Art, Kitsch and Spirituality
The deeper one penetrates the art process, the more spiritual it gets. Even if the art scene vehemently differentiates itself from the so-called spiritual scene and I, personally, understand myself primarily as an artist, is clear to me that any artistic work is by its nature a spiritual activity.
In my opinion, however, aesthetic competence and a spiritual-religious consciousness are not necessarily tied to each other. That is why a deeply religious person can completely lack aesthetic competence - and consequently buys and decorates the apartment with (aesthetically) "terrible things".
A true piece of art however should be both: solved formally, as well as be consistent regarding its content. This requires the artist to have both aesthetic (form-giving) competence as well as (spiritual) consciousness to make his artistic statement.
I believe the difficult part lies in the artistic statement. It is something very personal, tightly connected to the artist's immediate life experience and path. A true artistic statement is always personal and intimate. It exposes the artist - and makes him most vulnerable. I think it is this exposure what many of the self appointed artists balk at and prefer instead to concentrate on commonplaces, thus statements that are appropriate and true, thus assumedly incontestable, just unfortunately also without any real rooting in their own personalities. In the end, this kind of work is empty and thus is not really art.
Last autumn, in collaboration with other artists, I have realized a large project called "Homage to...". It examines the sources of inspiration in the artistic work process. During this project I came to understand that every piece of art is an expression of knowledge, more precisely: intuitive knowledge. Both art and intuition deal with imagination and perception; intuition provides images, however, no intellectual concepts. (1)
Artist Among Themselves
An artistic statement is always individual. This is why grouping and consequently confrontations between different groups rarely ever happen. My personal experience when meeting other artists is usually an extraordinary frankness and proximity. As soon as I see that a colleague does good work, i.e. aims at a personal, intimate, artistic statement, I immediately know what he has experienced - because I have crossed the same (or similar) heavens and hells, I recognize it in his art work.
Of course he may come up with artistic statements that differ from mine - however these are not "wrong", but rather "read from another chapter of the book of life" (2). Among artists I always encountered an underlying tenor of consent which in that form I have never experienced anywhere else. Art and its creative processes are truly uniting activities.
What is Kitsch?
Is spiritual or religious art always kitschy? Is there a rule that spiritual people automatically are artists? I guess: no. They are spiritual people, but that does not imply that they are aesthetically competent. In Wikipedia I find the following regarding Kitsch: "Common-linguistically Kitsch stands mostly pejorative for a - from the observer's point of view - emotionally inferior, longing-like expression of feelings. In contrast to artistic effort towards truthfulness or beauty critics judge it as a path that is too simplistic to express feelings, too sentimental, trivial or kitschy... Psychological or social attributes of sensations considered kitschy are: conflict deficit, small bourgeois mentality, mass culture, hypocrisy, stereo classification, retardedness, reality escape, fake security, silly comfort... Critique hereby is aimed less at a lack of truth (like with bad art) but rather at its psychological implication: it's "calculated sentimental dishonesty".
Jeff Koons: King of Kitsch
I feel a bit uncomfortable with the statement kitsch is the opposite of art. For me kitsch is a formal language one can very well choose to make an artistic statement. For example Jeff Koons is dreadfully kitschy most of the time, however he is as well a truly gifted artist. Kitsch is a form of expression, an artistic language one can choose - similar to abstract expressionism or concrete art.
The dilemma originates as soon as there is no artistic statement: This is when the attempt to create art is nothing but an empty gesture. In such case the result is - if we stay with painting - a satisfactory piece of work in terms of craft, a picture that is nice to look at, however, which is empty. To illustrate it further: it is just like a beautiful body without a soul. The picture-body is possibly born from the form canon of kitsch (but might, just as well be e.g. from the form canon of the abstract expressionism). But the problem is not whether or not kitsch, but rather: the absence of an intimate artistic statement.
Indeed, it requires quite some sensitivity to perceive the absence of the soul.
It is always the artist who reflects himself in his art. He again is marked by Zeitgeist and by his cultural environment. Design however roots exclusively in Zeitgeist and reproduces it most purely. The main difference between design and art is that design does not claim to transport the inner condition of its creator, but rather a message, which is given by, for example, Zeitgeist.
To judge a piece of art tells a lot about the viewer. If a piece of art does not speak to me at all, it is possible that it lacks statement, or maybe I am just incapable to perceive it. The latter just proves that the piece of art and me are incompatible - a fact one can perceive without evaluating or acting upon. I believe sometimes it is important to leave things simply as they are instead of judging them. Well, some devotional objects are kitschy and awfully shh... but: so what? It is not my business if people buy it or not. They should go on and buy it - otherwise we will once again end up with doctrines regarding what is acceptable and what is "degenerate". And this is nothing but an evidence of the judge's incapacity.
Therefore: Let's allow bad artists to continue producing dreadfully bad art and to sell it to an incompetent audience without judging any of this. And ourselves: let's devote ourselves to... art! Because... as Wim Wenders put it so beautifully: Nous nous sommes embarqués, we have embarked...