Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I thought it was interesting that Levine brought up the issue of the visual arts, specifically Andy Warhol, in order to illustrate 'popular' or 'low' art. Warhol was cited at the inception of his career as an artist who used mass-production techniques to paint mass-produced items of commodity culture (Campbell's soup cans, for instance). Decades before Warhol, Clement Greenberg, one of the most influential art critics, wrote an article titled "The Avant-Garde and Kitsch." In this article, he basically categorizes the avant-garde as good and kitsch as bad. Avant-garde art is one that expresses itself, is abstracted, always open-ended, and questions conventions (think a Jackson Pollock all-over drip painting) and kitsch expresses content, is born of mass culture, and is accessible to mass population. I'd also like to mention that Greenberg's article could and should be read through a totalitarian-conscious lens, but I think that was is said about kitsch is particularly relevant to our collective discussion.

Now, Warhol and Pollock are revered as some of the greatest American artists. Their works sell for millions of dollars at auction and appear in the collections of the most prestigious museums worldwide. Kitsch and the avant-garde, in the realm of the visual arts, have seem to find a way to co-exist on the same level of importance financially and historically. Two weeks ago, Versailles opened an exhibition by Jeff Koons, a contemporary American sculptor who is praised and hated for his ultimately kitsch works of art--shiny chrome sculptures of balloon animals, porcelain portraits of Michael Jackson. Koons' work is, without a doubt, the poster child of kitsch. But yet the Versailles palace, the MOST unlikely place to host works by Koons, is now exhibiting kitsch. Or is it high art?

I'm really sorry to take this long detour, but I was wondering if in music there is any equivalent to kitsch in the same vein of Warhol and Koons kitsch. Would it be popular music? If so, what genres? What about American musical theater? It is popular music that pleases the masses. On the same line, what would be considered avant-garde music? And if there are examples of avant-garde music, does it have the same cultural significance as avant-garde art does?

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