Marlene Dumas

And God Said – I told you so

God saw that art was all alone,
so he put him to sleep and gave him kitsch.

Or maybe, kitsch started with the fall from grace,
with the first denial, with the first stupid lie,
the first cover-up after Adam and Eve had
eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
When they started to look for ways to hide their nakedness.
When Adam, with tears in his eyes, looked up to the
Heavens and said ‘she did it’.

And God said ‘Get out of here, couldn’t
you think of something more original!’

So off they went, out beyond the gates,
to colonize the West and all the rest.
But just as they started to enjoy dancing around
the golden calves, God struck again in all
His eternal wisdom and amoral jealousy
And gave them the no-image commandment.

Deuteronomy 5 verses 7, 8 and 9
‘Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make thee any graven image
or any likeness of anything that is in
heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath
or that is in the waters beneath the earth:

thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them or serve them:
for I the Lord your God am a jealous God,
visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children,
unto the third and fourth generation…’[1]

And there for us (the children of Abraham, the
Father of Christians, Muslims and Jews)
the image problem started. Don’t blame the
modernists, they just rediscovered our old
mystic, abstract roots. They didn’t mean to make
it difficult, they just wanted to make it simple.

The catholic Jesus, tried to appease God by saying,
‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’,
but then Jesus never painted a picture or wrote a book.
His fans did.

I was always concerned about what God would want me to do.
I always wondered if art was good enough for God, and if so
what subject matter would be worth pursuing. I knew sexy was low,
erotic a bit higher and sorrow the noblest.[2]

Now in 2006 we know that all subjects are equally low,
or rather as Freud paraphrased Goethe, ‘The highest and the lowest
are always closest to each other in the sphere of sexuality.’
I’d add, the same goes for politics, too.

Give God a break. Let’s talk politics.
Kitsch started as a German word, they say.
Although I could have sworn it was an American invention

or something that they used to make in China.
But we shouldn’t blame the Germans for kitsch.
The third Reich put one off kitsch, but also off art.
When it came to paintings they liked kitsch,
but when it came to music, they liked art.
In the South Africa of Apartheid (pre 1994)
politicians didn’t care about art but also didn’t
even know that kitsch existed. They just censored
anything that moved.

Kitsch is not pink,
if you want to give it a color, make it white,
(repeat, all the good reasons for no equal rights).
If you want to racialise it, give it a hood.
If you want to give it a sexual preference
don’t make it gay.
I know the Taliban is not o.k.
but no one should have to look at
the National Geographic all day.

Kitsch happened when we discovered that we
could imitate and reproduce, whatever we want,
without having to believe in it; without having
to cry or die for it; we can represent
anything without paying for it, emotionally
Intellectually or spiritually, because others
have, or will, pay for it.

Gerard Reve said ‘Free love does not exist.’
Celine ‘ You don’t do anything for free’.
You’ve got to pay. A story you make up,
that isn’t worth anything. The only story
that counts is the one you pay for.
When it’s paid for, then you’ve got the right
to transform it.

[1] Holy Bible, The Gideon’s 1961.u.s.a.
[2] A true hedonist is hard to find, MD-light, 1999

And God said – I told you so. Written for and first published in Kitsch Unedited. Letters and texts of friends compiled by Jan Andriesse, De Pont Museum, Tilburg, 2006, p.21-23; and included in Marlene Dumas, Sweet Nothings. Notes and Texts, second edition (revised and expanded) Koenig Books London, 2014.