Sometimes we forget that we Americans are a people and as such we have our folk traditions and out of those traditions come all manner of folk expression. Of course, ours is an industrial culture, so the objects that we use to craft our folk expressions are made in factories (usually in Asia).
Art critics have long had a problem with industrial decorations. While the best pieces of industrial design are admired as art, the lesser stuff, if not entirely utilitarian, is consigned to the rubbish heap of kitsch.
Yet even if the elements are kitsch - sometime the results deserve consideration as folk art.
Consider Christmas lights.
Christmas and Halloween are our two most important folk festivals it terms of the lengths of the celebration and in how widespread they are. Christmas may be a legal holiday of a single day’s length, but it is celebrated for more than a month. Halloween is not even a formal holiday, but judging by the outdoor displays, it too is celebrated for several weeks. Both are “celebrated” by frenzied retail activity and marked by outdoor displays at peoples homes.
The creations themselves are often lurid, but sometimes delightful.
So let’s look at one local crazy house that captures all the elements that now go into a Christmas display.
But before I share my favorite crazy house, I want to honor a simple effort at decorating a door. This first is just genuine good design. It is tasteful and inviting. I admire the effort, and were I to decorate, I would follow this model.
Still, much as I love the simple and dignified front door, I really love the more outlandish stuff too.
In our neighborhood, here is the best:
It is over the top. And as such includes Santa, reindeer, the manger scene, a christmas tree and even more recent elements like wooden soldiers (themselves derived from Christmas entertainments - think March of the Wooden Soldiers).
Yes, the Santa is pure kitsch. But as part of the whole, it moves past kitsch into the higher realm of great ephemeral art.
Yes the reindeer. Well done too!
The overall effect is bedlam. But that is the nature of such things. The Griswold House was bedlam.
Finally, a manger. In this display (as in almost all where a manger is displayed) the manger scene is treated with reverence and removed from the rest.
Please share picture from your favorite crazy house. And please honor them by considering them as the folk art that they truly are.
PS: Just one more. A crazy house with a manger. Note again that the manger is set up with the same dignity as with the other display.