Camp is an aesthetic style and sensibility that regards something as appealing because of its questionable taste and ironic value. Camp aesthetics disrupt many of modernism's notions of what art is and what can be classified as high art by inverting aesthetic attributes such as beauty, value, and taste through an invitation of a different kind of apprehension and consumption.
Camp can also be a social practice and function as a style and performance identity for several types of entertainment including film, cabaret, and pantomime. Where high art necessarily incorporates beauty and value, camp necessarily needs to be lively, audacious, and dynamic. "Camp aesthetics delights in impertinence." Camp opposes satisfaction and seeks to challenge. The visual style is closely associated with gay culture.
Camp art is related to—and often confused with—kitsch, and things with camp appeal may also be described as "cheesy". When the usage appeared in 1909, it denoted "ostentatious, exaggerated, affected, theatrical; effeminate or homosexual" behavior, and by the middle of the 1970s, the camp was defined by the college edition of Webster's New World Dictionary as "banality, mediocrity, artifice, ostentation ... so extreme as to amuse or have a perversely sophisticated appeal". The American writer Susan Sontag's essay Notes on "Camp" (1964) emphasized its key elements as: "artifice, frivolity, naïve middle-class pretentiousness, and shocking excess".
According to the dictionary, this sense is "etymologically obscure". Camp in this sense has been suggested to have possibly derived from the French term se camper, meaning "to pose in an exaggerated fashion". Later, it evolved into a general description of the aesthetic choices and behavior of working-class gay men. The concept of the camp was described by Christopher Isherwood in 1954 in his novel The World in the Evening, and then in 1964 by Susan Sontag in her essay and book Notes on "Camp".
The rise of post-modernism made camp a common perspective on aesthetics, not identified with any specific group. The camp perspective was originally a distinctive aspect of pre-Stonewall gay culture, where it was the dominant idiom. It originated from the understanding of gayness as effeminacy. Two key components of the camp were originally feminine performances: swish and drag. With swish featuring extensive use of superlatives, and drag being exaggerated female impersonation, the camp became extended to all things "over the top", including women posing as female impersonators. It was this version of the concept that was adopted by literary and art critics and became a part of the conceptual array of 1960s culture.