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Kitsch, Propaganda, and the American Avant-Garde

This book details the dramatic history of the weaponization of avant-garde art as propaganda, from its violent origins selling the idealistic communism of revolutionary France to its use as an American weapon wielded against the Nazi and Soviet threat as World War II began. It shows how art became ammunition in the war of ideas as the protagonists of the Second World War attempted to control the minds of their people. The text highlights how the avant-garde was the battlefield for the epic struggle between collectivism and American individualism, and will appeal to the reader with an interest in vivid stories of art, history, and politics.


Michael J. Pearce is a dynamic writer, curator, and critic. He has published dozens of articles, and is the author of Art in the Age of Emergence. He is Professor of Art at California Lutheran University.

"Ridiculously erudite! A welcome and necessary text."

Graham Hillard, Managing Editor of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal

"Insightful, critical yet humorous, cutting to the depth of the subject through thorough and determined research. Enriching!"
Uri Bollag,
Editor, Mutual Art Magazine

"Pearce brings his artist-and-art-historian’s eye to the bohemian and the avant-garde (and teaches us not to confuse those two). [...] This is rewarding reading."

Stephen R. C. Hicks, Professor of Philosophy, Author of Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault

"Michael Pearce has applied his prodigious grasp of both art and history to trace the yin-yang relationship of realism and the avant-garde from the mid nineteenth century deep into the mid twentieth, ranging across France, Germany, Russia, Mexico, and the United States. Some of the turning points he identifies are familiar, some not, yet all are deftly interwoven to reveal how understandings of art and artists have shifted over time in direct relationship to the political and societal developments unfolding around them… Pearce offers all readers an unexpectedly lively tour through a complex period in Western culture that still matters today, probably more than ever."

Peter Trippi, Editor-in-Chief, Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine

"The genre of Avant-Garde has been accused of being difficult, dispassionate and nebulous when compared to other art movements, but Michael Pearce cuts right through the clutter to offer a thrilling narrative of this exciting and wildly inventive movement."

Michael Clawson, Executive Editor, International Artist Publishing

"An extraordinary book, extraordinary research, very well written. A brilliant tour-de-force!"
Donald Kuspit,
Author of The End of Art

"Michael Pearce’s contrarian tome Kitsch, Propaganda, and the American Avant-Garde flips the script on the accepted narrative of America’s postwar embrace of the European avant-garde art and its values, which he sees as disastrous. I don’t agree with Pearce’s conclusion—that America took “one of the greatest wrong turns in art history”—but I admire his commitment to research and the detailed reframing this book provides. Kitsch, Propaganda, and the American Avant-Garde is a deep and informative read, presented in an erudite and authoritative tone. In his introduction, Pearce states: “I sincerely hope the book will make the acolytes of the avant-garde uncomfortable…” A careful reading of Kitsch, Propaganda, and the American Avant-Garde should indeed have that effect. Any reader with a genuine interest in American art will find this book a stimulus for fresh and informed conversations about America’s avant-garde art and its deep, contradictory roots in French and Russian modern culture."

John Seed, Author of Disrupted Realism: Paintings for a Distracted World

Buy This Book

ISBN: 1-5275-9411-4

ISBN13: 978-1-5275-9411-1

Release Date: 24th March 2023

Pages: 405

Price: £78.99

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ISBN: 1-0364-0147-2

ISBN13: 978-1-0364-0147-4

Release Date: 20th February 2024

Pages: 405

Price: £39.99

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