Kitsch rubbish

by Chris Bertram on March 23, 2004

“The Guardian leader today is about Jack Vettriano”:,3604,1175661,00.html “the self-taught Scottish painter of melancholily erotic encounters laced with a subliminal narratives”. Vettriano was the subject of an over-respectful treatment by Melvyn Bragg on British TV the other day. Pointing out the Mr V is now very rich (£500,000) and that the public buys posters of his work in large numbers, the leader-writer asks:

bq. Why is the most popular artist in Britain still shunned by its publicly funded galleries?

To which the answer is, simply and obviously, that his work is kitsch rubbish and that the curators of galleries have an elite function of educating the public and shouldn’t pander to their prejudices. (On this anti-democratic note, I’m off to New York for a week, where I’m sure that neither the Metropolitan nor MOMA have sunk so low as to be hanging Vettriano.)



Lwandile 03.23.04 at 8:54 am

Interesting you should say that, Chris. Only a month ago, I bought Vettriano prints. I rather liked them then. After reading your post, I looked at some of the prints on the net. Pretty much kaak (sh*t), as we say here down South. All those strained and perfect poses! It’s ridiculous. But what am I do with the ones on my wall?


Ruth Hoffmann 03.23.04 at 9:13 am

I’ll be willing to bet that when you get to NYC those galleries won’t have any Thomas Kinkade Painter of Light pictures hanging up either.


msg 03.23.04 at 11:09 am

Best, most encouraging post I ever read on CT. Bar-none, hands down.
Hear fucking hear.

Though if you’d like to take your ire into a somewhat wider arena, there’s this art outbreak in the Nevada desert.
The Bellagio, I believe, is the name of one of its buboes, and the Guggenheim…Hermitage…Las Vegas.


James Russell 03.23.04 at 11:35 am

I only discovered Vettriano yesterday via another message board, which had a thread about that TV documentary thing, some of the participants being in favour and some violently opposed. Had a look at a site selling prints of his work, and was struck by how dull it was. It didn’t interest me enough to particularly like or dislike it.


rubbish 03.23.04 at 12:24 pm

The publics opinion of art may be prejudiced, but your opinion about this Jack “coal miner” Vettriani guy, and art in general, certainly looks a bit more prejudiced. “kitch rubbish”, “elite function”, “educating the public” ?.

Btw, visit the MOMA shop, it is full of Vettriani style kitsch. I had to go to Queens to see that beautiful collection of art, but it was worth the trip.


Jon H 03.23.04 at 3:05 pm

“I’ll be willing to bet that when you get to NYC those galleries won’t have any Thomas Kinkade Painter of Light pictures hanging up either.”

Kinkade is far worse than Vettriano.

Kinkade is Vettriano in a naff Christmas sweater with snowflakes and sleighs.


ian 03.23.04 at 3:13 pm

I’m afraid I’m elitist enough about my art to want to see some evidence of artistic ability which is why I prefer Vettriano to Hirst or Emin any day of the week.


mc 03.23.04 at 4:31 pm

Well at least Hirst is not that boring…


bryan 03.23.04 at 5:41 pm

Mr. V is an Illustrator. Same with Parrish, Rockwell, and (though a bad one) Kincade.


Henry 03.23.04 at 5:50 pm

Calling Vettriano an illustrator is an insult to good illustrators. Nothing wrong with Dore, Rackham, Peake to name a few examples- all of whom have a quirkiness and originality that’s simply beyond Vettriano.


John Isbell 03.23.04 at 6:41 pm

Art that sells millions of copies is part of the cultural legacy of the age, and deleting it deletes the age. I remember my regret when the Musee d’Orsay opened and you had to rummage to find the impressionists. My supervisor (may he rest in peace) made just this point to me. That’s not to say the crap in Orsay isn’t crap. But it belongs there.


Doc 03.23.04 at 7:13 pm

I like the guy. Borroughs when asked what art was said it was a three letter word. It’s really in the eye of the beholder and I think that because people can construct their own story around a Vetrianno print does not denigrate it. Popularity is also not reason enough to dislike work by this self-taught
artist. I’d like to know what you find so objectionable in his paintings.


Sigivald 03.23.04 at 8:26 pm

I don’t like Kinkaide, but by God the man actually knows how to work the paint.

Vettriano seems perfectly fine to me. Kitsch rubbish? Yeah, well, what isn’t?

Curators of publicly funded galleries have the function of educating the public… about what, now? The currently fashionable “elite” aesthetic? Spare us, thanks. If we must have publicly funded art galleries at all (which is most sincerely doubt), the last thing they should be is a pure platform for top-down “elite” education of the Masses.

(Why are the elite curators presupposed to have better “prejudices” than the masses, and why is pandering to the former good but hte latter bad, when the latter are picking up the tab for the art, the space, and the salary of the Elites? Art-Elites have done enough damage the last century. It’s time to hang the bloody lot of them from the light-poles and move on. Or at very least stop paying them and listening to them. End rant. Maybe I should just buy a Vettriano print, to go next to my Dali (“The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus”, thank you) and my Waterhouses? Obviously, I need to be educated to overcome my prejudices for aesthetically pleasing representational art. Dali doesn’t count enough.)


msg 03.23.04 at 8:50 pm

A lot of people think Jimi Hendrix wrote All Along The Watchtower.
He kind of owns it, in a cultural sense, but allowing the real story to slip out of the culture’s index is a damaging loss, and not just to Bob Dylan’s reputation.
Kincade is to Childe Hassam or Thomas Moran or a hundred other superior craftsmen, and artists, as a bouncy elevator version of Watchtower is to Hendrix; Dylan’s nowhere in sight.
Musee D’Orsay’s kitsch is about money, which oddly enough is why Kincade’s name is even mentioned here.
Watering down true art is abomination to anyone who’s seen the original, copying it can be interesting, riffing on it is what tradition is all about. But to people as culturally benighted as those held in the bright dungeons of television’s keep, who’ve never seen the originals he so flagrantly steals from and cheaply immitates, Kincade’s a soothing reassuring presence. “Art” you can point to and not be afraid it will bite your finger.


