Kitsch is more dangerous than it looks when taken to the extreme.
Kitsch, originally 19th century German slang for ‘gaudy’ or ‘trash’ (dialectal kitschen "to smear), is defined by the OED as 'Art or objets d'art characterized by worthless pretentiousness'. Until the 1960s, ‘kitsch’ was just vulgar bad taste. By the ‘70s, it was amusingly ironic, relying for its effect on a sense of knowing superiority which is quite difficult to distinguish from simple condescension.
James Laver (1899-1975), Keeper of Prints, Drawings & Paintings at the V&A, came up with a glossary of how we characterise fashion:
Indecent: 10 years before its time
Shameless: 5 years before its time
Outré (Daring): 1 year before its time
Smart: 'Current Fashion'
Dowdy: 1 year after its time
Hideous: 10 years after its time
Ridiculous: 20 years after its time
Amusing: 30 years after its time
Quaint: 50 years after its time
Charming: 70 years after its time
Romantic: 100 years after its time
Beautiful: 150 years after its time
Chintz – from the plural of chint, Hindi for ‘bright’ – began as an expensive glazed cloth from India. By 1680, over a million pieces reached England a year. Banned by the French in 1686 to protect their textile industry, Versailles was exempted so that fashionable courtiers could go on wearing chintz. In 1720, an English Act followed suit, banning 'the Use and Wearing in Apparel of imported chintz, and also its use or Wear in or about any Bed, Chair, Cushion or other Household furniture'.
‘Chinese Girl’ (1952) – aka ‘the Mona Lisa of kitsch’– by Russian-born Vladimir Tretchikoff, is one of the most reproduced work of art of all time. Woolworth’s alone sold over a million copies. The model was Monika Sing-Lee, a Cape Town laundress. In March 2013, the original sold at auction for just under £1 million (£982,050).
Vande Pottery - Vandewas a Sydney pottery set up after World War II by Samuel Vandesluis, an English migrant, to cater for the then new tourist market. Before the war he had worked as a set decorator for film producer Alexander Korda. Once considered kitsch, Vande is now highly collectable.
In 2013, the 100-year ban on garden gnomes at the Chelsea Flower Show was lifted. In 2014, the ban was reinstated.
Kitsch is the most pernicious of all prisons. The bars are covered with the gold of simplistic, unreal feelings, so that you take them for the pillars of a palace.
Lava lamps were invented by accountant and Naturist Edward Craven Walker, whose favourite hobby was creating films of people performing naked ballet underwater. He used common bottles for his lamp, finding that a Tree Top Orange Squash bottle worked best; today’s lava lamps have the same shape.You can create your own lava lamp by pouring water mixed with food colouring into a bottle and adding cooking oil and Alka-Seltzer.
Lava Lamps work because wax has a lower density than water when heated. The warm wax floats to the top of the water, away from the heat source, where it cools, becomes more dense, and eventually falls back to the bottom.