High Art VS Kitch on eBay

Illustration: Comparison of an abstract painting detail by Jackson Pollok to a detail from a painting by contemporary eBay artist Osnat Tzadok.

Today anyone who has access to the Internet can go on eBay and succeed at finding an artwork they are looking for. EBay is definitely the place that offers a wide range of art to choose from and it also introduces an added benefit of finding a bargain. Artisans from all over the world set electronic displays of their work often sold commission free. All art on eBay is commercial - it is there on sale, but what are the true gems worth buying? Is the majority of art on eBay nothing more than tasteless Kitsch?

Most of us recognize the painting called the Mona Lisa. It is a great work of art by the Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci. The Mona Lisa is exhibited in the Louvre in Paris, France and it is a priceless masterpiece. Why is a tiny, old and darkened painting of a female head considered a work of high art? How does the selection of such greatness occur?

Culture disciplines such as Art Theory, Art History and Critisism are responsible for shaping high art archetypes. A notion of aesthetics as well as what is art and what isn't can therefore not be fixed or permanent. As civilizations evolve, so does the culture of those civilizations.

In order to begin to understand what art is, we have to examine it's function. Art is often a physical object or a set of instructions arranged by an artist. Even though an artwork is an object, it may not have  any physical function. It can be compared to a rock that lies on the shore. It is just there without a purpose. We, the viewer, assign a special function to an artwork by recognizing it as beautiful.  Art created by an artist is not the only object that can have an aesthetic function. In fact any object can become art if it is displayed for it's beauty.

God in many cultural traditions is the creator of the universe and the many things that exist in it. Therefore God can be looked at as the ultimate artist. God determines function and design in nature. The reference to religion here, is important to understanding the role of the artist. It is not an attempt to impose a set of beliefs on the reader. The artist is seen as the creator of art in the cultural discourse. This is why before an object can be analyzed by the critic, it has to be arranged by the artist. Artist may paint, sculpt, print, draw, photograph, design, write out instructions to or simply take any object in order for it to be considered art. The critic is next in the chain of cultural evaluation. The educated mind sets a coherent framework for what may be considered art. In fact any viewer is automatically a critic who applies his or her set of cultural values to an artwork.

In our culture art does not come to be a masterpiece by just being created and placed on a pedestal. It has to be innovative and new in relationship to what existed before. High art functions as a catalyst when it comes in contact with the human mind. It yields meaning.

Being a visual entity, art almost literally shows critic the way to a new set of cultural values.

While new art is of the raw nature, high art is something that has already been studied and theorized. It may not be easy to pinpoint something new, never seen before, as art. New cultural notions are born out of struggle. Take for example the Abstract Expressionism movement in America mid 1900s. A prominent artist of that period is Jackson Pollock with his drip paintings. Pollock's work was not seen as art when it was first made. And yet after a period of time a new cultural archetype such as abstraction becomes public domain. From that point on, this new kind of art does not have the same edge.
It is now explained to us. However, art has an experimental nature and it's boundaries of meaning are yet uncharted. Art could be studied further even when art form has already been set into an archetype.

An established value in art spawns imitation. Public demand for a certain kind of art form rises. The borrowing of high art identities produces the inferior versions of art. Artworks that do not strive to achieve a new value in art and are content to imitate the established art forms are often called Kitsch. Kitsch is a term used to describe art that emphasises the banal decorative aspects of art. Kitsch takes a ride on the fame of the masterpiece by pretending to look similar. The result is a cheaper commercial version of art that does not yield much meaning. Kitsch is a reduction to a good looking, but empty facade. Professional and amateur artists follow the fashion, set by the High Art in order to earn profit. This process is by all means legitimate. Our consumerist society demands goods of variable quality and price. Kitsch can be good for decorating an interior and it wouldn't cost as much as high art. A homeowner or an interior designer may be looking for a color to match the furniture. It will be impossible to obtain an abstract masterpiece from a museum, unless it has been copied and printed. However a well made original Kitsch painting is a definite option.

by Maxim Grunin

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