Archive for October, 2009

Dunkin’ Donuts Kitsch

October 28, 2009

Thanks to Julia, Lauren and Jenn for the good discussion this morning.  With the unforeseeable demise of our coffee shop, we moved to the outdoor Dunkin’ Donuts populated with students, sunshine and the radio.  Hopefully next time we can secure a place with less distractions.

dunkindonutsI guess it makes sense in a way to be talking about deliciousness and kitsch in the Dunkin’ Donuts.  I am so glad to have Lauren and Jenn join in on the discussion because it brings multiple perspectives and I believe our text to be related to all of our artworks.  I am a little sad to have finished the discussion of Harris’ book.  I really love this text and I think that it is very influential to me.  I enjoyed our discussion of bathing today as related to Harris’ chapter on cleanness.  The sexuality of the bath as a preparation for sexual acts in old advertising transforms into the bath as a place of escape from the hectic world of the modern woman.  “You deserve it!”  “Calgon, Take me away!”

3952216088_cf257d6de0The trend in advertising to acknowledge the distrust of the consumer is something that we discussed through the example of the Dove commercials now circulating the claim of showcasing real beauty.  We talked about the dual ad for Dove and Wal-Mart that uses the “Ears hang low”song which lead into the interesting topic of the real or authentic.  From there we got into a discussion of modernism versus relational aesthetics.  All in all I think it was a good ending for our discussion of Harris’ book.  I think that the ideas and aesthetics in this book will stick with me.  I know that I will return to it and relate it to future readings.  We have decided to take a break next week and then return to discuss texts by Adorno and Greenberg.


The Kinkiest Film of the Year

October 24, 2009


Sweeney Todd

October 24, 2009

Julia and I met to watch ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’.  The film was a musical, which neither of us had realized it was going to be.  I knew that it was a film adaptation of a Broadway musical, but I had no idea that the film was also going to be a musical.  I figured that it was going to be a version of the story with no songs.  The songs were okay, but I think that it would have functioned better without them.  It was a little jarring when the characters began to sing.  The songs seemed really conventional, flat and ordinary compared to the aesthetics of the film.

I had no knowledge of the story walking into the film.  I knew that the original musical was really bloody but I think I was not prepared for the amount of blood in this film.  It was a theatrical gushing of bright red that upstaged all the actors and became, for me, the center of the film.  The blood became the unexpected other in the cast of characters, more vivid than the gothic setting of shades of black and grey.


I would like to discuss this film in relation to the aethetics of consumerism of Daniel Harris.  I was thinking about Harris’ proposal of quaintness during this film.  But I think that Sweeney Todd operates in both the realm of quaint and anti-quaint.  It is quaint in a sense that it is a period piece, so therefore an idealized version of the past.  But instead of idealizing the typical quaintness of London in the late 1800’s with warm cheery interiors, it idealizes an anti-quaintness of drafty, dirty coolness.  The anti-quaint is not authentic.  This is not a real dank basement filled with corpses and a machine that turns them into pies.  It is imaginary, even within the constrains of the film.  This is evidenced by Todd’s barber shop where the killing occurs, yet it remains as clean as a stage set even for all the gushing blood.

The dream sequence in the film is pretty extraordinary.  The anti-quaint aesthetic is transported via the characters to a scenery where it simply does not fit, the sunny beach.  The characters are not transformed in the change of locale, they remain their ever-morbid selves.

Watching this film and thinking about Harris’ book, made me realize that the aesthetic of this film, that of the macabre, is something largely ignored by Harris.  He talks about it in the chapter on Coolness, but I feel that it is much larger than that and is deserving of its own chapter.

If I am able to find the anti-quaint in this film, and the anti-cute is prevalent in so many films (Bride of Chucky, Problem Child), this makes me wonder how many other anti-aesthetics are out there?  Is it possible to have an anti-aesthetic that negates or respond to each of the aesthetics outlined by Harris?

The films of Tim Burton are prime examples of the pop-macabre genre.  The macabre is cool rather than seriously dark, and also rebellious and humorous.  Theatrical is a good way of describing his works.  Playful rather than austere.  All elements of the film are self-aware of their rebelliousness, which is perhaps the charm of them.

Rembrandt/Saturday Evening Post

October 24, 2009

“An increasingly dominant market system, fueled by the irrepressible fecundity of mass production, generates its own characteristic cultural forms (advertising, mass media), which threaten to usurp art’s role entirely, even as they erode the public’s ability to distinguish a Rembrandt from the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.  Far from overcoming our narcissistic isolation, consumer culture feeds on it, transforming the redemptive power of an aesthetic communion into the banal transactions of the shopping mall and the Ebay auction.  We are reduced to an atomized pseudocommunity of consumers, our sensibilities dulled by spectacle and repetition.  The relationship between art, advertising and propaganda constitutes a central point of tension in modern art theory.  Art’s function as a form of emancipatory communication is almost always presented in opposition to a malevolent other (kitsch, mass culture, etc.) that threatens to destroy or compromise it in some way.  As a result, the “universal freedom” that art promises “to everyone” must be deferred as art struggles simply to survive against the encroaching flood of billboards, glossy magazines, and Hollywood movies.  By the mid- to late nineteenth century, techniques of mass production and the consolidation of advertising as a cultural form designed to both incite and regularize consumer demand were making it increasingly difficult to establish a firm ontological boundary between the “work of art” and the commodity.”

—Grant H. Kester, Conversation Pieces: Community + Communication in Modern Art, pg 29-30.

CP3 copy

I am in the process of re-reading Conversation Pieces for my sculpture seminar course with Celeste Roberge.  I am totally in love with this book.  I really like Kester’s voice and the way that he lays out his argument is really refreshing.  I like the premise of this book as well–he is proposing that the work that is becoming more and more prevalent that focuses on conversation at its core (which he calls dialogical) is both in response against and following the tradition of modernism.  Instead of just jumping into the work that he wants to discuss, he builds a strong foundation by discussing the avant-garde and its place within its own history.  I especially like the above paragraph in relation to our discussion of kitsch and Harris’ book.  I think it is very well stated.