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Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light and Hope


It’s always discomforting to hear the news of a public person’s death, and I was truly saddened to hear of Thomas Kinkade’s death. As a Southern Christian, I see his work everywhere — in friends’ homes, in public businesses, and on Christmas cards. In fact, he’s so popular among evangelicals that he’s “the Christian’s artist,” just as Tim Tebow is “the Christian’s football player” and Chick-Fil-A is “the Christian’s fast food.” Kinkade successfully franchised art galleries, sold $100 million worth of art and replicas annually, and had art on the walls of roughly 10 million homes.

However, I’ve always felt bad that I’ve never enjoyed his work. When my friends showed me their newly acquired paintings, I would feign appreciation while trying to come to terms with what exactly made me dislike the piece. What’s not to like? Idyllic cottages, sunsets, vibrant flowers, chimneys emitting a smoky trail into the beautiful mauve sky…

Yes, the artistic elite (which celebrated Christ submerged in a bottle of urine) despised him. However, the “the enemy of my enemy” feeling couldn’t even propel me to like Kinkade’s ubiquitous work.

Upon his death, I’ve gone back and looked at his pieces, hoping for a spark of appreciation. Yet I’m still left with that same uneasy feeling. Tonight, I came across an article which helped me understand my feelings about the amazingly successful commercial artist:

Let’s be very clear here right at the outset. Thomas Kinkade was not a bad artist. Thomas Kinkade was an exceptionally talented artist with excruciatingly bad taste. He was a hack, and a tremendously successful one. A hack is someone who sells his talent to the highest bidder, with little concern for niceties like artistic integrity. I’m a hack myself, and let me tell you something: if I found a way to create the writing equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade painting, and make as much money as he did, I’d do it in trice.

Writer Thomas McDonald is the self-described “hack,” and he definitely had my attention, especially when he quoted Simcha Fisher:

By showing light in the form of exaggerated highlights, fuzzy halos, and a hyperluminescent shine on everything, regardless of where they are in the composition, he [Kinkade] isn’t revealing the true nature of — anything. It’s a bafflingly incoherent mish-mosh of light: an orange sunset here, a pearly mid-morning sheen there, a crystal-clear reflection in one spot, a hazy mist in the other — all impossibly coexisting in the same scene. This picture:

makes sense only as a depiction of an oncoming storm, with heavy smog in some spots and total visibility just inches away (blown by what wind, when the chimney smoke rises undisturbed?), several cordless Klieg lights, possibly a partial eclipse, and that most cheerful of pastoral daydreams: a robust house fire. This is a lovely fantasy in the same way as it makes lovely music when all of your favorite instruments play as loudly as they can at the same time. Listen, and go mad.

Where is the source of light? This isn’t just clumsy execution, this is an artist who cannot see — who knows nothing at all about light, what it is for, or whence it comes. (Or, more frightfully, an accomplished artist who has discovered that it’s much more lucrative to quash his understanding of these things.)

Kinkade isn’t content with shying away from ugliness: He sees nothing beautiful in the world the way it is. He thinks it needs polishing. He loves the world in the same way that a pageant mom thinks her child is just adorable — or will be, after she loses ten pounds, dyes and curls her hair, gets implants, and makes herself almost unrecognizable with a thick layer of make-up. Normal people recoil from such extreme artifice — not because they hate beauty, but because they love it.

Kinkade-style light doesn’t show an affection for natural beauty — it shows his disdain for it. His light doesn’t reveal, it distorts. His paintings aren’t merely trivial, they’re a statement of contempt for the world. His vision of the world isn’t just tacky, it’s anti-Incarnational.

The entire article is worth reading, especially for those of you who avert your eyes when looking at one of the tranquil paintings but can’t put your finger on exactly why. McDonald concludes:

Kinkade’s most successful work was crass and unappealing, but at least he was trying to create something beautiful that evoked a good feeling in people, no matter how badly he went about it. The modern art most praised by the art establishment is nasty, ugly, pointless, dehumanizing garbage with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Crap artists like Tracy Emin are lionized by critics and showered with cash for turning out un-art that shows nothing but contempt for humanity.

The cosmic joke is that, technically, Kinkade’s skills are so far superior to Emin’s that it’s almost comical, but he made the mistake of peddling hope instead of despair, and that’s an unforgivable sin in the post-modern world. If his cozy cottages were splashed with blood and sheathed in condoms, he’d have his own wing in the MOMA by now. And that, not Kinkade’s comforting kitschy fantasies, is the real crime of modern art.

In any event, may he rest in peace, and may God grant comfort to those who loved him.

Read all of McDonald’s article hereclick through to see some fantastic earlier Kinkade paintings! And, if you’re one of those friends who proudly showed me your new painting, I’m sorry I mumbled something about loving the colors. 


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