Faith, according to scripture, is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Images of faith, then, are a kind of oxymoron that has been a conundrum to the church for centuries. What happens when the substance of things seen attempts to express the “substance of things hoped for”? Why is it that so much of the imagery used to express Christian faith can be considered “kitsch”? Why is such profound meaning visualized in such feeble ways?
Most writings on the subject, and most dictionaries, define kitsch as any form of popular art or entertainment that is a sentimental, cheaply made trivialization of something else. It is seen as a kind of pseudo-art that borrows from original ideas or copies them directly. I am not convinced that the “original” is as sacred (or even as real) a thing as most of these accounts imply; nevertheless, reproduction—the means by which kitsch objects proliferate—is the antithesis of the creation of an original, which we have generally come to accept as a criterion of fine art and crucial to the notion of the artist as genius and author of the unique.