Painter of Shite Dead At 54
Thomas Kinkade, self-described (and trademarked) “Painter of Light” died Friday at his California home of natural causes.
I wasn’t going to post anything about this, until I saw that the screed I posted on Kinkade’s work almost a year and a half back got over 10,000 reads yesterday, a big deal for a small family blog like this one, and that, of course, in the comments there have been a few on the theme of “Leave Britney ALONE!!”
So I’d just like to say, for the record, that even though I found Kinkade’s work trite, I never wished the man dead, or even ill, even though I did find his foibles amusing - mostly because he so openly pandered to religious sentimentality and strove to portray such bucolic innocence in his work. This, you must admit, is very much at odds with whipping it out and pissing on Winnie the Pooh at Disneyland. All of that has to do with his body of work and his public life; of course I did not know the man and so have no insight as to who he was in private, whether he was a really great guy or not, or anything else, and offer condolences to his family and friends.
But I would like to address those who commented on the original post to the effect of “who are you to judge” and “if you don’t like it you shouldn’t critique it.” First of all, I’m not judging anyone’s like or dislike of Kinkade’s work. If you like it, fine. We all have what I like to call “guilty pleasures” – things we like even though we know we should know better. Mine is Duran Duran’s Greatest Hits, which I’ll pull out and actually play once every 3 or 4 years (in my defense, I got it for only a dollar when I worked at the used record store). I know it’s not good music; I know there’s nothing remotely artistic about it, despite all the videos of Simon LeBon cavorting with models. It just is what it is – meaningless pop that I for whatever reason will listen to and enjoy occasionally. That’s the point – there’s nothing wrong with liking Thomas Kinkade’s work – as long as you recognize that it’s not fine art and is not an asset that will appreciate in value.
Why does the distinction matter? Because of stories like this: Thomas Kinkade’s death sparks run on his paintings at West Michigan art gallery. There are several things just wrong with that headline, the primary being that the stuff for sale at Thomas Kinkade and other galleries weren’t paintings – they were prints of original works by Kinkade that had been “enhanced” in a few areas of the image with a few brushstrokes by an assistant. The Hand of the Master touched none of them, and with an estimated 1 in 20 homes in the US owning a Kinkade “painting”, the print runs were in the hundreds of thousands. These things have the same approximate value as commemorative plates from the Franklin Mint; they just aren’t worth anything more than the nominal value of the materials and labor that went into making them, and never will be.
That all deals with the actual value of Kinkade’s work, but the other point is that Kinkade’s work isn’t art because there’s simply nothing behind it other than an idea to paint a pretty picture. Again, if you think the pictures are pretty, fine. But there’s no emotion or idea going on behind it, other than “what will sell?”, which makes it impossible to connect with on anything other than a very superficial level such as “the colors match the sofa.”
Here’s the thing: Thomas Kinkade had technical painting ability. I can’t paint anything like he did (I wouldn’t want to, but that’s beside the point). And this is what he chose to paint. He chose to make a business empire rather than be an artist. That’s ok, again, as long as the people who paid hundreds of dollars or more for prints of his work re-touched with paint by assistants also understood it. I think a lot of them did not. But he most assuredly did, and as evidence, I offer the following:
When Kinkade created or agreed to having his name put on these objets d’crap, you can be certain that he wasn’t thinking of himself as an artist.
So, that’s pretty much it – Thomas Kinkade died, I’m sorry for his family and friends, and I still think his work was dreadful, but you should feel free to like it if you must – just please don’t call it art.
And….just one last thing, because I’m a bad person and can’t help myself, but I’m left wondering if, at the end, the Light Kinkade walked into featured a radioactive glow and lurid colors, and if somewhere, a Hobbit got his Ring.