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Publication Date

Fall 2008

Degree Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art and Design


Beverly Grindstaff

Subject Areas

Anthropology, Cultural; Art History


Artists, art critics, curators, and art historians---collectively the art establishment---inconsistently use the term "kitsch" to dismiss components of contemporary visual culture. Kitsch objects are defined here as mass-reproduced cultural artifacts whose creators intend to please viewers for commercial ends and whose content is considered fake and lacking in profundity by the art establishment. To designate an object as kitsch closes off inquiry and reifies the object as illegitimate art. In particular, the popular artist Thomas Kinkade creates paintings that are routinely dismissed as kitsch by the art establishment. However, Kinkade is beloved by millions of Americans who devotedly collect his lithographs and merchandise. Kinkade's work raises critical questions regarding the ongoing dismissal of visual culture labeled "kitsch" by the art establishment because many of the same devices Kinkade uses are employed by artists embraced by the contemporary art world. The dismissal of such an artist's work as kitsch appears anachronistic in a postmodern cultural condition where, as the art critic Arthur Danto stated, one thing is as good as another in the evaluation of art. This exploration will generate the conclusion that kitsch is used as a term of subjective judgment rather than one of objective classification and that its current use is inconsistent with a postmodern cultural attitude.