Style and Kitsch around 1900

“It is a poison admixted to all art.” With this view, Theodor W. Adorno rejects the idea that kitsch is the opposite of art. This idea leads back to numerous discussions about style around 1900, in which concepts of appropriate literary and artistic style were juxtaposed to the mass production of cheap cultural goods—put simply, against “that kitsch” (Stemmle, 1931). The discourses on style and kitsch, however, have had many historical points of contact: While the ability to imitate was regarded as an essential criterion of “good style” in the discourse around 1800, it was precisely this quality that, around 1900, labeled kitsch as epigonal and lacking originality. The relationship between subjective artistic expression and objective reference to reality was also negotiated in both discourses, whereby their reconciliation was regarded as the highest form in the art discourse, while kitsch’s tendency to harmonize was disqualified as a pure sales strategy, declared to be the “utmost antithesis of the artistically sophisticated quality work” (Pazaurek, 1912).

This project explores the connection between style, Aestheticism, Art Nouveau, kitsch and advertising. It is guided by the assumption that the “determination for style” (Wustmann, 1915) observed at the turn of the century is to be understood as a reaction to mass production and popular fiction, thus as a conscious attempt to define and distinguish. In addition, through analysis of the cult of beauty and health, and the glorification of the youth, as well as an examination of the ornamental, decorative, and surface aesthetic, this project will show how kitsch has been integrated into art, literature, and advertising. This study aims not only to counter the desideratum of a systematic investigation of stylistic pluralism around 1900, but also to show that the discussions about an appropriate style cannot be understood without the discourse on kitsch. This assertion opens up the possibility of describing modernist style discourses beyond epochal and individual styles: Kitsch has been part of Modernism’s stylistic aspirations from its very beginning.

Fig. above: Annalise Batista. Source: Pixabay.

since 2019
Head researcher(s): Pola Groß


See also


Pola Groß

Adornos Lächeln
Das »Glück am Ästhetischen« in seinen literatur- und kulturtheoretischen Essays

Studien zur deutschen Literatur 222
De Gruyter, Berlin 2020, 422 pages
ISBN 978-3-11-065153-9 (Print), 978-3-11-065717-3 (E-Book PDF), 978-3-11-065778-4 (E-Book EPUB)

Pola Groß


12 Nov 2021 · 3.30 pm

Pola Groß: Mit Stil gegen Stil. Überlegungen zu einer Schlüsselkategorie bei Adorno

mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Anton-von-Webern-Platz 1, 1030 Vienna, main building, Bauteil C/Fanny Hensel-Saal

read more
Paper presentation
15 May 2021 · 4.00 pm

Pola Groß: Mit Stil gegen Stil. Überlegungen zu einer Schlüsselkategorie bei Adorno


read more