Jolyon 03.23.04 at 9:19 pm

I didn’t think the SBS was “over-respectful”. A bit stretching for something to say after about 20 minutes, but that was about it. Also, Vettriano himself was an amiable fellow who seemed only a whisker away, I thought, from saying himself that his work was pretty cr*p (and it is).


Doctor Slack 03.23.04 at 10:44 pm

Art that sells millions of copies is part of the cultural legacy of the age, and deleting it deletes the age.

There’s a lot more to the cultural legacy of any age than the blandest, least offensive portion of its art. A big part of the point of most artistic production is to create something that’s not only relevant to the age, but that’s also somehow relevant and compelling beyond it. Vettriano is never going to fill that bill — most of his appeal is that his work is neutral, almost wallpaper. Why bother displaying wallpaper in a gallery, unless you’re trying to revive the age of kitsch-mongering and overdeveloped irony?

Why are the elite curators presupposed to have better “prejudices” than the masses, and why is pandering to the former good but the latter bad

Because artistic production is simply not a democratic process. It’s the age old dilemma of any kind of patronage, really. The patron wants to be cultured and wants the artist to paint, but often also wants to tell the artist how to paint. (Or sculpt. Or whatever.)

Plenty of the most widely admired artworks we have today wouldn’t exist if artists, and curators for that matter, were afraid to be seen as “elitist.” They are elitist, and they bloody well should be. Their job is to follow their creative judgment, not to passively reflect whatever happens to be going on around them. That process isn’t perfect, but if you doubt that mere pandering would be worse and ultimately self-defeating, just take a look at, say, today’s recording industry.


Kip Manley 03.24.04 at 12:52 am

As long as there’s a Frame Up in a local shopping mall, or a spinner rack of postcards by the biscotti counter in a Barnes and Noble, Messr. Vettriano will have an audience. (One might ask why the frame shop doesn’t have prints of Mark Lombardi available; I know I do.)

I always end up constructing an alternate story around that dam’ “Singing Butler” painting: a hokey one, granted, but full of repressed emotion and class antagonism, as the butler while singing and the maid while clutching her apron share exasperated looks at having their lives so disrupted for the whim of the pampered master and missus yet again. “Remains of the Strand,” you could call it, or maybe “The Pissing at the Bar.”

But yeah: he’s better than Kinkade. Oy.


mc 03.24.04 at 4:57 pm

It’s really in the eye of the beholder and I think that because people can construct their own story around a Vetrianno print does not denigrate it.

What people like and don’t like is another matter. Personal taste is subjective. But criticism and selection cannot be entirely subjective, they do have standards. Galleries have to apply a process of selection, and of criticism, that *has* to go beyond popularity and people’s tastes.

That’s how I read Chris’s ‘educating the public’, at least. It’s not an elite vs. masses thing. It’s just, you can’t do without the selection process.

Just because someone’s prints sell a lot, doesn’t automatically mean they’re crap, but doesn’t mean they should be featured in a public art gallery either. They might look nice in a kitchen but don’t belong in a gallery.

It’s not just that they’re kitsch. They’re interior decoration kitsch, not artistic kitsch. They don’t express anything, they don’t challenge anything, they’re totally bland, like postcards. Postcards can look very nice. But art gallery material they’re not.

Unless you have an artist that makes creative uses of postcards…

I was not even familiar with Vattriano’s name when I read Chris’s post and the Guardian article. Then I did a search and when I saw the prints I recognised a few, must have seen them in posters catalogues and the like… I really was just as puzzled the Guardian would think that’s stuff for an art gallery.

Even IKEA chairs have a higher right to be in an art gallery…


dsquared 03.25.04 at 11:35 am

Why are the elite curators presupposed to have better “prejudices” than the masses

Look at it this way, which might help to delete the word “elite” which I think is clouding your assessment.

If Enzo Ferrari, or the head man at Pinifarina, expressed the opinion that the new VW beetle was fuck-ugly, would that not carry more weight with you than the opinions of the millions who bought it and presumably like the way it looks? The fact that curators have spent more time hanging around art and dealing with it that Joe public makes it more likely, in my opinion, that they have an opinion on the subject worth taking into account.


bryan 03.26.04 at 5:44 pm

I guess one reason that “elitists” generally discredit Vatrianno is that he doesnt influence artmaking. Just because the vast majority of the public buys a 20 dollar print does not mean that it is automatically influential. Will we ever see a print of Rauschemburg’s (misspelling?) erased deKooning drawing? Probably not. Does my mother think that Warhol, Mondrian, and Ofili are “bad” artists? Absolutely. And unfortunately. There are illustrators out there like Vatrianno, that are totally fucking cheesy and are fit for oprahs book club covers, and then there are illustrators who make paintings and are only considered illustrators because they can sell their art easily and with no qualms about its reproduction. Like marshall arisman. I guess personal taste has nothing to do with it. Rockwell, Vatrianno, and all of the other “artist-illustrators” have a place in calendars, but not on museum walls. Van Gogh never sold a piece of art in his lifetime.

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