AoTW: Odd Nerdrum, Onwards Towards Kitsch

The Savior of the Painting


  A kitsch work always smells
of sweat.    

 —- Jan-Ove Tuv and students    

  […] there are two aspects that stand out as far as the mentality of Kitsch is concerned: Kitsch always wants to be serious, and it talks about each individual`s quest for happiness. Kitsch is a meeting with your longings, memories and desires – and therefore it is never ironic.  These [modern works] are unnatural, that is: they do not appear living. […] Art focuses on discussing social or sociological issues, while Kitsch is a continuation of the aristotelic mimesis-idea of a work as a synthesis of reality based on rational handcraft.    

 —Jan-Ove Tuv,


   Odd Nerdrum has enjoyed a semi-cult following for numerous years and, I admit, I am one of his numerous followers.  I have his books, I’ve read his essays, and I watch enthralled when he walks out for his speaking engagements dressed as an upper-class 17th century bourgeois complete with fur cape.  It is with reluctance that I admit my fondness for Nerdrum due to the fact that his adherence to what he calls “kitsch” promotes immediate ostracization from the current of contemporary art which has other concerns than what they would deem as merely regurgitating the style of the old masters.  I can’t help but indulge my guilty “Nerdrum” pleasure and I willingly risk ostracization from my fellow artistically minded friends–well, who am I kidding; I only pull out his books when I’m at home by myself with the shades drawn.    


 Regardless, Nerdrum is one of the few living artists who carries on the tradition of artists like Rembrandt, Titian, Rubens, and so forth, and his mastery of the medium is, in my opinion, unsurpassed by any other artist around.  However, despite his incredible skill, he has not enjoyed the success or obtained the recognition that he is probably due.  Instead, he has maintained a small but loyal band of followers on the fringe of the artistic community who tirelessly promote his work and mumble about how the modern art world has destroyed the craft.      


   It was one man in particular who decided what Art should be, the Preussian (sic) philosopher Immanuel Kant, living in the 18th century. Despite of being short, he was great in his time. Everybody listened to what he said.
I do not know if this happens to all short people, but in Kant`s case he has grown continuously since his death. All artists and art historians are directed by him.
The most important thing he did was to say that handcraft was ok, but a real genius should not care about skill. The feelings of the artist became superior, even to handcraft rules.     


  Nerdrum highlights a strange social phenomenon that begins in classrooms the world over.  If a child draws well, the consensus is that he or she could be a great artist.  Clearly, skillful rendering is associated with artistic ability; however, if one looks at what is considered “great art,” post-1870 or so, then the skill of the draftsmanship becomes subservient to the content.    Now, all of the great modern masters certainly possessed the ability to draw well; however, a paradigmatic shift occurred which downplayed mimetic ability and, consequently, artists who produced figurative works with acumen were promptly relegated to the dustbin–aka, art history textbooks.     

 Nerdrum advocates that a painter’s skill, his or her ability to render form accurately and with a transcendant sublimity, is king.  Hence, Nerdrum has traveled a rough road in the art community.      

The Singers

   Kitsch, as Nerdrum envisions it, is much more than mere sentimentality and skillful rendering–it speaks to a transcendent and timeless reality.  Kitsch art never strives towards anything beyond itself via dishonest methods–anathema!  The veneer of irony, a common vehicle of modern art, plays no part in Nerdrum’s work.  The distinction between art and Art (in the modern sense) has been the impetus for much of Nerdrum’s work and he has attempted to promote his art as a natural extension of the human condition–not something that is categorized as separate from the human experience.  The distinction is an important one because the moment that a work of art attempts to deceive the viewer with irony or tailor itself to the New, then the work takes an unnatural and dishonest path, a modern path.  Jan-Ove Tuv, one of Nerdrum’s devoted students, explains:     

 The smart thing Kant did was to write about everything but the actual work, because, as he orders you to believe, the beauty lies not in the work but in your experience of it. And when the spectator`s feelings are more important than the work itself, we are left with a mentality that totally disregards the qualities inherent in the actual painting. It now becomes possible to say that anything is Art because I “feel” that it does something to me. And it becomes possible to say that a bad painting is equal to, or indeed better than, a good painting – “it is just good in a different way”.  from:    


 Thus, the viewer’s experience takes precedent over the painting’s inherent value (in term’s of skillful rendering)–not necessarily good in Nerdrum’s book.     

The Water Protectors

  To see more Nerdrum works, please visit: It is a fantastic collection of visual and written works by and about Nerdrum.  Note: some of the images contain nudity or imagery that may be offensive to some viewers.

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