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.