Kitsch, Art and Freedom of Political Expression

Kitsch is often wonderful to behold: Gaudi’s Parc Güell, the Paris Métropole are beautiful but his Iglesia de La Sagrada Familia is fine art. Our downtown skyline in San Diego at night is kitsch as are a Strauss waltz or performances by Elvis Presley, Englebert Humperdinck, Michael Bublé and G.F. Handel; all lovely kitsch expressions, which, though they fascinate, like Seaworld’s fireworks, they aren’t fine art simply because they lack the compelling emotional assessment that defines the political, where something is at stake.

Iglesia de La Familia Sagrada, Barcelona

If the nature of art is compelling political assessment (a reasonable proposition), to the extent a community excludes political commentary either with direct censorship or simply lacking a press that promulgates alternate views, art is also excluded–art that is more than beautiful because it incites feelings about moral, spiritual and ethical ideas and concerns.

The very first amendment in our “Bill of Rights” guarantees freedom of expression for another reason:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, inaugurated January 1961, assassinated November 1963

When we limit political expression in the significant media and newspapers of a community, we promote a community unable to create consensus around political issues that wouldn’t be issues, were they not controversial. And when you suppress discussion, conflicts arise in the form of destructive relationships–usually seen as people acting without consideration for their effects on others.

But also, since art is distinguished from kitsch by its political expression, when we prohibit political speech, we deny authenticity, soul, moral conscience and ethical principle and what we are left with is fluff or worse, like the advertising papers the Union Tribune sometimes throws unbidden into our driveways and the stuff that candidates for political office put into our mail boxes in October like spam.

The life of any community is mirrored in its freedom of expression. The meaning of the word, community, is political. When we constrain expression of political ideas, do we think them no longer thought and felt?

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