Friday, March 7, 2008

Bad Art and the Rise of Thomas Kinkade

I remember the first time I saw a Thomas Kinkade painting. My family was dining with a family from our church. At first, I thought it was the work of Mrs. Jones(name changed to protect her identity!). She replied that this was an original piece of art by the famous Thomas Kinkade that they'd been saving for for years. I was a little puzzled. I thought it looked like the paintings done by one of our neighbours, who took art classes to escape afternoons with her two dreadful toddlers. Why would they pay so much money for something that looked so...strange and amateurish?

Kinkade's art is pure kitsch, which is defined as "a tasteless copy of an existing style." Other members of this category include velvet paintings of Elvis and the hideous plaster statues posed ready to strike on suburban lawns (a natural successor to plastic lawn ornaments and those dreadful garden gnomes).

I read a fabulous review of Kinkade's art the other day by KNS Mare, entitled "A Critical Review of the Art of Thomas Kinkade." Mare points out several of the most disturbing aspects of Kinkade's paintings:

1. Every orifice in the pictures seems to exude what Mare describes as a "hellish glow" (which I can assume is the reason Kinkade is heralded as the "painter of light").
2. Chimney's are everywhere in his paintings. Have you ever noticed this? And the fires are burning whether its mid-August or January.
3. The vast majority of his paintings contain no people! This might be less disturbing if he was a classic landscape painter, but he isn't. Actually, I can tolerate his landscape paintings--they aren't bad. It's the creepy houses with no people that disturb me.

Clement Greenberg, wrote in 1939 that "Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas. Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations." Kinkade's art certainly qualifies according to this. He is a superb marketer who sold 700 million dollars worth of merchandise in 2001. He might have once been an artist, but his immense popularity has led to the rapid degeneration of any artistic faculty he may have once had. He considers himself the "most relevant artist" of his day. He had this to say regarding the art at the Louvre: 'The Louvre is full of dead pictures by dead artists' (source). Perhaps Kinkade is the most relevant artists of our day--if so, I fear for our times.

I'm no art snob. I am totally unashamed of my love for Pre-Raphaelite art. Romanticism has often been regarded by critics as kitsch, but I think this arises out of self-conscious anxiety that anything that is too popular must be in bad taste (the divide between high and low culture). I like beautiful things and I'm not afraid to let it be known. I don't praise exhibitions of cracked toilets or other whim-worshipping junk categorized as fine art.

Nevertheless, I find Kinkade's art both banal and disturbing. I genuinely believe people buy Kinkade's art because they are searching for beauty in an ugly world. People look for beautiful things like dying men seeking water in the desert, but they can be easily satisfied by counterfeits. And unfortunately, I think his art is like a mirage in the desert that promises water and delivers sand. Just my two cents...

Oh, if you haven't seen Kinkade's art, you can visit his website, where serious fans of his art can collect nightlights and golf shirts inspired by his masterpieces.


Grace said...

Oh just gave me the laugh of the day. All I had to read was your subject line and I broke into guffaws, thinking "oh this will be GOOD."

In other words, I COMPLETELY agree.

Having worked at an art gallery, it killed me to see how many people would come in and buy his stuff, vs. the one in ten million who would come in and ask for something figural and classic. (sigh) My boss at the gallery had personal dealings with him too, and she said that he's an ass personally as well.

Once, my ex and I were in a mall walking by a gallery just for his stuff. I dared him to go in, stand there, look around, and say loudly "these all look the same!" and then leave. He did. I loved it :)

paulahewitt said...

well - I now officially call the last half hour of my life'the horrid half hour' not content with taking your word for it I checked out his website. I wasnt sure what to expect - but it wasn't that! I can't believe people would spend money on that (except perhaps greeting card companies and chocolate box manufacturers - i can see why he markets it on coffee mugs etc). his self proclaimed 'most relevant artist' is wrong on both counts in my opinion. Im not sure what I disliked most on his site - the pictures-i have trouble calling them art - or the gagworthy (Im sure there is a more appropriate word) text accompaning it. I would rather hang framed postcards (i have actually done this - a series of four called The four times of day by Alphonse Mucha (1899) - and lots of people admire them. They look like the sort of pictures people who cant afford real art would buy- if I was going kitsch id go for the pink plastic flamingo on the front lawn over this least passersby may think i was being ironic

Thorsprincess said...

First of all, gentle daughter, I am reminded of the adages about pointing of fingers, but I know that your disposition to entertain sometimes overwhelms your innate kindness. (I am reminded of your rather hilarious impressions of your dearly beloved German violin teacher, and others less beloved.) Children will express themselves. From the comments of your gentle readers, your talent for slightly barbed wit has not lost its bite.

To the ardent devotees of Mr. Kinkaid's prodigious manufactures, I am always relieved that I can immediately identify those endroits they habituate, and avoid them. For one, I am grateful that Mr. Kinkaid's paper towels and disturbingly glowing productions have found homes in those shops swathed in polyester lace, superintended by agressive, "country Victorian"-clad shopkeepers of a certain age who pounce on clientele who presumably share their enthusiasm for such accoutrements.

