Friday, March 02, 2007

To the cornfields! Signed Vera Neumann blouse with an I Magnin label.
This fabulous print could easily look matronly. Showing some leg would be a good counter-balance. I'd pair it with a miniskirt in yellow, orange, or some shade of brown. Ideally pleather or leather. Leggings and my lemon-colored loafers. Or perhaps some very 80's looking mushroom boots. Essentially, I'd treat this shirt as a dress that just needs a sliver of a skirt below the hem to look respectable.
I like the brushstrokey abstract quality of the corn husks and kernels. The best part is that the print is also on the sleeves. Across the back the corn ears grow higher, which is a nice touch.
To paraphrase Mae West: When choosing between two novelty prints, I always pick the one I've never seen before. And I have not seen any corny border prints like this one before.
Apartment Therapy recently had a debate about tackiness. (I like AT, though it is way to minimalist dominated for me: does no one even have books anymore?) Maxwell, the blog owner, posits that tacky most likely originated in Florida. Others found it to be a by-product of American affluence and mass production. I am always late to join the party, but here goes.
I always thought it began with the Romans. I mean, the Romans sure were tacky. And I was shocked that no one mentioned Susan Sontag's Notes on Camp. Am I just showing my age?
Allow me to quote La Sontag's #56 from her essay.
Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of "character." . . . Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as "a camp," they're enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.(Here, one may compare Camp with much of Pop Art, which -- when it is not just Camp -- embodies an attitude that is related, but still very different. Pop Art is more flat and more dry, more serious, more detached, ultimately nihilistic.)
Tender indeed. When I see a good novelty print I get the same feeling as when I see a cute dog. And as you know, I cannot stand those people who like things in a insulting way. But I think that mindset wishes it were truly nihilistic. Instead those people who believe that they ironically enjoy shag carpet or Guy Lombardo (or whatever) are actually enjoying it. They are just too afraid of looking dorky to admit it. They are not nihilists; they are cowards.
I will not debate with La Sontag. But I will mimic the structure of her essay.
1. What La Sontag describes as camp, is what I call kitsch. Kitsch for me means a yearning for something that is beyond your reach. Decorating your basement apartment with plastic flowers because you get no sunlight. Silk screening the Eiffel Tower on your coat because you can't afford to travel there. Playing Mahler on the penny whistle. Creating a space age interior by covering your shelves with tin foil. There is something perverse about kitsch, in the literal sense of the word. A turning. Turning to what ever is at hand to find a way to fulfill your desires. Poverty and lack are at the heart of kitsch.
2. Ultimately I make a disctinctions between Camp, Kitsch, Schmaltz, Schlock and Cheese. (Doesn't that sound like a law firm?)
3. Camp is something that happens by accident. Camp is when something that purports to be art goes so far over the top that it hits self-parody. Bette Davis, of course, is camp, and wonderfully so. Aubrey Beardsley is camp. Joan Crawford is camp. Oscar Wilde, Strauss Waltzes, Olympic Figureskating: all camp. Camp is what kitsch would be if it had the money.
4. Schmaltz is the realm of cheap sentimentality. Posters of kittens hanging on branches exorting you to hang in there. A red rose to say: I love you. What happens to Little Nell in Dickens' "The Old Curiousity Shop". Schmaltz is the moral of the story, the "very special episode" of a tv show. Schmaltz is believing in "the holiday spirit". Schmaltz makes me use quotation marks to keep it away from me.
5. I also use the word schmaltz in another context: to describe the over-decoration of an item of clothing. A frill, or a peplum, a flap across the back that resembles a sailor suit. A little extra. A generous schmeer on the bagel. I like an outfit to have something extra. This does not mean I would wear I sweater covered with teddy bears. I absolutely would not.
6. Schlock is the lowest common denominator made for mass appeal. This describes most Hollywood films. Schlock means gratuitous nudity and things blowing up. Schlock knows what it is and doesn't apologize for it. Schlock is about box office returns.
7. Cheese is a mixture of schmaltz and schlock that believes it is great art. Cheese worries just as much about the marketplace as schlock, but pretends otherwise.
8. La Sontag is correct to point out that history can camp-ify things. The acting of Sarah Bernhardt, captured on early film technology, is hopeless camp now, but in her day it seemed more natural. I think Bette was always a bit over the top, though. An old gladiator movie, provided it wasn't made on the cheap, can have camp elements.


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