The difference between kitsch and art is that art is political.

There’s a place for kitsch, of course, but when art is replaced with kitsch, you eventually get the 3rd Reich.

To say that art is political is not to confuse art with polemics. These words distinguish concepts that are easier to describe by example than by explanation:

The films of Agnes Varda, Jean Luc Godard, Akira Kurosawa, Mel Brooks, Jacques Brecker, F. Murnau, Charles Chaplin, Robert Flaherty, Vittorio de Sica, Woody Allen are political and art. The films of Michael Moore and George Clooney are Polemic and well-crafted kitsch.

Clooney’s and Moore’s films are kitsch because they are polemics. Arguably, polemics and kitsch have their place in commerce but they typically associated with manipulating public opinion and are not art and in the wider, longer view of life per life, they are politically irrelevant. Shakespeare’s Tempest is art. Cervantes’ Don Quixote is art. Richard Powers’ Galatea 2.2 is art.

Polemics are kitsch and irrelevant because their effect is to divorce viewers from personal responsibility, like going to the confessional on Sundays to feel better about pedophilia during the week.

This isn’t to say that Mssrs. Clooney and Moore should be singled out, nor that they don’t mean well. In my estimation, they are well-meaning and misguided by a commercial structure that filters out art by what is thought to be commercially successful, a system that constrains and knit picks at a project until it is sufficiently compromised to be ambiguous. Polemics fit through the grid–not all polemics, of course, they must be entertaining.

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