I used to hang a Thos. Kinkade calendar in the kitchen, instructive of the only proper use of his work. Unfortunately, his admirers and critics both failed to grasp this tactful lesson, so I have ceased to use a pantry door as an educational forum. As for Thos. Kinkade toilet paper, one must draw the line somewhere. Maman

skatej said...

There's a Kinkaid gallery in a town not far from school. I think he may actually live in the area. Being a former fan (what can I say, junior high was an unenlightened time) of Thomas Kinkaide, I can say that for people who haven't seen good paintings look at these and say "look at that peaceful cabin" or "it looks like actual light!" For me, though the paintings are always so BUSY. The light never bothered me, though I think other artists are better at depicting it, and I will admit, one snow covered cabin easily looks like another. One of the students in an art class I was taking asked the instructor if she could go to his gallery as part of her museum/gallery visit trip. The teacher about keeled over but let her do it.

K Spoering said...

Thank you for having the nerve to say this 'out loud'! I am a working artist, and when people ask what I do and I tell them, they will often gush about their love for Kincaid.
I have been known to ask to be seated at a different table in a restaurant so that I don't have to look at his work while I eat!
One of the women's bathrooms at my church is decorated in Kincaid. I walk all the way upstairs, no matter how desperate the situation, to avoid it.

skatej said...

It was in no way offensive. I haven't liked Kinkade in years.
I wish the type of writing I want to do fit in to the blog world, but I hope someday to publish it and for now it is only ready for a few eyes.
I will be going into grad school in the fall (hopefully, providing I get in somewhere), and about two years after that I will theoretically be ready to do what I want with my life.

Tracy said...

This was funny...and I'm sure you meant not entirely to be funny about this topic! I had a similar experience to your on first being introduced to Kincaid's art--I was astonished that someone was saving years to buy something that seemed trying very hard to be serious art. While are certain works of his that do charm in a whimiscal sort of way, all his pieces look the same. He's exhausted his themes...Hence the selling out with all the heavily marketed collector items--coffee mugs, Christmas ornaments, plates, etc. I would have had more respect if he had just stuck to the painting bit. We all try our best, but there is something about being honorable to a craft. Selling out diminishes the integrity of that craft. Kincaid is not really to my taste--it's too sweet and saccharin--but I do admire the trying that goes behind work. Kincad seems to be just raking in the money from licsened for many reasons he gets a no in my book. Interesting top! Happy Weekend ((HUGS))

Owlfarmer said...

My students will love the fact that I found you--and that aside from being a Morris devotee, you're also a non-fan of whom I usually refer to as "Thomas Bloody Kinkaid." I teach history of art and design to design students, and frequently sound off on what I've been heard to refer to as "Nazi art" (sorry, but he's got a great deal in common with the kitschy work of Germany's WWII chancellor) because it evokes nostalgia for a past that never existed. Thank you for your forthright comments, and for a very nice blog.

Brad Ferguson said...

Would you believe that there are actually "planned communities" with houses based on his work... As is suburban America wasn't generic enough... He even has "home decor and furnishings" based on it.... makes one want to vomit just a little.

Tina Vaziri said...

Kinkade is a whore, he found a style that poor ignorant people who know nothing of art would buy and pumps them out like an assembly line machine.

wanderlustnpixiedust said...

I immediately broke out into chuckles when I read this. I love many different styles and types of art form, from all time periods. I must admit a passion and weakness for genuine "kitsch" and the truly tacky!

Having said that, I had to sit her for a moment and really think what is was about Kincaid that did not appeal to me. The first thing that came to mind is that at all looks similar. The same motifs repeated ad nauseam.

Probably shouldn't be saying this. I lot of what I like could also be considered cheesy. Aw, what the heck. This is what I feel and what I like. I am what I am!

Anonymous said...

I am appalled to think there are people in this world who are as small minded as you (and obviously your fan club). I am an art teacher as well as a freelance artist well known in my community and find Mr. Kinkade's work beautiful. I guarantee you (or any of your fans) could not replicate his wonderful paintings. How many of you are able to collect millions of dollars a year off of your talents?

Owlfarmer said...

Anonymous is, of course, entitled to a pro-Kinkaid view of the world, but making millions of dollars by selling over-priced, unoriginal, and augmented-by-others commercial commodities is not what Morris or the Pre-Raphaelites would acknowledge as truth in art. It is, in fact, just the type of dishonest, trite consumer products that the Arts and Crafts movement was founded to replace.

What Kinkaid's work reflects is not any lasting notion of beauty or any enrichment of the culture that allows him to make all his money, but the power of the market, and of the nostalgia I mentioned earlier, for the cute little cottage in the woods that Americans have never experienced, except as children listening to fairy tales at their parents' knees.

My students can replicate his "wonderful paintings" quite easily, and have frequently done so just to get my goat (in fun, of course).

Anonymous said...

Hang a T. Kinkaid in the bathroom. Guaranteed to ward off irregularity.

jj solari said...

hahaha i thought i was the only kinkade-abuser on earth. guess i sure aint. HAHAHAHAHA

jj solari said...

this is great. i actually started a thomas kinkade crioticism blog. i never get tired of posting on it either.

Anonymous said...

My eyes get cavaties everytime I look at them.