Kitsch, Propaganda and the American Avant-Garde | An Interview with Michael Pearce | The Cave of Apelles

Michael Pearce is a writer, painter, teacher and curator, as well as the founder of The Representational Art Conference (TRAC). His book “Kitsch, Propaganda and the American Avant-Garde” uncovers one thing Lenin, Hitler and Roosevelt had in common:
A keen eye for art as state propaganda.
Avoiding the old-fashioned vs modern dichotomy, Pearce shows the cultural historical roots of employing both figurative and abstract painting to further political correctness.
Pearce traces it back to 19th century socialist thinking, and goes in-depth on the ideas of philosophers like Proudhon and Saint-Simon, as well as the protests of Emile Zola.
First and foremost, however, he shows how the the American government and a few wealthy families made Avant-garde art into the preferred art form of the 20th century, casting it as the antidote to the sentimentality of kitsch.

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Michael Pearce and Jan-Ove Tuv in the Cave of Apelles studio.

Chapter markers:
00:00 Intro
01:32 Understanding Kitsch and the Avant-Garde
05:01 Who is Michael Pearce?
08:06 The proto-Communist Avant-Garde
12:47 Proudhon’s authoritarian state art
16:22 Proudhon on Courbet and aesthetic ideals
22:02 Courbet, Repin, and Russian realism
23:25 The Bohemian Avant-Garde
26:00 Emile Zola’s individualism vs Proudhon
29:59 Capturing the Zeitgeist
33:50 The battle between Avant-Gardes in Soviet Russia
41:49 An individualist Avant-Garde?
42:43 Socialist Realism in the USSR and the USSA
45:36 Nazi art vs Roosevelt’s path
47:46 Socialism and the art of the enemy
50:20 Hitler’s qualities as a painter
52:19 Degenerate Art and House of German Art
57:25 The sentimental art of the enemy
59:45 The propagandist Nelson Rockefeller
1:02:24 The figurative/kitsch/Hitler connection
1:06:37 Greenberg’s essay Avant-Garde and Kitsch
1:11:37 Nazi art: kitsch or bona fide modernism?
1:20:11 Primitive American art as the mother of modernism
1:26:33 Roosevelt & the marriage of USSA and MoMA
1:30:04 The current situation in the art world
1:35:56 The American illustration tradition and escapism
1:38:37 Fergus Ryan: What is “Imaginative realism”?
1:40:37 Fergus Ryan:: What is “emergence” in painting?
1:43:59 Question: Is there a refuge for the human spirit?

This episode featured Michael Pearce & Jan-Ove Tuv and was filmed and edited by Bork Nerdrum.
The centerpiece was a reproduction of Courbets painting of Proudhon and his children.

Fergus Ryan
Matthias Proy

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  • Apelles was asked why he touched and retouched his pictures with so much care, to which he replied:
    "I paint for eternity"