the profession "art" not died and not going to die;

auctions of works of art type "Sotheby's".

Now, there she was, that a unified system of values, and if offspring know best - it only because they go momentary passions, fashion, publicity, and still is (or is) a work of art as such.

And no social upheaval will not recognize the Mona Lisa two hundred grams of paint smeared on the canvas. And many, many contemporary works, despite the complaints of the type: "Art is dead, because the search form at an impasse", a perfect fit in this value system.

Even if it was not - not just withered away to the profession "art", but Sotheby's would not be, and the masterpieces of time would not grow in the price, and fell, like most consumer goods.

And even in the world there is no Supreme expert Council, which assessed the works of art, but this scale is in us, in our intuition and art historians together with the art market and public opinion" it only fix. Or, if you like, it is beyond us. You can consider it a sort of divine substance, and to believe that our perception with the help of art critics comes nearer to it (or away). There are many options, but the most important - it is!




And how to recognize belongs or not the product of this system of values? - you will ask. It's common words, and more specifically? For example, all the same "Black Square" - owned or not? And about banks Manzoni response was noncommittal...

And what could be the answer? We agreed - no specific recommendations, only a tool. Which in this case can serve as your tool, it is your assessment of "Black Square"?

It's very simple (or very difficult). Your intuition.

You, for example, that would imagine would prove it, I have a hunch that commit certain sins (or simply indecent deeds), despite the fact that a clear definition of sin, neither in the old nor in the New Testament, and in the next Church doctrines of sin has been interpreted in very General terms, and lists improper actions, no one was.

Well, the seven mortal sins! And even if list, how often do you over in my mind this list before, or any other specific act? Of course not. But your intuition is still something in this area is focused. Public opinion has nothing to do with it - it's about your inner perception.

On this occasion, we recall occurred at the beginning of the century attempts to justify the Jack the Ripper. Well, first of all, social causes, and most importantly, kill-it increasingly prostitutes, i.e. women are bad - so if women are not good, then Jack good? "Logically", isn't it? Only your intuition somehow suggests quite the opposite...

You may contradict me: what can be intuition in art the man, not have art education?

Yes on it and intuition! For theological education in most people also come to talk about the intuitive assessment of sins). Art, as we found out, all the temple, and any of us went there many times. And those artists (writers, poets etc.), those geniuses, which is based on this temple, anyhow, you know everything. Even if the school pass, let them badly. This, perhaps, is the information base for intuitive assessments of any person (I do not take the extreme cases such Mowgli). And if people for one reason or another, denies the art as such - that is, there are situations when it is required to estimate, usually does not occur.

And not to reduce its intuitive evaluation of art to the usual "like - dislike", let's put restrictions in the form of "individual - not individually, soul invested is not attached", "skills of present - is not present", read what they write critics, and I am sure that errors in perception will be less.

They, of course, can not be - and probably this is also correct. It is not only the geniuses need recognition, and even the most talentless artists not deserve to die of starvation. And the story sooner or later will put everything in its place.


 Moscow, 1998.


Sergey Zagraevsky


To the page Art critics

To the main page