To the left is an example of kitsch from that master of kitsch, Thomas Kinkade. Is there no visual cliché that he will not avail himself of? Note the wisps of smoke emanating from the chimneys. Just as we are annoyed by those who thoughtlessly retail platitudes, we are also annoyed by the analogous thoughtlessness of those artists who serve up what the average Joe 'knows' to be art and expects. This, I take it, is part of what we object to in kitsch, and part of what we mean by kitsch. (But there is a lot more to it than this, and your humble correspondent has only begun to think hard about these questions.) What is offensive in kitsch is the thoughtless purveyance of visual cliché's, the pandering to the viewer, the 'pushing of his buttons,' and in some cases the cynical attempt to elicit a stock emotional response in order sell the stuff. Wholesome schlock for the masses mass-produced for a tidy profit. Art for the overfed denizens of Dubuque and Fargo who, wallowing in complacency, want to be reinforced in their tastes and prejudices. Art for the malls of 'fly-over country.' None of my discerning readers, I trust, could be paid to hang such a thing in their homes. Well, if you paid me, and I had an empty wall needing a splash of color, then I might display it for didactic and ironic purposes.
But clichés, by definition, are true and meaningful, albeit flattened by overuse, and this is the other side of the coin. Kitsch is offensive, but so is what might be called anti-kitsch, the mannered result of trying to be far-out and avant-garde. Isn't a boring truth better than an 'original' falsehood? Doesn't truth trump novelty in a sane scale of values? Isn't beauty, even of a conventional sort, better than ugliness? The febrile and adolescent attempt to to be original and avant-garde at all costs has led in the 20th century to a crapload of art and music without human meaning. It is at least arguable that wholesome schlock that has some human meaning is superior to decadent junk like this from the house-painting brush of Mark Rothko: