My Battle Against Kitsch

My purpose for creating artwork comes from me turning away from producing work that is beautiful to look at and, instead, making art that tells a story and hopes to change the future. Can I inspire someone to be better, do better, feel a feeling they didn’t feel before? No longer are the days of my bold-colored roosters that everyone wants to hang in their kitchens. I’ve bid farewell to any form of abstract floral work I once loved done in favor of something that lights a fire in my soul in a different way, and something that makes me feel like art—original art—is immeasurably important.

My own battle is with kitsch art. Much like Clement Greenberg almost 100 years ago, I feel strongly that kitsch and art are not one in the same. The regurgitation of subject matter and imagery and stylization is something I’m intrinsically opposed to. My aforementioned roosters made me a comfortable nest egg from which I could pull each month, but years ago I realized the artwork was a shell, with nothing on the inside. I was producing massive amounts of work easily, but it had no personal connection to me, and the work told no story. I was my own version of a home décor store. (See: Hobby Lobby’s aisles upon aisles of mass-produced “art”) Because it can be turned out mechanically, kitsch has become an integral part of our productive system in a way in which true culture could never be, except accidentally. It has been capitalized at a tremendous investment which must show commensurate returns; it is compelled to extend as well as to keep its markets. I stopped being willing to try challenging things and make ugly art because I knew it wouldn’t sell. “Kitsch's enormous profits are a source of temptation to the avant-garde itself, and its members have not always resisted this temptation.” (Greenberg, 1939.)

My most recent body of work, peppered with allegory, is three-fold in its reasoning for coming to fruition. First and foremost, exploring the often forgotten-about world of women on the plains during the days of moving West to unknown lands, breaking ground to homestead, and doing both male and female work—running a plow, milking cows, and helping build sod homes—but also doing the work of a mother. Often with very little help from the husband. As a mother and wife, I know that I have been dealt a sweet hand in my style of living. My life is rural, on the prairie, but full of modern luxuries. It’s important to me that the history of these women doing such simple, but significant work is never forgotten.

Secondly, I wish to explore the emotions of the women I depict. Depicting them in states that show them at their most beautiful, but also sorrowful or full of a hidden emotion. Children depicted facelessly represent children that die along the trail, or at home of unknown illnesses—and they are quickly buried, and the work continues. I depicted three young girls the same age of my own girls, and as I was painting their little fuzzy, out-of-focus bodies, tears came to my eyes. This reaction is one that I hope not only I have, but one that anyone who really connects with the work can experience. No men will be depicted in the imagery. A lone covered wagon heads away from the homestead. The allegory of the looming clouds and darkened horizon line can depict a myriad of things, but the two main thoughts would be that the man of the farm is dead—he’s left. Or he’s traveling out to buy supplies, as men often did. The woman is then left with the children and the work of the homestead.

Finally, my purpose for creating this work is also to expand my body of work from the creatures of the plains to the humans of the plains—perhaps depicted in ways that show their rough life, but in a beautiful way. It’s a paradox—dirt on faces, torn clothes, unruly hair. But it’s all set against a beautiful Kansas sky, and while I’m painting, I’m finding that there’s an abundance of beauty in the small things. While dirty hands may not be the most luxurious accessory, they’re indicative of the ability to be free—to own land, to do your own work and take pride in what these women are helping build.

The whole story of this body of work comes back to the individuality of the work itself and my separation from the mass-art, kitsch movement. Its original artwork. It was a bold choice for these women to uproot themselves and their families and follow their husbands into the unknown. It’s a far less bold choice, but still unnerving to create artwork that is so original and unlike the more “viewer-friendly” work people want to buy for their homes.

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