01. Introduction
02. Grammar/Activities:
03. Reading Section
04 Listening Section:
05. Speaking Section:
06. Writing Section:
07 Final TOEFL tests

Listening Test 1.3


Professor – Suppose I said to you, “That’s a really kitschy shirt.” Did I give you a compliment? In the back?

Student – Um, no! I don’t think so. Doesn’t kitschy mean, like, you know, cheesy or cheap?

Professor – You wouldn’t want to wear something that was in… bad taste. No, you wouldn’t. Yes?

Student – But… can’t kitschy also mean something good. Something… um, in style. Like I thought something nostalgic or retrograde could also be called kitsch.

Professor – That’s a trenchant observation. Actually, both views are correct. “Kitsch” typically makes us think of something cheap or distasteful. But it can also, sometimes, be used as a compliment as well. Kitsch comes from–is originally–a German term and it, generally speaking, refers to works of art that are widely considered to be pretentious or in poor taste. Kitsch is produced for the masses to appeal to the popular and undiscriminating tastes of “regular” people. While it usually carries a negative connotation, some people find kitsch to be appealing because of its retrograde value. And its… how should I put it? Its “inadvertent irony.” Still, many art purists believe that kitsch saturates all popular culture. And others even go so far as to say that kitsch and popular culture are one and the same. The term most likely arose in nineteenth century Munich. It was an English mispronunciation of a German word that means “scraping up mud from the streets,” and was later understood as artwork that was slapped together rather than painstakingly created. Kitsch is most often associated with art that has a sentimental quality to it, but it can also be used to refer to any kind of art that is lacking in some shape or form, whatever it may be. What differentiates kitsch from popular art is that it typically apes high art–it insists on being taken seriously even though it is obviously superficial and parasitic. Though kitsch objects might initially appear to be artistic–beautiful, creative, let’s say–a closer look reveals that they repeat the formula and convention of high art but without any spark of inspiration or originality. In this context, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece painting Mona Lisa is genuine art, but hand-painted mass produced reproductions of the painting are kitsch. Kitsch entered the arena of the general public in the 1930s, when three famous art critics proclaimed it a major threat not only to art but to culture itself. They compared kitsch to a Marxist term, false consciousness that argues there is a gap between reality itself and the way reality appears to people. Similarly, kitsch dwells in what is sometimes called a culture industry. This is where art becomes controlled and formulated not by thought or imagination but by the demands of the market itself. Once they are produced, forms of kitsch art are simply given to a passive populace, which accepts it. This kind of art is simply eye candy, non-challenging, and formally incoherent, providing its audience merely with something to look at and admire. Socially, then, according to the Marxist view, kitsch becomes an aid in serving the oppression of the population by capitalism, in the form of distracting people from their alienation. In many cultures, genuine art is supposed to be challenging, revolutionary, and subjective in direct response against the oppressiveness of the power structure. Yes, do you have a question?

Student – So, um, I don’t quite get it. Is kitsch art judged by the quality of its materials? I mean, like the Mona Lisa is a masterpiece because of the expression of the woman’s face, right? So, does it become less of a masterpiece when it’s, um, like you said, mass produced on cheap canvasses and coffee mugs and stuff?

Professor – Well, in a sense, yes. It does become less of a masterpiece. The major appeal is the facial expression but with true art, the medium is important too. It’s the expression, plus the canvas, plus the paint, plus the artist’s signature strokes, all put together. A photographical hand-painted reproduction just can approximate that image but it can’t capture it just the same way. Consider Las Vegas for a moment. Las Vegas architecture stands above all the rest of the world as a prime example of blatant kitsch. For example, there’s a motel on the strip featuring huge pyramids and other monuments of ancient Egypt. To the untrained eye, these can look spectacular but in comparison with the original pyramids in Egypt, they are gaudy and intrinsically worthless. Clearly, Las Vegas is the epitome of how luxury and kitsch often mingle with one another.