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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Living Grand Masters: Odd Nerdrum

So I'm reading "On Kitsch" by Odd Nerdrum. I agree on most aesthetic fronts, such as the principles of skill, passion, universality, and rejection of mass taste. Using the distinctions made by Clement Greenburg and other modernist art critics between art and kitsch, Nerdrum happily falls into the category of kitsch along with many great painters dismissed by the art establishment. I also like the distinctions between high kitsch (Wagner) and low kitsch (bad moose paintings), as well as between camp (my former boss, Jeff Koons, who actually mocks kitsch) and true kitsch, which is completely in earnest.
"The Murder of Andreas Baader" Possibly my favorite, painted in the seventies, and borrowing strongly from Caravaggio.

I like pictures of Odd Nerdrum. Cool looking dude.

I learned in college that "artist" is too loaded a word to place on myself, but my personal problem is that I do not want to sign a manifesto that all of the sudden limits what I can and can't paint. I guess I fall into the kitsh category according to both Greenburg and Nerdrum, at least for now, but I don't really care either way. I just want to make things that I think are great and revel in that which I love about great paintings.

Here's a link to the Nerdrum institute.

Nerdrum was the first contemporary painter to really grab my attention as a freshman in art school, and I still love him. I thank him and my other favorite painters for breaching the time/space barrier and reminding us that painting is not about the here and now, but for all times and all walks of people. He is an individual painting for individuals, which is way more important to me than the kitsch/art debate.


  1. I like the kitch vs. art discussion. I think a lot of what qualifies something as kitch, or at least as gimmicky, has to do with artistic choices that seem to serve no structural purpose other than to wow or please an audience. Perhaps I am wrong in applying this to the word kitch, though.

  2. Yes, that's commonly the way the word is used, but is even more broadly used in describing anything passionate or non-ironic. Nerdrum is actually coming from the standpoint that the great masters of art history would be dismissed as kitsch if they were alive today. Rather than arguing that he's the real art, which he'll never win, Nerdrum accepts the kitsch label from art critics, because he'd rather be there with Bocklin and Richard Wagner than with the fashionably disinterested elite. Gimmicky kitsch would be what he calls low kitsch. Just kind of an interesting twist on the word.

  3. eh. I think that if all roads lead to kitsch then why bother. Avante-garde will become kitsch one day. Seems to me another way to market non-talented, no meaning, unintentional "experiments" at a high market value. These types of distinction are what happens when Art is allowed to flourish in the hands of the uninitiated. I'm calling BS on all of it... not a subscriber.

  4. Nerdrum non-talented and no meaning? Surely that isn't what you're saying?

  5. Stephan, not at all. The people who are trying to sell th idea of "continuing traditional painting" as "kitsch". It's a weak way of validating contemporary art by dismissing traditional methods. Have you read any Arthur C. Danto? I understand how Boucher and Gerome can be considered kitsch, but I would describe it as a lower quality art experience compared to Delacroix... but that's the thing, why does value come from comparison rather than being innate. (Comparison registers second from the bottom on Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive domain) Does the work move you? Is it appropriately communicated according to the medium? I think there are just a lot of bored art scholars who want to claim something new to talk about between Saatchi exhibits. To say painting is dead and call it kitsch is insulting and they know it. It's all bait and switch way of making a bunch balloons now worth $50,000 to a bunch of suckers who don't want to miss out on the next "bubble"... call me cynical, but I've studied the purpose of advertising, the quest for the Holy Grail, and Charles Saatchi... and everything in between and it's all a bunch of hooie. There are contemporary artists' work that play an important part in the art history narrative, but to shut out the past the way the contemporary art industry is trying to do, is defaming to traditional painters... and we just throw up our hands and say oh well, I guess if you say that I'm trivial, then I am. F' that! Traditional painting takes skill and process and intention... it shouldn't be dismissed as kitsch. That's why I say I don't subscribe to it.

  6. I definitely know what you mean, and agree. That's why I don't use the word. Who really cares about all of the labels anyway, is that why we paint? Let's talk about what is great painting. Well, said.